I am, by training, a classical musician, so from a musical perspective I find most idol music trifling.
This does not mean it is always uninteresting. Every piece of idol music I hear (well, almost) has something interesting or thought provoking. Sometimes it’s even in the lyrics, which are mostly insipid but with glimmers of depth to them. For example, the lyrics of “what is love” by Morning Musume:
If you can't even make one person understand you how will you seduce the world? If you leave one person feeling sad will you be able to make the whole world happy?
This is reminiscent, to me, of the story about the boy who was tossing starfish back into the ocean, was stopped by someone who told him it didn’t matter, and he pointed to a starfish he threw back – “it mattered to that one”. Actually surprisingly deep. So I’m not entirely unappreciative of the music (though I could not honestly be considered a fan – if I had a choice I’d much rather listen to a piano concerto, and no idol music is on my phone).
But that’s really the only reason it interests me, truly.
So I was listening to one of the songs on the more insipid side of the scale, Happy Summer Wedding by Morning Musume. It is actually a rather sweet song, I suppose, but it’s obviously not meant to appeal to either my gender or age range. Fair enough, I guess. But right in the middle of the song is a rendition of “Shave and a Haircut”.
This struck me as surprising and incongruous. Right in the middle of the song a small fragment of something that honestly does not fit culturally (or, honestly, even musically) was dropped into it, rather like a little drop of oil in a sea of water. It just didn’t match, and I’m not sure why Tsunku, or whoever wrote the song, decided to do that.
And it’s something that I’m not sure if most Japanese would even pick up on – it’s almost as if it’s a little nod to their Western audience.
So today my boss made a statement about the “Goldilocks sweet spot” and my mind went back to the incongruous “shave and a haircut”, and I realized that there are aspects to a culture that cannot be taught in a language class, or at least cannot easily be taught. And that’s when I fully realized that learning how to speak a language is only half the battle, if that.
And it’s also why I post about things that are not specifically language related.
I cannot understand Japanese without at least being familiar with the underlying culture. And that is very important to me, and I’m spending an inordinate amount of time familiarizing myself with Japanese popular culture, reading books, manga, and other things that will help me to understand the underlying cultural assumptions.
But make no mistake – I’m not otaku. Many Japanese pop-culture things are fun, and cute, yes. And I’m always looking for ways to integrate them into my own culture. But they’re not of any great interest to me past being a curiosity. If I ever behave in a way in which I could be consider otaku, or even worse, weeaboo, it will be time to hang it up, dust off my cowboy hat, and spend some time on a ranch where there is no Internet or phone.
I learn the language because it fascinates me. I study Japanese pop culture because it fascinates me as well, and helps me to learn the language better. But I refuse to make a fool out of myself worshipping all things Japanese. And I think that’s how it should be.