Folk music: from local to national to global

Authored by: David W. Hughes

The Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music

Print publication date:  October  2008
Online publication date:  February  2017

Print ISBN: 9780754656999
eBook ISBN: 9781315172354
Adobe ISBN: 9781351697613


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When the new word min’yō – literally ‘folk song’ – began to gain currency in Japan in the early twentieth century, many people were slow to grasp its intent. When a ‘min’yō concert’ was advertised in Tokyo in 1920, some people bought tickets expecting to hear the music of the theatre, since the character used for -yō (謡) is the same as that for singing (utai); others, notably the police, took the element min- (民) in the sense given by the left-wing movement, anticipating a rally singing ‘people’s songs’ (Kikuchi 1980: 43). In 1929 a music critic complained about the song Tōkyō kōshinkyoku (Tokyo March), which he called a min’yō. This was, however, not a ‘folk song’ but a Western-influenced tune written for a film soundtrack, with lyrics replete with trendy english (Kurata 1979: 338). The idea that a term was needed specifically to designate songs of rural pedigree, songs of the ‘folk’, was slow to catch on. In traditional Japan boundaries between rural songs of various sorts and the kinds of popular songs discussed in the preceding chapter were rarely clear. The ‘folk’ themselves had a simple and ancient native term for their ditties: uta, ‘song’; modifiers were prefixed as needed (for example taue uta, ‘rice-planting song’). 1

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