Introductory Guides to Historical Recordings

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#Note: Recordings listed with the tag [In-library-only material] are available for listening on-site by patrons visiting the National Diet Library and Rekion partner libraries.

Listening to Poetry: The Call of the Poetry Reading Record

Hideto Tsuboi

Professor, International Research Center for Japanese Studies

 In the days before recorded sound, it was the public recital, limited to the space of a single instance, that established the literary art of recitation listened to by ear as literature. In the case of early-modern Japanese poetry, the start can be considered to be at the end of the nineteenth century around the time Masakazu Toyama and others advocated recitation of shintaishi (new form poetry), but the plan for the Rodoku kenkyukai (Recitation Study Group)/ Inbun rodokukai (Verse Recitation Society) carried out in 1902 by the Shinshisha (New Poetry Society) led by Tekkan Yosano which published the journal, Myojo (Bright Star; also translated as Morning Star or Evening Star) proved pivotal in the movement for public recitation.

 The advent of the era of record production allowed for the spread of this kind of poetry recitation once it was captured it on media. While the very first records were 78 rpm records, some original readings of poets of their own works were later reproduced and sold on LP records, tape cassettes, and compact discs. Yet, these items that were reproduced and introduced represent only a fraction of original recordings made. As can be gleaned from perusing the National Diet Library Historical Recordings Collection, a multitude of literary voices were recorded before and during the Pacific War and these recordings ended up in the hands of those who would listen as products in the form of records.

 While it is very difficult to see how these poetry readings were received with any confidence, the important thing is that many recitations were recorded for broadcast. These recordings were transmitted over the airwaves by radio and listened to far and wide. In Japan, as well, the late-developed voice media of the radio broadcast shared a complementary relationship with the spread of the record, and this also applied to the recording and broadcast of recited poetry. The school classroom could be mentioned as the next most receptive space for listening to recordings of poetry readings, (many records were made for the purpose of Japanese language education), followed by local gatherings.

 Before World War II, not every household had a phonograph or radio. The physical experience of listening with others or in groups was far more common. The development of the culture of recitation and reading aloud is no doubt closely linked to the cooperation among families, schools, and regions. Precisely because this groundwork had already been laid out, poets were able to mass produce hackneyed aikoku-shi (patriotic verses) once the War started, collaborate with the patriotic verse broadcasts NHK began right after war arose with the U.S., and actively take on propaganda roles for the war effort. "Patriotic verse (which one can also listen to on the Historical Recordings Collection)" such as Kotaro Takamura's "Saitei ni shite saiko no michi (The Worst Way is Still the Best )", Shinjiro Kurahara's "Miikusa ni shitagai matsuran (Let us do the glorious Army's bidding)", Kozo Nishimura's "Kakushite warera seicho seri (Thus we grew up)", Toichiro Iwasa's "Rajio-yo (Radio)", and Kihachi Ozaki's "Shonen kokuhei (Boy Fighter Pilots)", were recited by mobilized actors such as Sadao Maruyama, Tatsuya Ishiguro, and Yasue Yamamoto, subsequently were recorded, and then were broadcast over the radio. While the subject of "patriotic verses" is not taken up within the confines of this article, please refer to my work "Koe no shukusai: Nihon kindaishi to senso (Festival of Voices: Poetry and War in Modern Japan)", Nagoya daigaku shuppankai, (The University of Nagoya Press)), 1997), where I provide a detailed examination of the historical circumstances and structure of how they came to be incorporated into the voice media.

English version released on March 26, 2019.

1. Waka Poets, Tanka Poets, Haiku Poets, and Other Poets Read Their Own Works (Akiko Yosano, Mizuho Ota, Mokichi Saito, Bunmei Tsuchiya, Hakushu Kitahara, Kyoshi Takahama, Haruo Sato, Suimei Kawai, Yaso Saijo, Ryuko Kawaji, Sakutaro Hagiwara, Saisei Muro, Daigaku Horiguchi, etc.), Columbia, 1936-1940

 As mentioned above, some of these recordings have been reproduced many times during and after the age of LP records, so readers may have heard them before. Japanese poets have a tendency to sing their poems because that tradition exists when reciting traditional waka poems (even if they do not follow it). While the way Mizuho Ota's recitation transforms into song is fascinating, Akiko Yosano's is no doubt especially unique. Akiko Yosano created her very own style for poetry recitation and applies it to her readings. Specifically, she raises the pitch of her voice beginning with the fourth syllable of the fourth line at the end of the poem and the listener becomes aware that in order to do this, she is consciously reciting each syllable with a nearly uniform beat.

 Readings by poets like Haruo Sato are typical, but the more interesting readings are those that catch the listener's attention with their lack of ambition and curtness. The poetry of Saisei Muro is quite exquisite. The poet's personality shows through in his artless narration. Suimei Kawai's poetry is classically fixed form. His reading style closely approximates traditional poetry recitation culminating in a high degree of poetic emotional expression. Yaso Saijo's employs two recitation styles, altering his narration for poems in written literary language and for colloquial spoken language. Modern poetry recitation can be seen as gradually forming as it centered on spoken language verse in order to grow independent from tanka recitation.

