[From July Issue 2014]
President of Foster Japanese Songs
Using the western scale, nursery rhymes and school songs produced in the Meiji period (1868-1912) represent a unique Japanese world view. This makes them the perfect tool to promote the beauty of Japan to the rest of the world. This was the reasoning of TAKEI Ryoko, when she took on the role of president of Foster Japanese Songs (FJS).
Takei has been studying singing while at the same time pursuing her academic and professional career. In 2006, she went over to America to get her MBA. While studying at Columbia University, she brushed up her vocal skills by attending a master course as an auditing student at the Juilliard School.
Returning to Japan in 2008, she thought about what she could do for her country, and it occurred to her that she could be active in disseminating Japanese songs to other countries. “In attempting this, I could make the best use of my knowledge of business management and marketing skills, as well as my singing skills. I thought I was the only person who possessed both of these qualifications. And this above all, made me excited,” said Takei.
Before getting started, Takei gave some consideration to how she would capture people’s interest. Takei says: “Japanese melodies, such as school songs, nursery rhymes and classic artistic melodies use the western scale, so they are approachable for non-Japanese listeners. Nevertheless, they express unique Japanese views of the world. If we make an analogy with sushi, for example, California rolls are an original dish made using Japanese techniques. So I thought I would start non-Japanese listeners off with California rolls and then have them move on to norimaki (rolled sushi wrapped in sheets of dried seaweed), namely, the world of Noh plays and so forth.
So FJS was established in 2012, under the slogan of “Transforming Japanese soul songs into global classics.” She keeps herself active and is a member of Nikikai, an organization for vocalists, and sings as soprano on the side.
In the middle of this March, FJS held its first overseas performance at a U.N. event in New York. “I assured the members that everything would be alright, but I was actually very nervous,” says Takei, explaining how she felt before the concert.
After the performance, however, some non-Japanese people were found to have shed a tear. The concert attracted the attention of foreign media and she felt that things had gone rather well. “The next day we gave a concert at a recital hall and I was really happy to see that some of the people who had attended the previous day’s event came with their friends to listen to our songs again,” says Takei.
Takei prioritizes conveying the meaning of the Japanese lyrics. During a performance, she took some time to explain the environment in which the songs were created. Using phonetic transcripts, she got everyone to join in a rendition of “Furusato” (Hometown). She also translates lyrics, but she does this very carefully. “I want to retain an academic appearance. Depending on how you translate it, you can end up with something resembling inferior California rolls. I always take time to make sure that my translation fully reflects the meaning of the original.”
These days, even in Japan, there are fewer opportunities to enjoy nursery rhymes and school songs. “Japanese songs account for only 10% of the songs found in junior high school music textbooks,” says Takei. She plans to hold the same performance in Tokyo that she did in New York and, in addition, to actively continue her efforts at home. Takei says that FJS’s goal is to have famous opera singers such as Plácido Domingo sing Japanese songs in Japanese on their European tours.
Text: ICHIMURA Masayo