Saturday, November 22, 2008

Miyuki Nakajima


People who hang out with my brothers and I know that we are musically omnivorous --- one example of that is that I enjoy Japanese music, despite not knowing enough Japanese to get out of trouble (thanks to a year of Berkeley's language lab, though, my Japanese accent is good enough that even Japanese folks think I know more than I do). Now, you might think that I got to like Japanese music in Japanese class, and you'd be wrong. Or perhaps I picked it up in Singapore, and you'd be wrong too --- we didn't get access to a lot of Japanese music until we got to the US.

What did happen once we did get access to Japanese pop music, though was that we realized how much of the Chinese pop music we heard in Singapore owed its origins to music produced by some Japanese artist. It was very disconcerting to realize that the same music (with translated lyrics, even) was being heard in multiple languages around the same time in Asia, thanks to the hegemony of music companies such as EMI.

One of the results of this mixed-mode musical sharing is that (as in this example video) music videos in Asia tend to be subtitled --- in the language that they are sung in! This is very helpful if you're trying to learn the language, but for someone who knows both Chinese and a little bit of Japanese, it's also fascinating. For instance, in this video at 2:01 (and other times --- it's part of the chorus), she sings, "私は大丈夫", meaning "I'm OK." Now, most folks know that 私 means "I" (female form) in Japanese. But in Chinese, the same character means "private" --- you can see how "private" evolves to "I". 大丈夫, however, is typically only used in Chinese in the context 男子汉大丈夫, which translates (roughly) to "A manly man." I'm always entertained by these almost, but not quite matches between Japanese and Chinese. (The last two characters by themselves, 丈夫, means husband in Chinese)

In any case, as you can tell from this song, "Maybe", the Japanese aren't shy about mixing English in, just so you can get a little triple-language action there. I'm a fan of Miyuki Nakajima, and this video shows why. She's not particularly pretty, but she's very expressive, and at the very least, her songs tell a story and she tries to tell it visually (though again in classically exaggerated Japanese fashion). Enjoy! (My favorite song of hers has an English title, "With", but I can't find a good enough video to post)
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