Yuiko Asaba (University of Huddersfield); Amane Kasai (Waseda University)

Project Abstract

This research project examines popular music genres in and from Japan from the 1920s to 1960s through the lens of oceanic currents and maritime history, illuminating the international circulations of musicians and music objects across the sea and at global port cities at this time.

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The desire for financial gain and self-improvement as a cosmopolitan led many Japanese musicians to travel by sea, while diverse forms of ‘foreign’ popular music poured into Japan’s global port cities. Whilst never entirely independent from political dynamics, the circulations of popular music via the sea were motivated by human curiosity, all the while incorporating and mobilizing the local ideologies and trends through the medium of the sea. This project aims to contribute to the growing scholarship on the maritime histories of cultural circulations outside of the West (Alberts & Irving 2013; Haneda & Oka 2019; Nor & Stepputat 2019; Villamar 2020), as well as studies of the circulation of ideas that draw on the oceanic analogy (Jue 2020). In particular, through the methodology of maritime histories examining multilateral rather than bilateral relations, this project examines international music exchanges involving Japan during the ‘transwar’ period, and how they were mediated by territorial borders, domestic politics and processes of internationalization. Throughout this project, we seek to draw on recent works that have vigorously placed twentieth century East Asian histories in broader contexts (Chen 2010; Iwabuchi 2002).

The project features scholars working on the historical circulations of popular music between Japan and multiple international locations. The topics will include the following: musicians and musical instruments travelling across Europe, Asia, and South America before and during World War II; Asian popular songs sung in patois or ports lingo in the context of war propaganda; the diffusion of Japanese popular songs to other continents during the Korean War. The project will culminate in a symposium, which will become the basis for a special issue publication. Through the symposium presentations and subsequent publication, this research project investigates the ways in which musicians’ experiences through travels, personal narratives, and exchange of commodities mobilized the local and international ideologies and trends of the time.

Keywords: Oceanic currents; Maritime history; Port cities; Popular musics in and from Japan and other ‘Asian’ countries; Geopolitical representations of ‘Continent (tairiku/the mainland China)’; The Island/Continent binary and popular music; Personal experiences and narratives; Memory and forgetting; Continuities and discontinuities surrounding the term, ‘transwar period’


Resonating Across Oceanic Currents

A Maritime History of Popular Music in and from Japan, 1920s-1960s

In what ways can we engage with the sea as a method in examining popular music history? How can we approach the global circulations of music through the multilateral modes of understanding a maritime history? What exactly are the ways through which we can decolonise the study of popular music in and beyond the West? The two-day symposia feature scholars working on the historical flows of popular music between Japan and multiple international locations. Deriving from the project ‘Resonating Across Oceanic Currents (RAOC)’, the symposia will explore the international music exchange involving Japan during the ‘transwar’ period. Above all, in conversation with current thinking about decoloniality, the symposia will engage with methodological and ethical means to investigate the maritime history of popular music in and from Japan during some of the most turbulent years of the twentieth century.


Saturday, 2 October and Saturday, 23 October 2021

Time (both dates)

7am-10am (CDT) / 8am-11am (EDT) / 1pm-4pm (BST) / 8pm-11pm (AWST) / 9pm-0am (JST&KST)

*Please confirm the time frame in your location:





DAY I   Saturday, 2 October

Chair: Hiromu Nagahara (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Discussant: David R. M. Irving (Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies)


Karl Neuenfeldt (Murdoch University)

The Maritime Labour-Music Interface in Australia’s Historic Pearling Industry: Songs of Longing and Belonging

Hugh de Ferranti (Tokyo Institute of Technology)

Music and the Japanese of ‘Monsoon Australia’, 1920s-1960s

Yuiko Asaba (University of Huddersfield)

On ‘Latin America’ and Japanese Tango Musicians in Manchuria: A Transcultural History, 1935-1945

Amane Kasai (Waseda University)

Dubbed in Patois: Musical Mimicry Involving the Chinese in Wartime Japanese Popular Songs

Masao Nishimura (Kwansei Gakuin University)

When Will You Return: The Trans-border Tangos of ‘Herijun Zailai’

DAY II   Saturday, 23 October

Chair: Robert Adlington (University of Huddersfield)

Discussant: Yusuke Wajima (Osaka University)


Shin Aoki (Kobe City University of Foreign Studies)

Bringing Music Back: American Military Personnel and Their Souvenirs of Japan, 1945-1958

Sungmin Kim (Hokkaido University)

Sukiyaki and Camellia Girl: Excluded and Smuggled Japan-ness in Post-war South Korea

Michael K. Bourdaghs (The University of Chicago)

Transpacific Rehabilitations: Yamaguchi Yoshiko’s 1950 Sacramento Concert and Post-Internment Japanese American Cultural Memory

Marié Abe (Boston University)

Aural Apophenia and Resonant Affinities between Japan and Ethiopia

*The order is subject to change.



This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 846143.

The symposia are held as WIAS Top Runners’ Lecture Collection, supported by Waseda Institute for Advanced Study.