Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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(ii) Since 1945.

The end of the war was followed by a flood of occupying forces, primarily American troops that established their own radio stations and spread American tastes in popular music. Some post-war hit songs reflect this trend, such as TōkyoōBugiugi (‘Tokyo Boogie Woogie’, 1948), which is written in a major scale and sung without any trace of traditional Japanese vocal technique. There also appeared in the post-war years many translations of American and European hits, such as Tennessee Waltz (1952) and Quē sera, sera (1956). On the other hand, elements of Japanese folksong, such as mode and rhythm, play an important role in the songs made popular by Misora Hibari (1937–89), one of the most beloved singers and actresses of the post-war era. Making her debut as a child singer in 1949, she gained fame with such enka as Ringo oiwake (‘Apple oiwake’, 1952). Misora, Shimakura Chiyoko (b 1938) and male singers including Mihashi Michiya (b 1930), Minami Haruo (b 1923) and Frank Nagai (b 1932) all contributed toward the evolving postwar enka, which contained sentimental, sad lyrics and were sung with yuri and kobushi ornamentations in a yonanuki minor scale.

The rise of postwar kayōkyoku, in which predominantly Western scales and singing styles were used, coincided with the increased popularity of Japanese forms of Western popular styles. The term ‘group sounds’ was used to designate the Japanese reaction in the 1960s towards British and American pop groups, represented by groups such as The Tigers and The Spiders. At about the same time, the fōku (‘folk’) movement emerged, also influenced by Western music, specifically new folk and protest music. This phenomenon coincided with the ascent of the singer-songwriter, such as Yoshida Takurō (b 1946) and Minami Kōsetsu (b 1949), a figure who made a break from the former system of composers and lyricists working for record companies and writing for particular singers under contract to those companies. The audiences for their songs were made up of young, urban and well-educated members of the postwar generation.

The 1970s saw the rise of nyū myūjikku (‘new music’), or music written by singer-songwriters in a contemporary, Western-influenced ‘folk’ style with personal, introverted lyrics. The melody (often in the natural minor scale and containing short phrases) and the text it conveys are considered more important than the rhythmic basics or instrumental accompaniment. Another form of Western-style Japanese music is simply called poppusu (‘pops’), which is sung by, and appeals to, young teenagers.

Even before the advent of MTV, television developed in Japan in close coordination with popular music and music makers. Soon after going on the air in 1953, NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, Japan Broadcasting Corporation) began to produce television programmes that starred current popular singers. In addition to several weekly programmes, one perennial favourite is the Kōhaku uta-gassen (‘Red-White Song Competition’), which is broadcast every New Year's Eve and features the year's most popular singers, divided into teams of females and males and performing their latest hits in front of millions of viewers, with a jury deciding the winning team.

There are currently a wealth of popular genres in Japan, including some, such as enka and certain forms of kayōkyoku, that are unique to Japan. At the same time, Japanese versions of Western popular forms such as rock, rap, punk, heavy metal, and country and western are performed in clubs and broadcast throughout the county. Electronic and broadcasting technology (including phonographs, radio, television, video, CD players, synthesizers and computers) has played an important role not only in the Japanese economy but also in the multi-faceted way in which Japanese popular music has evolved.

Japan, §IX: Developments since the Meiji Restoration

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