Fractale’s ED and Japan’s Nostalgic Drive Toward Irish Music

Today’s guest post comes courtesy of TWWK over at Beneath the Tangles and I have to say that we’re in for an ethnomusicological treat. Now, ethnomusicology has always been an interesting area of study and I’m sorry to say that I just haven’t had the opportunity to dig into it further because it’s interesting to read up on how cultural exchanges transform music. TWWK’s entry delves into a cultural infusion, namely the one that brought Irish/Celtic music to Japan. It’s enlightening to get that understanding on why the Japanese took to this new style and I hope you get a lot out of this as much as I did! So without further ado, here’s TWWK:

The best part of Fractale was when it was over.

One of the most disappointing titles of 2011, Fractale had at least one great thing going for it: a wonderful ED. I immediately fell in love with the closing song, “Down by the Salley Gardens.” The lyrics of this song are a poem penned by the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, and arranged in a tune composed later.

Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take life easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her did not agree.
In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she placed her snow-white hand.
She bid me take love easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

I found it strange to hear an Irish work in an anime, though it wasn’t the first time the two have crossed. “Your Raise Me Up,” the opening song to Romeo x Juliet, is set to an Irish melody and Clannad, particularly the visual novel, contains references to Irish words. The islands of Japan and Ireland seem so far apart, geographically and culturally; yet, they somehow connect. Why is that?

The use of “Down by the Salley Gardens” is just a recent example of how Irish culture has permeated Japan’s. Irish pubs are common nowadays, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated, and major Irish bands and dancing groups (including Riverdance) have toured the country. Dr. Sean Williams, an ethnomusicologist, writes:

“Consumers or Irish music and those interested in Irish culture generally might be surprised to find Irish music in Japan, or – in particular – to find Japanese people deeply drawn toward Irish music, culture, and notions of identity.”

Even if we’re largely unfamiliar with Japanese history, most of know enough through anime to understand that the Meiji Restoration ushered in an era of westernization (see Rurouni Kenshin). Along with dress, technology, and schooling, came music. Irish songs, in particular found a home in the country. The lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne” were changed to fit Japan (“Hotaru no Hikari” – literally, “Light of Fireflies” and additional songs, like “Danny Boy,” were loved by schoolchildren, who found them easy to sing.

But more than that, the Japanese, a people deeply connected to the past and specifically to feelings of nostalgia, found a soul mate in Irish music, which often conveyed the same feelings through both lyrics and tune. Dr. Williams noted that when she spoke to Japanese men and women about Irish music, they said (often with tearful eyes) it reminded them of their childhoods.

Note that western music in anime often conveys this sentimental feeling. There’s a wonderful scene in Studio Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart where a group of older gentleman play an almost impromptu song. Though not Irish, the scene is reminiscent of Irish seisiúns (sessions), where a group of musicians perform a jam session, usually in a pub; once again, these are fairly common in modern Japan.

The nostalgia in Irish music also often shines through lyrics, especially in the yearning for one’s homeland. The Japanese place themselves in the situation of the individuals in those songs. Additionally, part of the Japanese idea of nostalgia is unrequited longing – Irish music lends itself further to this idea because while it increases nostalgic feelings by engaging listeners and encouraging them to participate, a Japanese person will of course never look Irish – and so, this desire to fully connect with the music is just out of reach.

Continents and seas can’t separate these feelings of love, loss, family, and home shared by the Irish and the Japanese.

So the next time you watch an episode of Fractale, do yourself a favor: go straight to the nostalgic end song. I guarantee you’ll be skipping to the best part.

Source: Williams, Sean. (2006). Irish music and the experience of nostalgia in Japan. Asian Music, 37, 101-119.

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Anime Instrumentality's Founder and Editor-in-Chief. As you can probably guess, I'm a big anime music junkie with a special love for composers who've put out some beautiful melodies to accompany some of my favorite anime series. I tend to gravitate towards music in the classical style with Joe Hisaishi and Yoko Kanno being a few of my favorite composers, but I've come to appreciate jazz and rock as anime music has widened my tastes.

27 thoughts on “Fractale’s ED and Japan’s Nostalgic Drive Toward Irish Music

  • January 6, 2012 at 6:47 pm
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    Thanks for accepting this post – I’m really proud to contribute to Anime Instrumentality!

