by Scot Eaton
A paper for Applied Ethnomusicology, Bethel University, St. Paul, MN
It was 8:00pm on a warm summer night in Hiroshima, and everything was closed—CD stores, bookstores, coffee shops, even some bars! I was astounded. I was traveling with the Northwestern College Symphonic Band, and we had been given the night to explore the city on our own. Frustrated at the lack of things to explore, I went back to my hotel room and turned on the TV. After all, Japanese game shows were entertaining enough, even if I didn't know the language. I ended up finding a game show called “How's Your J-Pop English?”, where contestants listened to their favorite J-Pop (Japanese Pop) songs and had to translate the English lines back into Japanese. They were given points for accuracy, and they were mercilessly teased if they mistranslated a line. I was amazed and amused, especially when two of the three teams confused the word “exotic” with a similar-sounding English word. At that time, I didn't understand the significance of what I was watching.
One common feature of J-Pop music (and its harder alternative, J-Rock) is the blending of English and Japanese lyrics. Sometimes, this will take the form of an English chorus tagged on to Japanese verses. Other times, the song may be entirely in English. Still, at other times, there will be a very free mix of English and Japanese peppered throughout the lyrics. This is illustrated by the band Flow in their hit song GO!!!! The lyrics for the chorus and first verse are as follows:
We are Fighting Dreamers Takami wo mezashite
Fighting Dreamers Narifuri kamawazu
Fighting Dreamers Shinjiru ga mama ni
Oli Oli Oli Oh-! Just go my way!
Right here Right now (Bang!)
Buppanase Like a dangan LINER!
Right here Right now (Burn!)
Buttakitteku ze Get the fire!
As you can see, there is enough English for an English speaker to almost understand what is being said, and there is enough Japanese for that to work in reverse. This style of lyric writing is very stylized, and it is considered highly enjoyable. The same holds true for songs with entire sections in English.
Interestingly enough, this is not only part of the professional music scene. Even amateur singers and bands use this feature in their music. The following is an excerpt from the song I Remember Feat, written by two members of the Jesus Lifehouse Church in Tokyo, Japan:
I remember anokoromo really really love u mou osoi?
Ne-e? Darling? R U leaving me?
I do not know why I did it
Sorry anokorowa really really busy
Always my heart crying kaitainoni
it was all my fault
The roots of this feature are very deep, spanning the entire 120-year history of Western music in Japan and taking the historic view towards 'foreign' music into account. In 2005, Bonnie C. Wade wrote a landmark book entitled Music in Japan. Its importance lies in the fact that it recognizes the recent adoption of Western music as an integral part of the development of Japanese music, and shows how this is in reflection of, not in contrast to, Japanese history. In the last chapters of the book, she takes a look at the current J-Pop trend, specifically focusing on the inclusion of English lyrics. She says that this feature “is quite common, as knowledge of English is a prestige factor” (Wade, 152). English as a prestige factor is in many ways indicative of the larger view of Japanese people towards Western music; though they claim ownership in Western music, they see themselves more as observers than participants.
This paradoxical thought has crept into the Japanese church as well. Their worship music is reflective of their heart music, but issues of authenticity make it hard for the Japanese people to take ownership of their worship music. Instead of being truly inventive in making music that reflects their growth and struggles, they have instead relied on translated songs and new songs written in imitation of American/Australian/European worship styles. In this paper, I will briefly examine the history of music (Western and Oriental) in Japan, trace the roots of the authenticity issue in order to come to an understanding of the Japanese heart-music paradox, and apply that knowledge by building a framework for songwriting workshops that will help the Japanese church write new music that they can take ownership of. I believe that a proper knowledge and understanding of the history of popular Japanese music will provide many insights into how to make the repertoire of Japanese Christian music more meaningful for everyone.
History – Importation, Assimilation, and Indigenization in the Heian Period
Historically, Japanese music has been formed and expanded by importing music from other cultures and assimilating it. Though this has continually occurred throughout the past 1500 years, there were two periods when music and culture were imported at a very rapid rate: the Heian period (794-1185) and the Meiji period (1868-1912) (Wikipedia, Japan).
The first recorded culture that brought foreign music to Japan was the Korean Shilla Kingdom. In 453, eighty performers from Korea traveled to Japan, bringing music and Buddhism with them (Wade, 23). Though not much is known about this contact, Korea continued to have an effect on the development of Japanese music.
