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Home > Books & Journals > Book Review Last Updated: 15:23 06/06/2008
Book Review #87: January 7, 2008

"My Song Story in My Life - The Joys and Sorrows of Showa Era (Waga Jinsei No Utagatari - Showa No Aikan)" by Hiroyuki Itsuki

Reviewed by Mikihiro Maeda (Administrative Chief, Japanese Institute of Global Communications, International University of Japan)

Title: My Song Story in My Life - The Joys and Sorrows of Showa Era ("Waga Jinsei No Utagatari - Showa No Aikan" in Japanese)
Authors: Hiroyuki Itsuki
Language: Japanese
Publisher: Kadokawa Shoten
Date/Time: 2007/3/27
Pages: 250 pages
ISBN: ISBN-10: 4048839691
ISBN-13: 978-4048839693


How can we describe the author of this book, Hiroyuki Itsuki? Novelist, essayist, songwriter, producer, or radio personality? Regardless of his role, he is widely respected as a spiritual voice in Japan. He was born in 1932 and grew up in Pyongyang, the capital city in North Korea now, due to his parents' jobs as teachers. After the end of the war his family had to be "repatriated" to Japan due to Japan's unexpected defeat, where they experienced hardships beyond description according to his confessions in many other of his books and essays. Such experiences caused severe trauma for him for a long time even after many years had passed since then, and many of his writings until now are based on this "repatriation" experience.

There are many songs in this world. One might think of the famous Jazz standard "On the sunny side of the street" image as a cheerful song, but the songs taken up in this book do not necessarily have such happy and bright images. Rather, they often have melancholy, gloomy and depressing images. But even sad songs have opposite images, Itsuki cherishes those songs silently and calmly in his mind when telling how he had to overcome the turbulence of his younger days in "Showa era."

Itsuki was a radio personality of his own weekly TBS program on Sunday nights from 1979 to 2004. On this program he talked about himself, introduced and presented many of his books to the audience and invited guests for interviews. He was also on NHK's midnight radio program and talked about his hard and heroic experiences in the past, each with a song that he heard or sang at that time. This book is a collection of those NHK midnight radio program series (as a footnote, two sequels will be published soon).

This book consists of six long chapters: 1. First songs heard in childhood; 2. Popular songs in war times; 3. Sad songs in extreme severity (after Japan's defeat); 4. Songs at the time of repatriation (from Pyongyang to Japan); 5. Songs born in poor Japan (soon after the war); and 6. Songs he listened to when he was a working (self-supporting) student (at Waseda University in Tokyo).

One of the most impressive passages in this book is about a very sad song entitled "A border town," which Itsuki as a fourteen years old boy sang with his elder coworkers in Pyongyang, which was seized by the Soviet Army after the defeat of Japan in the war. It is a very sad song about a man traveling alone, remembering his loved one and weeping in a remote town near the border, but somehow this song sounded comforting to him and helping him overcome his hardship as a breadwinner to support his family, after his mother passed away and his father became mentally devastated due to Japan's defeat.

Afterward, he has come to a conclusion that "in an extremely sad condition, one could not necessarily be encouraged by cheerful songs, but rather be supported by singing sad songs and shedding tears, which tend to help rescue one's soul" (p. 116). Those experiences of the author and the songs he heard each time overlapped, and his memories each time recalled the songs he listened to at that time. He weaves empirical essays by quoting beautiful and alluring lyrics of the songs with memories of bitter experiences.

There are both bright and dark sides of the earth. As much as the beauty of its bright side is impressive, as we saw in the video sent from Japan's lunar explorer, "Kaguaya," late last year, its dark side is full of regrettable incidents and actions such as crimes, violence, environmental destruction, etc. In spite of these problems, however, we can cherish our songs and sing or listen to them to relieve our tension and stress and to encourage our hearts and minds so that we may find a way to survive in the real world of darkness, hoping for our bright future.

Finally, one of the remarks that Itsuki made on his TBS radio program is worth noting. On that program he once said that he was reluctant to have his literary works translated into other languages, because translated versions could not convey accurate original Japanese meanings. Therefore, only one book of his, "Tariki (Embracing Despair, Discovering Peace)," was officially translated into English in 2004. Hopefully, more of his splendid works, including this one, will be translated into other languages to be read worldwide in the near future.

Hiroyuki ITSUKI, My Song Story in My Life - The Joys and Sorrows of Showa Era ("Waga Jinsei No Utagatari - Showa No Aikan" in Japanese), Kadokawa Shoten

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