A Maritime History of Popular Music in and from Japan, 1920s-1960s

Project title: ‘Resonating Across Oceanic Currents: A Maritime History of Popular Music in and from Japan, 1920s-1960s’ (publicised online at 13:20 BST, 19th May 2021)

Organizers: KASAI, Amane (Waseda University); ASABA, Yuiko (University of Huddersfield)

Online Symposia (2 & 23 October 2021) → https://raocmus.com

Project Abstract: 

This research project examines popular music genres in and from Japan from the 1920s to 1960s through the lens of oceanic currents and maritime history, illuminating the international circulations of musicians and music objects across the sea and at global port cities at this time. The desire for financial gain and self-improvement as a cosmopolitan led many Japanese musicians to travel by sea, while diverse forms of ‘foreign’ popular music poured into Japan’s global port cities. Whilst never entirely independent from political dynamics, the circulations of popular music via the sea were motivated by human curiosity, all the while incorporating and mobilizing the local ideologies and trends through the medium of the sea. This project aims to contribute to the growing scholarship on the maritime histories of cultural circulations outside of the West (Alberts & Irving 2013; Haneda & Oka 2019; Nor & Stepputat 2019; Villamar 2020), as well as studies of the circulation of ideas that draw on the oceanic analogy (Jue 2020). In particular, through the methodology of maritime histories examining multilateral rather than bilateral relations, this project examines international music exchanges involving Japan during the ‘transwar’ period, and how they were mediated by territorial borders, domestic politics and processes of internationalization. Throughout this project, we seek to draw on recent works that have vigorously placed twentieth century East Asian histories in broader contexts (Chen 2010; Iwabuchi 2002).

The project features scholars working on the historical circulations of popular music between Japan and multiple international locations. The topics will include the following: musicians and musical instruments travelling across Europe, Asia, and South America before and during World War II; Asian popular songs sung in patois or ports lingo in the context of war propaganda; the diffusion of Japanese popular songs to other continents during the Korean War. The project will culminate in a symposium, which will become the basis for a special issue publication. Through the symposium presentations and subsequent publication, this research project investigates the ways in which musicians’ experiences through travels, personal narratives, and exchange of commodities mobilized the local and international ideologies and trends of the time.

Keywords: Oceanic currents; Maritime history; Port cities; Popular musics in and from Japan and other ‘Asian’ countries; Geopolitical representations of ‘Continent (tairiku/the mainland China)’; The Island/Continent binary and popular music; Personal experiences and narratives; Memory and forgetting; Continuities and discontinuities surrounding the term, ‘transwar period’

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 846143.