Friday, 26 October 2012

The Magic of Japanese Music

(from left: Mizuki Nana, Kalafina, Utada Hikaru

Long time no see! Somehow I have been lacking the enthusiasm to write for quite a while now, probably due to my insanely busy schedule here. I finally felt like writing something today though, due to the topic popping up very often these past couple of weeks in very different situations (sorry, this isn't a post about my Japan adventures, I'll get around to those..... eventually), namely the magic of Japanese music.

Someone at the CoFesta Student Ambassador orientation brought up a very good point the other week. We were supposed to think of things that appeal to us the most in Japan and why and he mentioned the fact how the messages in Japanese lyrics are mostly much more diverse than what we see in the western world. While western songs mainly focus on aspects of love (you are trying to catch someone's attention, you are happily in love, you've been dumped, you are suffering in your loneliness, etc), Japanese lyrics don't seem to make such a big deal out of it and focus on other things, not to mention the abundance of very beautiful metaphors of nature and such (eg. 情熱の彼方 虹を描いたら、ギュッと雨のち晴れの空 抱きしめるよ = If a rainbow beyond passion is painted, it’s embracing the clear skies after the rain tightly, from Nana's song 7COLORS). And this, I think, is very true. It probably has its beginnings in Enka, that would be my guess. Sure there still are songs about love too, but even they are built up a bit differently.

I have often thought about similar things by myself, like how it never ceases to amaze me how deep the lyrics in Nana's songs are and how beautifully things have been expressed. And not only in her songs. I also often think how it would be great to hear an English song or Finnish song like that, but then I become unsure if reaching a similar style is even possible in other languages. I've become quite convinced that the way the Japanese language works is what actually makes it possible. For example, I think Poets of the Fall are great magicians when it comes to wordplay and meaningful lyrics (I love them!), but the lyrics work in a very different way than what I've seen in Japanese music. Hard to explain in words though.. Or wait. Actually I do have one example. Playing with kanji meanings is something that can add an additional layer to Japanese songs, but which is impossible in most other languages. My favorite of such can be found in Nana's song PHANTOM MINDS where she uses the kanji 夢の座標 (=coordinates of a dream) to mean and to be read as 星座 (=constellation).

Oh and, I would like to mention now that I am not belittling western music with this, I just find all this very curious. Both are great, different but great and there's nothing wrong with love songs. I think that my current mindset has sort of made me step away from western music for the time being, since right now love is not a top priority to me and thus, songs like some of Nana's, which are about following your dream and never giving up and heading towards the me of tomorrow, have a much bigger impact on me. This is good, since I should be practicing Japanese constantly anyway! 

In the past week, I've also had to think a lot about spreading Japanese contents abroad. A couple of days ago I actually had the great pleasure of speaking with people who run quite a successful music company outside of Japan and who would like to start collaborations with the Japanese music industry. I thought this was a wonderful idea, since I believe that getting people from all around the world interested in music from different places would hugely broaden our horizons and give us new things to think about. I  really hope I can be a part of the process of making this happen. Sure, there are language barriers and people hesitate to try or can't grasp music with lyrics they can't understand - but, interestingly enough within Japan (and I believe in other Asian countries) they have come up with a simple, yet effective (in my opinion anyway) way to counter this issue. Last weekend I bought P!nk's new album (which I had sadly completely forgot about until I saw it on the self at Tower Records) and when I opened the case I found a little extra booklet inside that had the lyrics of all the songs on the album in English and also translated in Japanese - Brilliant! If every country took this habit onto themselves, I think it might help the spread of music immensely. Or not. What do I know.. but ehum, anyway!

Well I will stop this thought process here and end this post with one of my favorite pieces of lyric:

この瞬間 大切に
私にとって それが

(I will continue singing songs
In this moment, to me
The smiles that are overflowing importantly
Those are

- Mizuki Nana, Takaramono


  1. Nice post! Its surely a good topic to share opinions about. I am all in for it www.

    One of the reasons I left pop music - especially the americans - is indeed the shallow lyrics. Now with the recent younger popstars (like a certain bieber), lyrics doesnt mean anything anymore as long as it fits in to right melody and producer's nodding. Then spice up the MV and the singles will sell like gold.
    It all seems being a singer and lyricst is too simple. I think its partly due to the cultural differences in language. You do expect English as a language used more in straightforward way of speaking. Then this will be reflected in the way they write songs and the manner of expressing them. Whereas in Asian (or can I say Eastern world) it is more modest. However both sides have their charms in music.

    Whereas I am standing now, I didnt really pay attention to lyrics until recently. I do share the point of view that Japanese lyrics have a deeper meaning - I speak for anisongs and Nana songs, not the mainstream jpop - using metaphors and kanjis meaning. As Okami said, Nana knows how to do it. The more I look for it, the more I find out about the beauty of Jpop. (One big remark, I am not generalizing things here)

    But I wish for the best if both cultures can produce songs together. if it really happens then music has reached its ultimate goal; 'the music brings people together'

    If I can speak for genuine Dutch songs here >.< Forget it, its more like farmer hillbilly musical talents here. Even I dont listen to them, not even downloaded. (perhaps one as nostalgia)

    Hopefully I will get to see what other ppl 2 cents on this topic.

    Otsukare, Okamiちゃん!!

    PS: Mmmhh DAT TAKARAMONO ... always reminds me of the innocent smiling Nana with the piano ww

    1. Thanks for the comment! ヽ( ´¬`)ノ ワ~イ
      I agree with pretty much everything you said!

      I was talking with my dad the other day about how I wonder what will happen to rock'n'roll as we know it, since all the most famous bands/artists are quite old now and can't go on forever. Of course there still are rock bands around, but they are different to what it used to be. So I think all in all interesting things will be happening in music in the near future.

      If Asia and the western world can combine their forces in music, then maybe we will start seeing more meaningful lyrics again in English songs too. :3

      I would love to see Nana become world famous despite singing in Japanese. (´ω`*)

      And oh yes.. I can imagine those Dutch songs ww Finnish songs aren't much better. xD Though there have been some really excellent artists/bands too, most of Finnish music is ehm, well yeah..

      PS: Me too.... She's so adorable when she performs it with the piano. My heart explodes every time she does the little mistake at the end. So cute. >.<! Too bad I think she got discouraged and won't be doing it again.. :/