Ex Omnibus Linguis Reviews of
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Reviews by
Toru Mitsui, Kanazawa/Japan

popular-ongaku kenkyu
(Popular Music Studies)
ISSN 1343-9251

Review in RPM#29 (Winter 1999/2000)

The first Japanese journal which devotes itself to the study of popular music was finally started in 1997 by JASPM (the Japanese Association for the Study of Popular Music) as its house journal. The title in Japanese letters can phonetically be transcribed as "popular-ongaku kenkyu" and translated as popular music studies.

1997 (vol.1)
1998 (vol.2)

The publication rightfully marks a new development of JASPM, which was officially formed in 1990. To my puzzlement, however, none of the five articles contained in the first two issues of this annual journal, published in 1997 and 1998 respectively, specifically deal with or related to popular music in Japan. In fact this coverage in the very inaugural issues neither does justice to the dissolution of IASPM-Japan into a much larger organization, JASPM, which was organized in favour of those who were more domestically oriented, nor reflects the actual situation of annual JASPM conferences, in which the topics of papers and panels have invariably been dominated by music in Japan. Will this predilection be modified in the third issue, which was due to be published in late November, 1999, but as of mid-January, the date of this commentary, has not been released?

One of the two articles in the 1997 issue, following an introductory essay by H. Ogawa, is "Relation between words and melody in songs of Prevert" by Y. Toita, a college teacher of French, who argues that "the unique beauties of poetry and music respectively make for a successful marriage, and create a new aesthetic value, and an original poetic beauty for the song" and that "Prevert's truly 'popular' songs prove this assertion". In the other article, "What is 'Musical Work' in Popular Music - An Attempt towards Semiotic Studies -", S. Masuda, a doctorate student, "considers what logical structure maintains and produces the identity of the concept of musical works in popular music".

The 1998 issue begins with "Classification of Rhythm Patterns by Using Computer" by M. Yako, a college teacher of music, in which he tries to "systematize rhythms used in popular music by analysing and classifying various rhythm patterns played on drum and percussion instruments". The following article, "From 'the Spilit of the Times' of Rock to Audiences: Cultural Studies and Popular Music" by Y. Awaya, a doctorate student, "examines the politics of discourse on the value of 'rock' by critics and academics and the importance of audience, mostly neglect in those discourses". Finally, another doctorate student, K. Minamida also takes up rock in American and British culture in "Three Indicators in the Rock Music Culture - toward a Methodology of Cultural Sociology", and "gives analysis on the value systems that form the characteristics of the rock music culture".

These articles are followed, firstly, by guides to relevant literature in other related fields of study. In the first issue S. Fukuoka tries to acquaint readers with how much research has been done on popular music in ethnomusicology, primarily referring to material in English, while T. Suzuki gives, in the second issue, information on Japanese material as it refers to database-making in the study of music. Then, in the first issue, S. Hosokawa's book on music among Japanese-Brazilians is extensively reviewed by T. Iwamura, but no book review are found in the second one. Another regular feature devised for this journal is named "Forum" in English whereas the others are all in Japanese, and it is for a JASPM member to talk about his or her favourite subject. In the first issue, H. Nishimura gives a historical overview of how Latin rhythms have been incorporated into recorded Japanese songs with an emphasis on the Tokyo Cuban Boys, while in the second, T. Morikawa, presumably upon the personal request of an editor as well, proposes a tentative college class in popular music for general undergraduates. The rest of the journal consists of lists of the programmes of both annual JASPM conferences and occasional meetings held by the four branches. The abstracts of papers presented at the 1996 and 1997 conferences are also given, but they simply duplicate those handed out at the venues.

Any delay in reviewing this journal here in RPM was not only caused by the delay of the publication of the third issue, but also by my uncertainty as to its appeal to international readers. I am fully aware, having learned by experience, of the disagreeable tendency among overseas researchers to expect automatically from someone, particularly in a far-off country, nothing but a view on his or her native music, but it is not unreasonable to expect, in a Japanese journal dedicated to popular music, writings related to Japanese music and its industry. As to those five articles mentioned above, I find them predictable, except for the mathematically mystifying piece which bundles up rhythm patterns, and I am not confident that they would draw international attention in their own right.

Finally, any reluctance in describing the present publication for international readers was caused by my lament over negligence which characterizes representations in English. You must have been halted time and again by titles and quotes from summaries which I gave above, deliberately without any "[sic]"s. Inadequate turns of phrases and grammatical errors are found here and there in the translated titles of articles and their summaries in English, and even such gross typos as "themiddle and late 1960' s"  and "defined as acquiringo pularity". The titles and summaries in English may visually look peripheral to Japanese readers, but these alphabets are the only letters which make sense to non-Japanese readers.

At any rate, another academic journal of popular music bravely made its appearance, albeit to a very narrow readership, in a country where one can easily find a bunch of pop periodicals alluringly arrayed in bookstores.

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This page was updated on 19-January-2000
by Heinz-Peter Katlewski

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