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Music is all about feelings and emotions. Music enhances our engagement with stories when it is used as background music in films, dramas or documentaries, or it speaks directly to us at concerts and via recordings. War-related music exists across many genres in Japan, from rap to classical (for detailed discussion of classical music, see War and Music). For general discussion (particular relating to pop music and the use of music online), see Aleksandra Jaworowicz-Zimny, “Subcultures of war” (PhD thesis, chapters 4 and 5). Examples of the key types of emotion induced by music in Japan include:


During the war years there were many patriotic songs and military songs. Here is an example with matching visuals.

Man-of-War March

This video (Japanese only) tells the story of the piano in Tosu, Saga prefecture, played by kamikaze pilots before their mission as seen the film Summer of the Moonlight Sonata (although the latter half of the video becomes is a typical nationalist lament of the “masochistic” education at Japanese schools).

A video telling the story of the piano in Summer of the Moonlight Sonata.

This is the theme song Close Your Eyes to the 2005 film Yamato set to scenes from the film.

Close Your Eyes (Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi)


Music can make sadness well up inside of us. This has been used to great effect in songs such as the enka ballad Mother on the Quay, about a mother waiting for her son to return from internment in Siberia (see Chapter 19 by Akiko Sugawa-Shimada of War as Entertainment and Contents Tourism in Japan). The haunting ballad The Song of the Sugarcane Field was the theme song for a major television drama of the same title in 2004 about the Battle of Okinawa.

Song of the Sugarcane Field.

For the very important position of Okinawa within not only Japanese music but also war-related music, see James E. Roberson, “Songs of War and Peace: Music and Memory in Okinawa”.

Music to Make You Think

Hiroshima musician Hippy intersperses his song with testimony from a hibakusha and her passionate anti-nuclear message.

Hippy interviews hibakusha Okada Emiko (with granddaughter Yuki), Hiroshima Mayor Matsui Kazumi, and Hiroshima Carp star Arai Takahiro for his musical peace message.

And it is possible to address the most horrific aspects of war in music. Here is Ikebe Shinichiro’s choral piece The Devil’s Gluttony with lyrics by Morimura Seiichi based on his novel about Unit 731.

Ikebe Shinichiro, The Devil’s Gluttony

Here is my review of this piece after I heard it in concert in Sapporo. Philip Seaton, “Remembering Biowarfare Unit 731 Through Musical Activism: A Performance of the Choral Work The Devil’s Gluttony”.

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