The period of Japanese history where there was a very rapid importation and assimilation of foreign music and culture was the Heian period. Until that point, contact with other cultures had been slow and unpurposeful, but with the Chinese re-introduction of Buddhism, Japan took proactive measures to transplant parts of Chinese culture, philosophy, music, writing, and religion (Wade, 24). They began rapidly importing many different styles of music, which they broke into two categories: tougaku (music of the left—from China and Southeast Asia) and komagaku (music of the right—from Korea and Manchuria) (Wade, 25).
These two influences were combined to form the style of music called gagaku, the music of the court. This style is now considered classical Japanese music, even though it was formed in imitation of Chinese and Korean music. From my own experience and research into Korean music, I can confirm the vast similarities between Japanese gagaku instruments and the instruments used in traditional Korean music. The most important instrument for gagaku is arguably the Hichiriki—a double-reed aerophone. In its sound and construction, it is very similar to the Korean Piri. The Shou, which is sometimes called a mouth organ, is very similar to the Korean Saenghwang—and both of these were developed from the Chinese Sheng (Wikipedia, Sho). Even three of the four most well-recognized Japanese instruments have their Korean doubles. The Shakahuchi is extremely similar to the Danso; the Koto is almost identical to the Gayageum (the Korean national instrument); and the Taiko drum could be mistaken for the Jingo by all but the most educated scholars. One might argue that the Shamisen is the only true Japanese instrument, until we learn that it was imported from Okinawa, which wasn't even a part of Japan at that time (Wikipedia, Music of Japan).
So we see that even the styles of music and the instruments that are seen as 100% Japanese have, in fact, been developed in light of other countries. Admittedly, it is hard to know which instruments and music styles originated where, and who transmitted them to who, since China, Korea, and Japan have a very long and messy history—each influencing the other in turn. What we can know is that the idea of importing, assimilating, and eventually indigenizing foreign music is integral to Japanese musical history.
Therefore, when the Japanese imported and assimilated Western music over a century ago, it was part of their natural process of developing music in their culture. Presently, when we speak about Japanese music, we are no longer speaking solely about gagaku, music from the No and Kabuki theaters, or Min'yo (folk) music. We are not even talking about music based on the in and yo scales. Now, when we talk about Japanese music, we include all of the historical styles and add to them Punk, Electronica, J-Pop, J-Rock, Enka (a ballad fusion style), Black Gospel, Western Classical music, and especially Jazz. This musical shift can even be traced in language. In Japanese, the word for music is ongaku (音楽), which combines the kanji gaku (楽), meaning comfort (shorthand for 'music' in other cases), with on (音), which means sound. So, one could say that the Japanese word for music is “comfortable sound” (Wikipedia, Music of Japan). Bonnie C. Wade notes that the word ongaku “is now used to refer to music in the Western tradition or by composers trained in Western music rather than in the Japanese tradition” (Wade, xiii). The word for “traditional” Japanese music is now hougaku (邦楽), which means “home sound.” When did the meaning change? When did the comfortable sound become the home sound?
History – Importation, Assimilation, and Indigenization from the Meiji Period Onward
The introduction of Western music came during the Meiji Period (1868-1912, aka the “Meiji Restoration”), when the Tokugawa Shogunate was displaced by the young Emperor Meiji, and Japan's two-and-a-half century policy of isolation was abolished (Wikipedia, Meiji Period). Like the Heian period, where Chinese culture was imported and assimilated, European and American culture were now being imported at rapid rates. Industrialization was made a goal, and though State Shinto was established, the ban on Christianity was lifted.
One of the things that was imported was a classless education system, whereby all children could be educated, instead of just the elite children. This was modeled after the school systems of the USA, and since music was a part of the US curriculum, it became part of the Japanese curriculum as well (Wade, 11). However, there was a dispute as to which kind of music would be taught. This dispute was founded on both “psychological” and “pragmatic” issues (Wade, 14). Psychologically, many people did not see Western music and Oriental music as equals. They held the idea that Oriental music was underdeveloped and imperfect, whereas Western music had very nearly reached perfection (Wade, 13). Pragmatic reasons, however, were the deciding factor. The Japanese government was trying to create a classless education system, but all hougaku music was associated with a particular class or social setting. It was simply easier to import a new style of music than to try to remove social stigmas from the more traditional forms of music. Wade says, “European music was a solution to the dilemma: the meaning of European (i.e., foreign) music could be constructed as the same for all Japanese” (14). So Western Classical music became the music of the schools.
