Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon
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Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop

Michael Bourdaghs

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eBook - ePub

Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop

Michael Bourdaghs

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From the beginning of the American Occupation in 1945 to the post-bubble period of the early 1990s, popular music provided Japanese listeners with a much-needed release, channeling their desires, fears, and frustrations into a pleasurable and fluid art. Pop music allowed Japanese artists and audiences to assume various identities, reflecting the country's uncomfortable position under American hegemony and its uncertainty within ever-shifting geopolitical realities.

In the first English-language study of this phenomenon, Michael K. Bourdaghs considers genres as diverse as boogie-woogie, rockabilly, enka, 1960s rock and roll, 1970s new music, folk, and techno-pop. Reading these forms and their cultural import through music, literary, and cultural theory, he introduces readers to the sensual moods and meanings of modern Japan. As he unpacks the complexities of popular music production and consumption, Bourdaghs interprets Japan as it worked through (or tried to forget) its imperial past. These efforts grew even murkier as Japanese pop migrated to the nation's former colonies. In postwar Japan, pop music both accelerated and protested the commodification of everyday life, challenged and reproduced gender hierarchies, and insisted on the uniqueness of a national culture, even as it participated in an increasingly integrated global marketplace.

Each chapter in Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon examines a single genre through a particular theoretical lens: the relation of music to liberation; the influence of cultural mapping on musical appreciation; the role of translation in transmitting musical genres around the globe; the place of noise in music and its relation to historical change; the tenuous connection between ideologies of authenticity and imitation; the link between commercial success and artistic integrity; and the function of melodrama. Bourdaghs concludes with a look at recent Japanese pop music culture.