    Reply
  • January 6, 2012 at 8:54 pm
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    I’ve noticed in my own casual observations that both Celtic and traditional Asian music use pentatonic scales. Since both Japan and Ireland are nationalistic countries, it isn’t surprising that the music they developed hovers around notes that evoke powerful emotions. Of course, that just makes the connections even more fascinating. I’ve studied ethnomusicology briefly in a music/philosophy class I took and it’s certainly a fascinating topic. Even things like landscape play a vital role in determining what kinds of instruments a culture creates. On that note, I wonder if there are further connections between Japan and Ireland that account for the successful integration and crossover of their music.

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    • January 6, 2012 at 9:44 pm
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      Taylor, I had no idea you had some background in this topic. I wish I did – I would’ve gone to you to make this post stronger. Thanks for the additional information…you make me want to study this topic even further.

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      • January 8, 2012 at 9:50 am
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        lol I wouldn’t say I’m knowledgeable enough to really supply too much information. It’s been a while since I’ve taken that class and even then, it was only one class (I think I still have my notes somewhere though). However, I do agree that it’s an interesting topic–I honestly never paid much attention to the connections between Irish music and Japan until I read this post. At most, I assumed any cross-cultural influence to be a result of a more connected world, but I definitely think that a closer look at the musical development of Ireland and Japan might provide some new insights. A good place to start might be with how each culture created instruments, then go on to philosophy/religion and folk songs. Geography and ecology will definitely be important things to consider because up until very recently, people only had their natural surroundings to create instruments.

        An example of how religion, philosophy, and music come together is in traditional Indian music. I’ve only heard a few pieces (again, in the context of that class), but most of the time, they’ll begin with a singular, drawn out note and then steadily create an ongoing rhythm. There isn’t a central melody or set structure like we’re used to hearing in the West, and they have a good 30-40 “scales” to mess around with (but they’re not scales in the way we think of them). Most of it is improv too. All of this connects deeply with Hinduism–life being a cycle, a constant striving toward awakening/Brahman, and a bunch of other things I’ve forgotten.

        So basically, you can listen to the music of any culture and ask yourself things like “How does this music reflect their religious beliefs and/or their philosophies? How does it reflect the types of places where these people live? How does it portray ideas of order and chaos? Are the instruments made of natural materials, or are they electronic? What does that say about the culture from which they come?” and so forth.

      • January 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm
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        That’s fascinating stuff – I love your example about traditional Indian music and the idea of cycles. I’d love to read your thoughts on music and anime on your blog sometime, Taylor!

  • January 6, 2012 at 9:23 pm
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    Great post. Although I would’ve liked to know more about how exactly western music in general (or rather, the specifics of it) penetrates Japanese psyche this is a good starter.

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    • January 6, 2012 at 9:42 pm
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      Consider reading the article I referenced in the post. It goes into much further detail and provides a lot of great examples. I don’t know what its availability is, though – I was lucky to find it at a large book fair.

      Reply
  • January 7, 2012 at 9:03 am
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    Thanks for the post.

    Another Japanese singer who has shown some Irish influences is Chiaki Ishikawa with her Own Write DVD.

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  • January 7, 2012 at 10:37 am
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    I did wonder once why Irish influences were fairly common, but I dismissed it as just me coincidentally watching a few anime with Irish influences. The most obvious example I can think of is Fairy Tail, which has seems very celtic at times. I think it’s done particularly well, and it’s nice to see variation in the style of music in anime. Good post.

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    • January 7, 2012 at 11:42 am
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      You absolutely see both Irish and Scot designs and elements in anime – I wonder if they’re present largely because of the music importing I described above. I don’t think you see this, for instance, on Korean television.

      Reply
  • January 7, 2012 at 1:36 pm
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    I can’t believe you went through an entire post of how the Japanese love Irish music without mentioning Code Geass and Hitomi Kuroishi’s “Continued Story”. It makes so much sense considering Geass’ sense of Japanese nationalism, Ireland’s own sense of nationalism, and the way Celtic music makes the Japanese long for the past, much like how many of Geass’ own characters long for the past (and for a better future).

    I thought I should bring that up. ^^

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    • January 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm
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      @macattack
      His post certainly won’t cover everything exhaustively, but thanks for sharing that tidbit! Certainly does add an extra contextual layer onto a very popular anime series and it makes me curious as to whether other anime use music to such an effect.

