No Edelweiss on Fujiyama
Geisha, cherry blossoms, sukiyaki, Fujiyama, Tōkyō, Yokohama, Nagasaki…those are only some of numerous stereotypes to be associated with Japan in the West, and which were used in popular music since the end of the 18th century. In Austria, Japan drew much attention with its presentation at the 1873 World Exposition in Vienna. Japonism found its place within the fine arts through Japanese motifs and styles. In the world of music, Japan was hyped through operas and operettas. Because of their popularity, Japanologist Sepp Linhart subsumes them under ‘popular music’. Emeritus Professor and Head of the Institute of Japanese Studies, Sepp Linhart, researched about Japan’s image in western popular music.
Due to the enormous success of operettas and operas such as ‘The Mikado’, ‘The Geisha’ or ‘Madama Butterfly’ (the most-performed opera worldwide) even more “Japan operettas” were created and “Japan songs” were written, having become very popular in the 1920s. They shaped our image of Japan. The 1920s and early 1930s were the heyday of Japanese popular songs, many of them composed by Austrians until the political situation terminated the production. After 1945, Germany and Austria avoided Japan because of their alliance with Japan during World War II. This had impact on music production – as a topic, Japan did not exist at all. It was not until just before the 1960s that hits about Japan started appearing – utilizing old clichés and stereotypes. As Japan grew economically, her image in popular songs changed. In the 1980s, hit songs describe Japan as a “model” and as “Nr. 1”. There is even a reversion of the ‘Madama Butterfly-motif’ when western women sentimentally sing about Japanese men who deserted them… Sepp Linhart interprets this as a shift in paradigm.
Text: Judith Brandner
Heads the project “Media Work for Students of Japanese Studies”. Works as a journalist for TV, radio and newspapers, and as presenter. Did Japanese Studies and Translation Studies. Teaching assignments in Vienna and Nagoya.