I had a presentation last night which was about Japaneseness in popular music. I had been really struggling it because "Japaneseness" is such a abstract concept. Because the presentation was associated with the lecture on the relationship between Britpop and national identity, I read a lot of books and watched a couple documentaries on BBC about it as preparing my presentation. Through the process, I gradually realised how the academic study of popular music ignores non-Western music and people. Common sense in the UK is NOT common in Japan. Well, for instance, some authors claimed that "Englishness was represented by obvious English accent in Britpop". However, the claim is understood only by the British, Americans and some of English native speakers. How can the Japanese distinguish cockney accent from South English accent? The same thing can be said to Asian people. I don't think that many British people figure out the differences between Japanese and Chinese languages.
Another example I picked up in the presentation was in the article written by Hosokawa. His perspectives would be really understandable for the Japanese. His argument was based on a Japanese charactaristic, dexterity, say "the Japanese are others (non-Western people), but they can be the imagined others (the Japanese image which foreigners expect)" because of rootlessness (modernisation in the Meiji period seems to affect the characteristic significantly). In other words, the Japanese can occidentalise themselves as orientalise as well. It seems like that Japaneseness is very sophisticated and complicated. Indeed, it hardly can be seen in the music itself.
In the end of my presentation, I a bit argued about the division of Japanese music scene between Ho-gaku and Yo-gaku. In particular, I focused on the music press. I pointed out how Rockin' on Japan tries to eliminate Western influences from Japanese rock music, which was really weird because rock cannot abandon its Western origin. I'm still not sure if the interpretation was acceptable for the other Japanese. But, at least, it wouldn't be wrong perhaps.
To sum up, my assumption was, as a lead academic of popular music studies Frith said, that these differences can be understood by people who have similar interests, similar experience and who are in a certain group: thus, there is no universal concept of Japaneseness. Although nationality may be important, I guess we shouldn't be stuck in it. Otherwise I couldn't explain enough whether or not non-Japanese people, who love Japanese culture or understand language, can find out any Japaneseness in Japanese popular music. Yet, I'm not quite sure if this assumption is acceptable. Indeed, I'm really worried about feedback which I'll get on next Monday.
By the way, one thing I particularly enjoyed in the presentation was a sort of experiment. I played 4 songs which were 2 Japanese rock music and 2 UK counterparts. I only played intro for each, then asked my classmates if they could distinguish 2 Japanese songs from the others. They anwered like "the 3rd song is definitely the UK song"or "I think the first 2 are Japanese songs and the other 2 are UK". But the answer was this:
1. Together - Suede
2. Jesus - Primal Scream
3. Four Seasons - The Yellow Monkey
4. Niji (Rainbow) - Quruli
If they listened melodies of these songs, then might find any differences between Japanese and UK songs. But, anyway, this cheesy experiment shows how musicological approach to national identity is somehow problematic. When I got my classmates' guesses, I was sort of jumping up in my mind (you may notice why I was). However, in other words, my excitement implied the ingrained thought which is that Japanese rock is always inferior to UK rock. It was rubbish anyway