Ondo Goes On: the Folk, the Folky and the Festive in Modern Japan — Inter-Asia Popular Music Studies (IAPMS) Online Workshop vol.9

We are pleased to host the Inter-Asia Popular Music Studies Group (IAPMS) Online Workshop vol.9. To participate in this online event, please register by filling out the form with your name and email address. The event information will be sent to your email after the registration. A reminder email will also be sent two day before as well as one hour before the event.

Registration form: https://forms.gle/CbjuhFTmnkiBNt576

The event will be held on 13th August (Fri):

15:00-17:00m (Korea/Japan) / 14:00-16:00 pm (China)  

(Please use the time zone converter to calculate the event time in your location: https://www.thetimezoneconverter.com/)

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IAPMS online workshop vol.9

Title: Ondo Goes On: the Folk, the Folky and the Festive in Modern Japan

Speaker: Shuhei Hosokawa

Moderator: Yusuke Wajima

Date: 13th August (Fri.)

Time: 15:00-17:00m (Korea/Japan) / 14:00-16:00 pm (China)

Venue: ZOOM

Abstract: Ondo Goes On: the Folk, the Folky and the Festive in Modern Japan

Ondo音頭 is a genre of dance music invented and disseminated since the 1930s in Japan. Although its magnetism is rarely mentioned in the history of popular music, the ondo pieces are so dominant in the summer obon festivals and other community-based events that even the majority of J-pop fans can “tune in” on this vernacular beat.  This paper will outline the musical, industrial and social background of ondo music launching by “Tokyo Ondo” (1933). Over a million copies of record, rumor says, were sold.

The rhythmic pattern of “Tokyo Ondo” omes from geisha party music which is accompanied by shamisen and small taiko drums (kotsuzumi). Unlike their performance indoors for selected audience, ondo is typically played outdoors for the open public. In the center of circle of dancing mass, one sets up a platform for large taiko (and dancers) which is performed with the commercial recordings played loudly through the speakers. It is what the ethnomusicologist Charles Keil called “live-and-mediated performance” (like karaoke).

Astonished by the massive craze, some critics observed it as a “safety valve” against the nationwide tension caused by the warfare in Manchuria. Their sober view, however, did not affect the collective enthusiasm overwhelming beyond the geographical (not national-ethnic) boundaries (in Manchuria, Korea, Taiwan, and the Nikkei immigration communities). Similar ondo pieces were released every summer but they could not sweep out “Tokyo Ondo.” While the state control being fortified under the warfare, the gatherings from below were shrinked or prohibited till 1945. 

During the Occupation period, the obon festivals were generally suspended due to their “old Japan” image. However, it slowly revived in the 1950s on the local level, while “Tokyo Olympic Games Ondo” (1964) stimulated the first nationwide boom after the war. It was followed in 1965 by “Oba Q Ondo,” originating from the TV anime, Obake no Q-taro, sung by the voice actress of Oba Q. The liaison with anime was recaptured in 1981 by “Arare-chan Ondo,” recorded by the voice actress of Arare-chan, a character from Dr. Slump. All of these sing happy-go-lucky words and the choreography is easy even for kids. Children’s participation is essential for the organizers of events.

In 2014, Otomo Yoshihide, known for his underground acts, composed “Eejanaika Ondo” for supporting the people in the nuclear-contaminated zones in Fukushima (“eejanaika” refers to the mass upheaval against the Tokugawa reign around the 1850s-60s just before the Meiji Restauration). Ondo turns to be a meeting point between the mass entertainment and political message.

In today’s obon gatherings, the above-noted pieces are played repeatedly with some local variants. Ondo music is neither oriented to Top 40 or to niche market nor classified as J-pop but lingers beneath the surface of consumption society as a unique expression of vernacularism.

Speaker: Shuhei Hosokawa

Professor Emeritus at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Kyoto). He is author of Sentiment, Language and the Arts. Japanese-Brazilian Herit­age (Brill, 2019) and coeditor (with Toru Mitsui) of Karaoke around the World: Global Technology Local Singing (Routledge, 1998). His interest ranges from sound technology and music industry to history of popular music. Visiting professor at the University of Michigan (1995), the University of Changchun (2002, 2003), the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (2004, 2006) and the University of Melbourne (2010). 

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