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He [Kurosawa Akira] listened to all kinds of music, mainly classical, but he couldn’t stand Japanese-style popular songs [kayōkyoku]—especially enka. He called them “unhealthy.”
The Japanese people shall be encouraged to develop a desire for individual liberties and respect for fundamental human rights, particularly the freedoms of religion, assembly, speech, and the press.
The music came to an abrupt halt on August 15, 1945. It gave way first of all to a spoken-word recording: the airing over the NHK network of a prerecorded message in which Emperor Hirohito spoke over the radio for the first time, announcing Japan’s surrender. The broadcast shocked many, but it also confirmed what everybody already knew: that the nation had plunged into catastrophic failure. Japan’s cities lay in ruins, millions of its citizens were dead or dying, and Japan’s own actions had transformed it into a pariah nation. Moreover, it was on the verge of military occupation—an unprecedented condition that provoked dread and anxiety. Music, at least momentarily, seemed out of place. What song could possibly mark this turning point? The melodies that had been on everyone’s lips over the past decade now bore an indelible taint. Whether it was the inspiring brass fanfares of gunka (military songs) such as Kirishima Noboru and Fujiyama Ichirō’s “Burning Sky” (Moyuru ōzora, 1940) or seductive love ballads sung by the faux Chinese superstar Ri Kōran proclaiming Asian fondness for Japan, all now fell into disrepute.
A short, mournful silence followed—very short. The dark moment of surrender quickly led to the unleashing of a powerful sense of liberation, one that in the minds of many Japanese was intimately bound up with song. NHK resumed popular music programming on September 9, barely ten days after General Douglas MacArthur landed in Yokohama to take charge of the Occupation of Japan.1 Four months later, the Shōchiku film studio released the bubbly Grand Show 1946 (Gurando shō 1946-nen; dir. Makino Masahiro), a compendium of staged musical numbers tacked onto the flimsiest of boy-meets-girl narratives. This resurgence in pop music provided the sound track for a series of important social developments that also seemed to promise liberation: the end to state suppression of dissident thought, the seemingly real possibility of democratic revolution, and—despite an overwhelming reality of poverty, malnourishment, and material shortages—a renewed dedication to consumption and leisure as ideals, replacing the grim wartime insistence on production and self-sacrifice in support of the war effort.2 The human body, with all its pleasures and desires, emerged as one locus of the new freedom. The first major hit of the postwar period, “The Apple Song” (Ringo no uta, 1945; performed by Namiki Michiko and Kirishima Noboru, released January 1946), with its bouncy rhythm and cheerful melody—and its lyrics focusing on food!—seemed to enact this emancipation.3
On the day the war ended, film director Kurosawa Akira (1910–1998) was at the Tōhō studios in suburban Tokyo, shooting his fourth feature film. Production halted briefly after the crew listened to the emperor’s radio broadcast, but filming resumed within days. Completed a few weeks later, the brilliant Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (Tora no o o fumu otokotachi, 1945) would later be heralded as Kurosawa’s sole musical: an adaptation of the oft-told tale of the loyal warrior Benkei, it features a sound track that combined such diverse genres as Noh chanting, Kabuki music, and Western-style choral and orchestral pieces.4 Ironically, the American Occupation authorities instantly banned the film, and it would not be seen publicly until 1952. Nonetheless for Kurosawa, who had clashed repeatedly with Japanese military censors, the end of the war meant liberation. As he would write in his autobiography, “Having lived through an age that had no respect for creation, I recognized for the first time that freedom of creation can exist.”5 In his subsequent films, including his first postwar production, No Regrets for Our Youth (Waga seishun ni kui nashi, 1946), music would provide Kurosawa with one of his most powerful tools for expressing this liberation.
Hattori Ryōichi (1907–1993), Japan’s premier jazz composer and arranger, found himself stuck in China at war’s end. Mobilized by the Japanese military, he was living in Shanghai, the city that since the late 1920s had served as the jazz Mecca of Asia. There, Hattori staged propaganda musical revues promoting Chinese-Japanese friendship. In the summer of 1945, for example, he mounted Ye Lai Xiang Rhapsody at the Shanghai Grand Theater, a musical spectacular built around a famous Chinese pop song and featuring the glamorous Ri Kōran backed by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.6 In the looser atmosphere that prevailed in occupied China, Hattori was able to slip traces of boogie-woogie sound, his latest musical passion, into his new compositions for the show. Hattori spent the evening of August 15 drinking with Chinese songwriting friends, who told him that the end of the war meant they could now engage openly in music collaborations. Hattori’s biographer imaginatively reports the toast offered that night by Li Jinguang, composer of “Ye lai xiang” (Fragrance of the Night): “From now on, we can carry out our musical activities in freedom.”7
At the time of the emperor’s radio broadcast, Kasagi Shizuko (1914–1981) was ten days shy of her thirty-first birthday. A popular jazz singer since the mid-1930s, she spent the war years fronting her own orchestra, contributing to the war effort with morale-boosting performances for the troops and for workers on the home front. Ironically, Kasagi would look back on the closing months of the war as a time of personal happiness. After the May 25, 1945, air raids over Tokyo burned down her own residence, she secretly shared a home with the great love of her life, Yoshimoto Eisuke, the only time the two lived together before his untimely death in 1947.8 But otherwise, the wartime was a disaster for Kasagi. She found it increasingly difficult to perform in public after jazz had been banned as the enemy’s music following Pearl Harbor. Singled out by the authorities for special harassment, she was ordered to stop her wild dance movements on stage and was once even rounded up off the street for the offense of wearing false eyelashes.9 She would later write, “Those five years of the war, the blank in my career, were hell for me.”10 But with the surrender, Kasagi wasted no time in reclaiming her career. When Hattori finally managed to return to Japan from China in December 1945, on his very first day back in Tokyo he visited the Nichigeki Theater, which was advertising Highlight Show, a new musical revue that featured Kasagi.11 She was free to perform again: “You can’t imagine how happy I was then,” she would write.12 In short order, she would transform herself into an omnipresent force on the hit parade, the Japanese queen of boogie.
