The Winter Olympic Games in Beijing 2022 had just closed on February 20th after two weeks of fierce competitions. And we have opportunities to listen to the national songs of each country when we have international sports competitions such as the Olympic Games and the World Cups.
The national anthems of most countries sound like bright, lively, and morale booster melodies. Have you ever listened to the Japanese national anthem called “Kimigayo”? If so, you might feel it is a bit different from them and some of my foreign friends told me before that the Japanese one sounded so cool. Are you serious? How come? I could not understand their feeling because it is a very slow melody, sounds dark, makes us sleepy and demoralizing somehow. Moreover, there are so many positive words in the national anthems of other countries such as “faith”, “freedom”, “happiness”, and “unity”, but our anthem has none of them. On the contrary, there are mysterious words such as “pebbles” and “moss” …moss?? I had no idea about the meaning of the lyrics when I was a kid because the wording was too old for us to understand well.
So, I examined the history of “Kimigayo” such as when and who made it, and what the lyrics mean in detail at this chance. Because I haven’t thought about anything about it deeply. It is one of the most common problems that people have in general, not knowing much about their own culture…
According to some historical materials and information, Kimigayo initially had a root of a poet by an unknown waka composer in the ancient Japanese book of poetry called “Kokin-Waka-Shu” in 10th century. It is said that the lyrics writer is the oldest and the song is the shortest as the national anthem in the world. The meaning of the song is supposed to be that I wish your era will continue forever for a thousand and 8 thousand years as if small stones had made a large stone by sticking together until it would be covered by moss. At the moment the poem was made, it was considered to pray for the longevity of those close to you, or even a kind of love song about the eternal bond between a man and a woman, then it gradually changed to the song to celebrate the Reign of the Emperor, especially during the wartime.
In the middle of the 19th century, a British military band instructor composed the song with the lyric as he thought it pities that Japan didn’t have its own anthem, then a German music teacher arranged it according to western harmony after the ancient Japanese court music division of the Ministry of the Imperial Household re-arranged the melody. So, I wasn’t expecting that the melody of our anthem is not originally a Japanese tune but the western flavored one, because the melody sounds completely far from the other western melodies. Kimigayo had settled down as our national anthem among people almost 100 years ago, but it was in 1999 when the song was legislated as the Japanese anthem. It also made me surprised that it was such a recent story…Anyway, I could learn our anthem is quite unique compared with others.
Singing of Kimigayo at the official events at educational institutes like graduation ceremonies has been controversial, especially after wartime. As I said before, Kimigayo was considered to celebrate the Reign of the Emperor and to promote the emperor system during wartime. Some people think that it might be something to force a specific ideology so that some teachers, students, and parents reject singing the anthem, and it often leads to legal arguments. Fortunately, I had never experienced such occasions and encountered uncomfortable situations. It is still a kind of taboo whether we sing the anthem at educational institutions. Usually, we sing the school song at such events instead. I am just wondering if you have similar issues around your national anthem in your country?
I took this opportunity to look up the national anthems of various countries in the world through the internet, and I found some countries have very impressive ones. My favorite is the anthem of Kenya. It sounds like elements of Gregorian chant with solemn sounds and the lyrics in the Swahili language seem very beautiful. The melody is not common compared with that of other countries with feeling exultant. In addition to Kenya, the Moroccan and Zambia anthems are also cool for me with their unique atmosphere. Anthems of African countries impress me somehow! If you are interested in them, why don’t you check the YouTube site called ”World National Anthems JP”? They are providing various countries’ anthems with subtitles. FYI, I just watched the video of Kimigayo singing at the closing ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and its arrangement melody sounded exotic and more or less cool for me, too.
By the way, I could not watch the Beijing Olympics in fact because I was struggling with the symptoms of the omicron variant during that time. Yes, I was positive of COVID-19 unfortunately in spite of completing vaccination twice …I was battling with a severe cough, sore throat, runny and stuffy nose as well as stomach ache so that it wasn’t even the Olympics. The omicron variant was said to weaken the poison, but it was strong enough for me to knock down for a week although I am fully recovered now… Stay safe and hope the global tragedy will end shortly!!