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.