Library Dissertation Showcase

Soy sauce music: exploring cultural identity in post war Japanese music

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2020

On the 14th of August 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies. For the following month the US government and Armed forces with the support of the other Allied nations prepared for the occupation of Japan. On the 2nd of September Japan formally surrendered and following this on the 6th of September, President Truman approved the US Initial Post-Surrender Policy for Japan. In this document, there were two main objectives for the occupation; to eliminate Japan’s war potential and to turn Japan into a democratic nation with a pro United Nations orientation (Jansen et al., 2020). The country was then occupied until April 28th 1952, with the exception of the Ryukyu Islands – which include Okinawa, an island with musical significance – which were occupied until 1972 (Shimoji, 2018). During this time, America had significant influence over every aspect of life, ranging from political and social influence to cultural exposure and interpersonal relationships and ideas shared between the locals and the occupational force. US General MacArthur said “for six years the United States has had a freer hand to experiment with Japan than any other country in Asia, or indeed in the entire world” (Kawai, 1951, 23). The US was trying to mold Japan into a pro-western, pro-capitalist country to restrict the influence of Communism in Asia, thus the Soviet Union had very little influence over the occupation. There many positive aspects of the occupation which helped Japan develop into a modern, prosperous country; however there were also countless negative aspects, in which the people of Japan had to endure many hardships.

This dissertation will explore cultural identity within post Second World War Japan, focusing on the years immediately after the war and looking at the effect it had on this generation, who went on to create new forms of music in the 1960s and 1970s. The phrase ‘Soy Sauce Music’ was born from these new genres created in this period. This is the phrase that will be explored throughout this paper; we will look into its origins and explore how it relates to the cultural identity of Japan after the Second World War.

Several viewpoints will be explored as we ask what ‘Soy Sauce Music’ means. Where does it come from? Why is it relevant? Is the term insensitive? Originally, ‘Soy Sauce Music’ describes a specific trio of albums by an influential artist, Haruomi “Harry” Hosono; however this paper will propose that this phrase can be used to describe a wider musical movement. This movement created forms of music which fit into several domestic Japanese genres, however when looked at from a western view point, all of these genres are combined into ‘world music,’ a vague genre that encompasses everything nonwestern. This can be seen as problematic by some as music made by westerners in the style of Japanese music is also placed into the world music genre. This can create some confusion around Cultural appropriation and then the re-appropriation of culture, but this is what makes the topic so interesting to investigate.

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