Kurosawa, Hattori, and Kasagi celebrated the end of the war as a kind of emancipation. For each, music provided a crucial vehicle for living out the new freedom. Each, however, defined liberation in starkly different terms. In their works from the period of the U.S. Occupation (1945–1952), these three giants of Japanese postwar culture adopted distinct, and often mutually contradictory, stances toward emancipation, and especially toward the versions of liberation that centered on the fleshly body. The tension between these different stances, a tension that often centered on questions of sex, pleasure, and consumption, is the theme I explore in this chapter. Kasagi’s numerous boogie-woogie hits, composed and arranged by Hattori, were themselves popular commodities meant to be enjoyed through the body. Moreover, their lyrics and their musical form explicitly celebrated consumerism and bodily pleasure as forms of liberation—even if Kasagi in performing the songs at times seemed to stand back from the image that her male songwriters and producers constructed for her.
Kurosawa’s films were no less commodities. Despite the hagiography that since the 1950s has constructed the image of Kurosawa as an auteur, a unique genius who bears single-handed responsibility for his works, his early postwar films were of course the products of corporate entities that bankrolled and then distributed them into a rapidly expanding market for mass culture. Despite this entanglement with the “culture industry”—or perhaps because of it—Kurosawa’s films frequently depict mass culture not as a site of liberation but as a form of enslavement, especially for men. This rejection of mass culture is the direct theme of his film Scandal (Sukyandaru, 1950), starring none other than singer Yamaguchi Yoshiko (the former Ri Kōran), and it forms a dark undercurrent in many of his works from this period. As one critic has noted, in these films the “fruits of conspicuous consumption are toxic to the social body.”13 Moreover, Kurosawa frequently situates popular dance music as the primary representative of the new postwar consumerism. In his films, popular music defines the road not to freedom but to slavery.
In sum, early postwar popular music in Japan involved the working out of new questions about freedom in relation to an exploding market in mass culture. The universally celebrated goal was liberation, but freedom from what and for what? Did popular dance music (known universally in Japan at the time as jazz, regardless of genre) in and of itself enact emancipation, or was it a femme fatale whose siren call lured men away from the path to authentic freedom? And did freedom for women lead to freedom for men—or the opposite?
These struggles were one of the ways people lived out immense shifts in geopolitical formations that occurred in the years following surrender. The fall of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and the militarist Japanese state meant the collapse of one set of political institutions and its attendant ideological worldviews. With the onset of the Occupation and its democratizing reforms, everything was supposed to change. For a time, it seemed that real liberation was possible, genuine across-the-board emancipation: freedom of political expression, sexual freedom, freedom from hunger and poverty, freedom from gender inequality, freedom of thought and belief. For a brief time, Communists, socialists, liberals, and moderates all joined hands. Kurosawa’s No Regrets for Our Youth is an eloquent expression of this fleeting belief that a single, shared liberation was possible for all.
This intoxicating optimism passed quickly. As historian John Dower has noted, “Japan remained under the control of fundamentally military regimes from the early 1930s straight through to 1952.”14 Japanese military censorship was abolished—and American military censorship introduced. The ironies of this became more blatantly apparent with the onset of the “reverse course” in Occupation policies around 1947. With the flaring up of the Cold War, the United States now showed less interest in democratizing Japan and more instead in building up a strategic ally to bolster its security policies across Asia. A new ideological map of the world was emerging. Under its worldview, certain kinds of freedom suddenly became dangerous, while others were shifted to center stage. From around 1949, disgraced wartime elites, banned from public life early in the Occupation, started returning to positions of authority and influence. Everything had changed, and nothing had changed. The same record labels that had flourished in the wartime era—Nippon Columbia, Nippon Victor, Teichiku, King—still dominated hit charts during the Occupation. Even the very singers who had produced wartime incitements to victory remained shining idols in the postwar period: Kirishima Noboru, Ri Kōran/Yamaguchi Yoshiko, Watanabe Hamako, Fujiyama Ichirō, among others.
In this fluid and often treacherous environment, what could liberation mean? How did music relate to it? No single answer could suffice. The now-classic works produced in the late 1940s and early 1950s by Kurosawa, Hattori, and Kasagi have a great deal to tell us about the complex interweaving of music, liberation, and the ways we live in and against social and political structures. And it is likely that the tension between their contrasting ideas about freedom has the most to teach us.
The career paths of Kurosawa, Hattori, and Kasagi crossed more than once, most notably in Drunken Angel (Yoidore tenshi, 1948).15 Often called Kurosawa’s breakthrough film, Drunken Angel also provided the first major role for Mifune Toshirō, who would go on to star in many of Kurosawa’s pictures.16 The story is set in a gritty urban neighborhood in early postwar Japan, a world characterized by panpan streetwalkers, a thriving black market, and seedy dance halls; in fact, U.S. Occupation censors were concerned that the script excessively foregrounded negative elements.17 The most memorable image from the film is the swamplike garbage pit that occupies the center of the neighborhood; its bubbling, contaminated surface is the first image we see in the film, and it subsequently reappears repeatedly, clearly functioning as a metaphor for the corruption of the surrounding neighborhood. Mifune plays Matsunaga, the hoodlum boss of the neighborhood who learns that he has tuberculosis. Shimura Takashi, another actor whom Kurosawa used repeatedly, plays Sanada, an alcoholic doctor who reluctantly treats Matsunaga, trying both to cure his tuberculosis and to make a better man out of him.
The film boasts an effective, if conventional, sound track composed by Hayasaka Fumio (1914–1955), whom Kurosawa identified as his best friend and right-hand man in creating many of his early masterpieces. The Drunken Angel sound track employs Western-style orchestration and Western instruments throughout—Kurosawa specifically requested music in the style of Debussy’s “Clair de lune.”18 The film uses background music to heighten emotional tension, to provide continuity between shots, to create a sense of spatial depth for the flat images on the screen, and to establish musical motifs associated with the various characters: a sweet, ethereal melody played on strings that is used nine times in the film and is associated with the doctor and his good influence, for example, or a darker, ominous theme played largely on woodwinds that is used seven times through the film (including over the opening credits) and is associated with the dark side of Matsunaga’s character.19 Alongside this sound track, the film also frequently uses diegetic music—that is, music that arises from within the visually depicted world and that is presumably audible to the characters in the film—including a performance by Kasagi Shizuko of “Jun...