Saisei Muro

Saisei Muro
("Aienki (The Record of a Sorrowful Monkey)", February 1935)

2. Eizo Terui Recites Poetry (Toson Shimazaki, Rofu Miki, Takuboku Ishikawa), Columbia, April 1935, June 1936

Eizo Terui

A Scene of Eizo Terui Reciting
This appears in the leaflet attached to Toson Shimazaki's "Osayo" and "Futo me wa samenu (All of a Sudden, I awoke)". In the leaflet, Terui contributed the composition, "Words of the Reciter", and wrote, "As my latest experiment, this disc is an expression of an exclamatory style of recitation". (Image contributed by the author)

 Eizo Terui played a vital role in the modern poetry reciting movement spanning the 1930s and 1940s, and not just as a reciter. The poetry reciting concepts and techniques of the author of "Shi no rodoku: sono yurai, riron, jissai (The Reciting of Poetry: Its Origins, Theory, and Practice)" (Hakusuisha Publishing, 1936), and "Kokumin-shi to rodoku-ho (National Poetry and How to Read It)" (Daiichi Koronsha, 1942), as systematically organized and put forth by perhaps Japan's first theorist occupy an extremely privileged position. In France, Terui studied under the renowned singer, Panzéra, and even introduced French songs to Japan. His high voice was truly beautiful, brimming with an occasionally fragile delicateness and feminine beauty.

 For example, in Toson Shimazaki's "Okume", Terui slows the tempo and starts chanting from the middle of the stanza with "shiritamawazuya waga koi wa (Do you not know my love for you)", making a strong visceral appeal to the listener. (Incidentally, Moritsuna Kuroyanagi, whose consummate violin accompaniment to the recital of this poem and the poem recited by Rofu Miki, worked as a concert master for the New Symphony Orchestra [the present-day NHK Symphony Orchestra] and was the father of actress Tetsuko Kuroyanagi.). Both are superior recitations in which the listener can feel Terui's efforts to elevate them into the realm of the arts. It was he who introduced the poems of Kenji Miyazawa and Kotaro Takamura to the world, and he would maintain an especially close relationship with Takamura. In addition, he also participated as a vocalist in the premiere of Kosçak Yamada's opera "Ochitaru tennyo (Fallen Angel)", and while it is possible to listen to a recording of the performance (Columbia, January 1930), it is said that the voice is apparently not that of Terui, but of Kosçak Yamada, himself, as Terui was unable to make it to the recording. (Haruhiko Kori "It was Kosçak Yamada who sang "Ochitaru tennyo (Fallen Angel)"!!" Yamada Kosaku no isan. 8 kaisetsu (The Legacy of Kosçak Yamada. Commentary Number 8), Nippon Columbia CD). Terui perished during an air raid in Tokyo in May 1945.

3. "Fuefukime (The Flute Playing Girl)" Sumako Fukao [Lyrics]/ Meiro Sugahara [Composer]/ Chieko Higashiyama [Reciter], Victor, September 1936

Sumako Fukao

Sumako Fukao
("Fujin bungei (Women's Literature)". Volume 3, Number 7, July 1936)

 Sumako Fukao stayed in Paris twice in the 1920s and 1930s, both times with soprano Ayako Ogino. Fukao took flute lessons from the master flautist, Marcel Moyse. Her poem, "Fuefukime (The Flute Playing Girl)" was born from those flute playing experiences. Soon after it was published in 1928, Kunihiko Hashimoto composed an arrangement for orchestra and soprano, and Ogino worked hard to debut the vocal solo the following year. The recording presented here is a later version composed in 1931 by Sugahara Meiro. As a singular artistic creation, this poetry reading musically accompanied by a single flute remains a memorable piece. Not only is the poetry reading by Chieko Higashiyama quite exquisite, the performance of the flute is as well, yet, the performer is not credited in the recording.

4. "Chubei taishi saito hiroshi ikotsukikan no uta 2-shu (Two Different Poems on the Return of the Remains of Hiroshi Saito, Ambassador to the United States)" Ballad "Yokuzo okutte kudasatta saito taishi ikotsu reiso ni taishi beikoku e yoseru kansha no uta (Song of Gratitude to America for Admirably Returning the Funerary Remains of Ambassador Saito)" Yaso Saijo [Lyrics] / Yuji Koseki [Composition] / Shin Segawa [Solo vocal] et al, Columbia June 1936, Ambassador Saito's Return, Noguchi Yone [Lyrics]/ Kosçak Yamada [Composition]/ Yoshiko Miyagawa [Solo vocal], Columbia June 1939

Yonejiro Noguchi

Yonejiro Noguchi
("Eigo kenkyu (English Language Studies)" Volume 32, Number 3; June 1939)

 Records allowed poets to write the lyrics to nursery rhymes and popular songs and earned them considerable incomes. A typical example of this is the work of Yaso Saijo, et al, who wrote the lyrics to the first ballad we present here. The poem conveys appreciation for the U.S. Government dispatching the U.S.S. Astoria to Japan under special auspices to ceremonially return the funerary remains of former Ambassador to the United States, Hiroshi Saito, who passed away on American soil in February 1939. The background chorus repeats the refrain, "We are deeply grateful you have brought him home. Thank you, O' glorious America!"

 The second poem, written in English, contains similar sentiments. Certainly, the melody is rather refined in Kosçak Yamada's composition, but the English lyrics written by Yone Noguchi (a.k.a. Yonejiro Noguchi, who was active in American poetry circles in the 1890s) are remarkable. The B-side of the record of this poem includes a reading of "Ode by Yone Noguchi Dedicated to Captain Richmond Turner of the 'Astoria'", a poem of gratitude by Noguchi dedicated to Captain Turner of the U.S.S. Astoria which transported Ambassador Saito's remains back to Japan. Turner and his crew were welcomed in an atmosphere of friendship. This was a mere two and a half years before the Attack on Pearl Harbor.

(Hideto Tsuboi, Professor, International Research Center for Japanese Studies)

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