At the same time, the new influx of Protestant missionaries brought in hymns, which were accompanied by a small reed organ or a piano. Hymns, with their simple four-part harmonies, caught on very quickly (Wade, 15). This, in turn, inspired a young man named Torakusu Yamaha to start designing reed organs and pianos. He named his company Yamaha, and they have been at the forefront of innovation in instrument creation ever since (Yamaha, About Yamaha). In the late 50's, they created an instrument called the “Electone,” or the Electric Organ, which was the first classified electrophone in the world (Wade, 46). As a side note, Yamaha also created schools of music for the purpose of teaching Japanese people how to enjoy the instruments that they made (Wade, 45-46).
The organ, piano, and electone became instruments of prestige in Japan through a roundabout manner. It was not because they were church instruments. Rather, Japanese homes are not carpeted; they are covered in tatami (mats made of relatively fragile straw). The heavy pianos, organs, and electones would simply break the tatami. So, as Wade says, “the piano went into the wood-floored space for especially treasured items (tokonoma), thereby being accorded high status spatially, visually, and emblematically” (Wade, 15). This was the first sign of the prestige of Western music.
Jazz, however, became the “comfortable sound” of the people. It was introduced during and immediately after World War I, and it immediately took (Wade, 18). The Japanese began importing and assimilating jazz music, buying recordings of American jazz bands and calling upon Filipino Jazz musicians to come and be their teachers (Wade, 19). With the readily available Yamaha line of instruments, and students who had been trained in classical music which emphasized chord structures and metric rhythms, jazz became the most vibrant music scene of Japan. It stayed vibrant until the period of Japanese Imperialization just prior to World War II, when the government ordered all jazz bands to disband (Wade, 133). During this period, the only Western music allowed was music from Italy or Germany—Japan's allies. After the war ended, jazz resumed, eventually developing into rock and roll, which in turn developed into pop (Wikipedia, Music of Japan). So, jazz music is ultimately the root music of the J-Pop/J-Rock phenomenon.
Western Prestige and the Issue of Authenticity
Jazz did not immediately resume after World War II though. Instead of Japanese artists being able to freely express themselves, jazz bands were forced to cater to the American occupying forces. They learned the repertoires of Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Louis Armstrong. According to Wade, “The occupation period, the first opportunity they had for prolonged interaction with American musicians rather than learning from recordings or other foreigners, was at the same time a period when imitation was demanded.” She then goes on to quote Atkins, who says, “Because the essentially American character of jazz is regarded as so incontestable, Japan's jazz community has had to locate itself in an aesthetic hierarchy that explicitly reflects and reinforces asymmetries of power and cultural prestige on the Japan-US relationship by placing American artists at the apex as 'innovators' and non-Americans at the bottom as 'imitators' (Wade, 134).
This led to a skewed view of authenticity, which originated in jazz music but spread to other Western genres. The only “authentic” jazz was American; Japanese jazz was automatically given a lower standard. This view is still seen today. In 1993, Keith Cahoon wrote the following: “While many of Japan's jazz artists display marvelous technical ability, few display any real originality” (qtd. in Wade, 139).
This idea of authenticity has taken root in the idea of Western music in Japan. Even though Western music has become the heart music of the people, there is still the idea that it can only be authentically done by Westerners.
Is it possible that this is the root of the feature of mixing English and Japanese together in lyrics? Is it possible that Japanese bands who write rock songs entirely in English (their second language) are simply doing it in a vie for authenticity? That is a subject for further research. What we do know is that there is prestige awarded to those who can mix the languages in their pop music. For now, let us simply note that the Japanese people have a history of aggressively importing and assimilating music and instruments from around the globe. Western Music, from its very inception, became the music of the common people—the music that was shared across all class boundaries. It evolved from classical music to hymns to jazz to rock to the myriad of forms which are found today. It has become the “comfortable sound” of the Japanese people, set apart from the “home sound” of more traditional forms. Japan has been the scene of much innovation in Western music, from electric instruments to karaoke. And yet, there is still the paradox that even though it is their heart music, they struggle with seeing their own production of Western music as authentic.
