Japanese rock band Radwimps has been riding high on newfound international fame since providing the theme songs for Makoto Shinkai’s smash-hit anime film "your name." Last week, Radwimps released its newest single, but not all of the attention it’s been getting has been positive.
The new CD hit stores on June 6 and is titled "Catharsist," but it’s not the title track that’s been met with controversy.
No, the negative reactions have been in response to the single’s coupling song (as B-sides are called in Japan), which is titled “Hinomaru.” While hinomaru literally translates as “circle of the sun,” the phrase actually refers to the stylized sun on Japan’s flag, and by extension the flag itself.
Radwimps’ vocalist Yojiro Noda, who also writes his own lyrics, wanted for “Hinomaru” to be a patriotic song. However, some critics have argued that “nationalistic” would be a better descriptor, owing to certain lyrical and musical choices.
For starters, in comparison to the upbeat and/or melodic style of Radwimps’ "your name." songs, “Hinomaru” is much more minimalist, with drums pounding a slow, steady cadence with similarities to a military march. Critics have also taken issue with the song’s lyrics, which include:
“Now, go forth, in the name of the Land of Rising Sun”
“That flag, waving in the wind since ancient times, is somehow nostalgic, and what is this feeling welling in my heart?”
“The proud spirit of this country”
“The legacy we have inherited”
Combined, these elements have led some to the conclusion that “Hinomaru” is a pro-Japanese military song, and by extension supportive of the expansionist aggression of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy which continued until the end of World War II, when Japan occupied most of its neighboring Asian nations.
Noda, however, says that he intended no such message with the song, and has tweeted a bilingual English/Japanese statement (at top of story) explaining his position and impetus in writing the song.
In the tweet, Noda asserts that:
“I hate violence. I hate war. Every time I mention something about our history, I try to express that…The song Hinomaru does not express any cheering of war or violence. The lyrics are to cheer and encourage the people living in Japan although we have great earthquakes, a huge tsunami, a big typhoon, and all the other disasters. The song is to unite and to hold our hands tightly as one homeland. I apologize if there were any fans who were hurt from this song.
I’ll keep trying my best, to be the positive energy for you and this world. To be the change and to be the piece of ‘Peace’, always.”
That statement was preceded by another tweet from Noda regarding “Hinomaru,” which was posted on June 8, in which he says:
"Thx for your comment. I understand what we've done in our history and we must not forget about it. What I wanted to tell was that because of those historical facts, are we not be able to express our love to our country and our flags? Japan is the only country I was born."
Though Noda says that “Every time I mention something about our history, I try to express [that I hate war],” the song contains no condemnation of violence. That said, it doesn’t contain any endorsement of aggression either, nor any references to Japan’s conflicts with or colonization of other countries.
To that effect, while some in Japan have said they find “Hinomaru” to sound uncomfortably like a military propaganda song, others have come to its defense, commenting that they find it absurd that Japanese people saying they’re proud of Japan should be a cause of controversy.
Adding another complication to the discussion is that Japan’s ultra-right wing nationalists are particularly fond of flying the Japanese flag at their rallies and protests, creating an association in many people’s minds between the flag and a desire to return to Japan’s imperialistic ambitions of the first half of the 20th century. Hopefully Noda’s statement will keep his song from being similarly co-opted.
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