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      • April 17, 2012 at 10:34 pm
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        Awesome you should think of sotmhenig like that

    • January 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm
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      That’s a beautiful song – thanks for mentioning it. I never watched the Code Geass R2, so I’d never heard that song. Other songs with an Irish or ethereal feel that I considered mentioning were the EDs from Outlaw Star and Maaya Sakamoto’s “Kiseki no Umi” from the Record of Lodoss War TV series.

      The early part of my post, which provides examples, was focused solely on actual Irish or Celtic tunes – not songs which were influenced by songs of those cultures. For instance, “Down by the Salley Gardens,” “Hotaru no Hikari,” and “You Raise Me Up” were all completely or partially Irish in origin. I didn’t scratch the surface of anime or other Japanese songs that were Irish influenced; I don’t think I know enough anime music to really comment on that, so I appreciate the addition.

      Reply
    • January 7, 2012 at 7:49 pm
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      Oh, and I’m glad you also brought up nationalism – other comments did as well. This is an interesting connection, since Ireland and Japan are both known for their nationalistic pasts (and for still being patriotic nations). It seems natural to say that Japan’s obsession (<— too strong of a word) with Irish music is partially because of their shared nationalist histories, but I wonder if that's too large of a leap to make; nostalgia is common to all the tunes I mentioned, but nationalism is not.

      But if it's so, that's really another interesting angle to take.

      Reply
      • January 8, 2012 at 9:54 am
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        And a lot of nostalgia, I feel, centers around pastoral images. This is where any similarities between Ireland and Japan’s geography might help in understanding why Irish music evokes these feelings in Japanese people.

      • January 9, 2012 at 12:52 pm
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        The obvious connection is with the islands of Japan. I’m particularly thinking about the sea, which can carry that strong feeling of nostalgia for one’s home. And though Japan’s mountainous terrain and Ireland’s green hilly country may not seem to be compatible at first, each is ingrained in their cultures with, again, that feeling of “home,” much more than say America’s geography, which doesn’t center around a central feature (ex. mountains, oceans, rivers, etc.), though perhaps it comes close with plains.

    • September 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm
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      That comparison of Code Geass to some extend gave me a chill, assessing it in further detail. I discovered that the incidents in Code Geass bear a VERY striking resemblance to the Easter Risings and Michael Collins’ & Sinn Fein. Japan/Ireland being a colony of the Brittania/Britain, and in light of tyranny rebellion takes place. You can look into the details.

      Reply
  • January 8, 2012 at 9:52 pm
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    Even now when I listen to Celtic Woman (I have all their CD’s don’t judge me) I think to myself “man, these would make good anisongs”. Irish culture has that rustic, almost magical air to it, making it a popular and accessible motif. Additionally, it would almost seem cliche to mention Haketa Takefumi’s soundtracks to Someday’s Dreamers here.

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    • January 9, 2012 at 12:55 pm
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      No judgment here – I put a Celtic Woman DVD on my Christmas list, but didn’t get it. :(

      I agree with you, though – the two definitely seem to fit. For instance, the “You Raise Me Up” versions by Celtic Woman and Lena Park aren’t all that different from one another (lyrics aside), and one often makes me think of the other.

      And thanks for the Takefumi addition…I’ve only seen bits of Someday’s Dreamers and honestly, don’t remember the music. I have to remember to check it out.

      Reply
  • January 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm
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    That’s a great piece! Very interesting analysis of Celtic music in animes. Celtic music’s so emotive, I mean, fiddles, jaunty beats etc, that anime shows generally do well with such music. Perhaps that’s why the great Yuki Kajiura uses elements of Celtic music in her earlier works?

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    • January 10, 2012 at 7:25 pm
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      Thank you!

      Yuki Kajiura – what a great example. “Fiction” is a wonderful album and certainly contains songs that have a Celtic feel to them. But perhaps it also works the other way around – her popularity in Japan and among anime fans and Japanophiles in the U.S., where Celtic sounds are also well liked, may partially be because she masterfully weaves in this style of music into her pieces.

      Reply
  • September 26, 2012 at 9:02 pm
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    Personally, Celtic Women, much like Celtic Thunder have been very strongly “Commercialised” and made more accessible to audiences who are not Irish,Scottish, Welsh etc. If you are looking for more “Strongly Rooted” Celtic music, I suggest artists and groups such as Altan, Omnia, Clannad, Enya.
    Discussing the topic on Celtic Music, have any of you heard of “The Chieftains”? They are one of the most popular Caeli bands from Dublin. They have performed alongside A LOT of other artists from Ireland, ES, UK etc.

    Reply
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