Authenticity and the Japanese Church
This same historical rhythm of importing, assimilating, and indigenizing, as well as the paradox of authenticity with their heart music, can be ascribed to the Japanese church. As we have already seen, hymns play a very important role in the development of Western music in Japan. As Japanese Christians were looking to import and assimilate Christian music, the missionaries were only too happy to oblige. This has continued with the importation of many modern-day praise choruses from America. Recently, the trend has shifted to Hillsong music from Australia. The result is that the majority of Japanese churches still use translated music for their worship. This helps to expand their repertoire of music, but it is not helping their views of authenticity.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Nancy Nethercott about the state of Christian worship in Japan. Nancy and her husband Paul are the directors of the Christians in the Arts Network of Japan (Japan CAN). Together, they have developed one-day workshops that cover the subjects of what worship is, how worship operates as a rhythm of revelation and response, and how to plan services accordingly. Nancy informed me that there is a lot of Japanese Christian music being written, but that most of it is being written in imitation of American/Australian styles (Nethercott, 2007). Because of this process of importing and assimilating, they are assimilating the same deficiencies that Western worship music suffers from, namely the overabundance of response-based songs and the lack of revelation songs. Some are writing testimony songs as well, but there is still a large gap in the worship repertoire that needs to be filled. Nancy is encouraging Japanese Christians to write revelation-based songs that are loaded with theology, but she is finding it hard, since “it takes a very spiritually mature Christian to write those songs” (Nethercott, 2007).
What is unspoken in this case is the idea that many Japanese Christians are trying to write authentic worship music, and the only way they know how to do it is to imitate what they see. This is not a bad thing. When I learned how to draw, I began by tracing the work of other artists. From their pictures, I learned the elements of form, proportions, and styles. When I finally moved myself away from imitation and started drawing on my own, my work was awful. It took me a very long time to develop my own style to the point where it was recognized as “good” by other people. Musicians go through the same process. We begin by playing the works of other people, and then we start to move away from that and play on our own. It is my underlying assumption that almost every musician goes through this stage. However, most get frustrated that the art that they produce doesn't even meet their own standard of being good, and they quit. In a broader sense, I can see the same thing happening with the Japanese church. Some have moved away from imitating Western worship music, but when they weren't satisfied with the result, they quickly reverted back to what they perceived to be authentic. They didn't trust their own result.
Christianity is very small in Japan. The highest estimates I have heard are at about 4%, but most would admit that it is less than 1%. The CIA World Factbook lists the Christian population as 0.7% (CIA World Factbook Japan). As such, there are really only 890,000 Christians in the entire nation. If even 1% of those Christians were songwriters, there would only be 8,900 songwriters. Unfortunately, because many have tried songwriting and failed (in their own minds), the percentage is actually much lower, and Christian music is not yet taking off in Japan.
My goal is to see that sense of authenticity shift. The Japanese music culture is much like America's—highly competitive and artistically demanding. As it is in America, most are too afraid to try their hand at songwriting for fear that they will fail to produce single-quality material. However, I believe that wherever musicians are assembled, we have a group of songwriters. With that in mind, I would like to build a framework for songwriting workshops in the Japanese churches that will help to produce new, authentic material which will speak to the needs of the Japanese heart.
[A section "Workshops for Examining and Deepening the Musical Worship Repertoire"
- 3800 words - removed with permission from the author]
All of this is to fulfill the vision of the Japanese people no longer feeling like imitators of worship music, but as innovators in the field. The Japanese have a long history of importing, assimilating, and indigenizing music. Through an understanding of their musical history, we see the paradoxical state that the Japanese are in with regards to Western music, where American is seen as “authentic” and English lyrics are considered “prestigious”. However, as I said before, I believe that a proper knowledge and understanding of the history of popular Japanese music will provide many insights into how to make the repertoire of Japanese Christian music more meaningful for everyone. Long ago, during the Heian era, the music, philosophy, culture, and religion of China and Korea was imported into Japan, and now all of that is inseparable from Japanese culture. I believe that history has been repeating itself since the Meiji era, and we are seeing Japan take on Western music and culture in the same way. However, we are not seeing them accept the new religion because of a misunderstanding of what worship is and how authentic worship is not imitated from other cultures, but produced by a union of the mind and the heart through the spirit. Through these workshops on the examination and deepening of musical worship repertoire, I hope to make small changes in that ideology, so that one day, Christianity will be just as inseparable from Japanese culture as Western music currently is.
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Nethercott, Nancy. Personal Interview conducted on Wednesday, August 1st, 2007.
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-Music of Japan, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_Japan
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