  1. Cover 
  2. Half title
  3. Series Page
  4. Title
  5. Copyright
  6. Dedication
  7. Contents 
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. A Note on Names and the Translation
  10. Introduction
  11. 1. The Music Will Set You Free: Kurosawa Akira, Kasagi Shizuko, and the Road to Freedom in Occupied Japan
  12. 2. Mapping Misora Hibari: Where Have All the Asians Gone?
  13. 3. Mystery Plane: Sakamoto Kyū and the Translations of Rockabilly
  14. 4. Working within the System: Group Sounds and the Commercial and Revolutionary Potential of Noise
  15. 5. New Music and the Negation of the Negation: Happy End, Arai Yumi, and Yellow Magic Orchestra
  16. 6. The Japan that Can “Say Yes”: Bubblegum Music in a Postbubble Economy
  17. Coda
  18. Notes
  19. Index
Estilos de citas para Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

APA 6 Citation

Bourdaghs, M. (2012). Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon ([edition unavailable]). Columbia University Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2012)

Chicago Citation

Bourdaghs, Michael. (2012) 2012. Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon. [Edition unavailable]. Columbia University Press.

Harvard Citation

Bourdaghs, M. (2012) Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon. [edition unavailable]. Columbia University Press. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Bourdaghs, Michael. Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon. [edition unavailable]. Columbia University Press, 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.