In this first English-language history of the origins and impact of the Japanese pop music industry, Hiromu Nagahara connects the rise of mass entertainment, epitomized by ryūkōka (“popular songs”), with Japan’s transformation into a middle-class society in the years after World War II.
With the arrival of major international recording companies like Columbia and Victor in the 1920s, Japan’s pop music scene soon grew into a full-fledged culture industry that reached out to an avid consumer base through radio, cinema, and other media. The stream of songs that poured forth over the next four decades represented something new in the nation’s cultural landscape. Emerging during some of the most volatile decades in Japan’s history, popular songs struck a deep chord in Japanese society, gaining a devoted following but also galvanizing a vociferous band of opponents. A range of critics—intellectuals, journalists, government officials, self-appointed arbiters of taste—engaged in contentious debates on the merits of pop music. Many regarded it as a scandal, evidence of an increasingly debased and Americanized culture. For others, popular songs represented liberation from the oppressive political climate of the war years.
Tokyo Boogie-Woogie is a tale of competing cultural dynamics coming to a head just as Japan’s traditionally hierarchical society was shifting toward middle-class democracy. The pop soundscape of these years became the audible symbol of changing times.
Tokyo Boogie-Woogie is a wonderfully insightful and nuanced history that traces the emergence of Japan’s media-saturated popular culture within the nation’s development as a modern, middle-class society. It will make a strong contribution to the field of modern Japanese history and pop music and pop culture studies. An impressive work.
Tokyo Boogie-Woogie will have you stomping your feet in applause. This masterful history portrays the Japanese music industry as a major force crafting popular consciousness between 1920 and 1950. As Nagahara shows, intellectuals and government censors on both the right and the left soon got in on the act, exploiting the political potential of popular tunes in unexpected ways.
Far more than a history of popular song, Tokyo Boogie-Woogie offers a trenchant examination of the growth of Japanese mass culture in the context of the complex and intimate relationship between industry, elite critics, and the regulatory state. Among many surprising episodes, cases such as that of popular music censor-cum-connoisseur Ogawa Chikagorō, or the performance of the American World War I song ‘Over There’ at a Japanese state event in 1943, cast the issue of wartime censorship in an entirely new light. This is a landmark work of twentieth-century Japanese cultural history.
Nagahara provides a well-documented study of how modern Japanese pop media developed a foundation in the masses that neither the government nor critics could control…Tokyo Boogie-Woogie stands as a well-developed cultural history of Japanese popular culture as the nation progressed through modernity.
Highly informative and lucidly written…Will offer many insights to students of contemporary popular and media culture, who will find it particularly useful for thinking about the genealogical force of the idea of ‘popular music’ as a socially powerful truth.
- 288 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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