The Contradiction in the Japanese National Anthem and Its Influence on Papa in Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's Farewell to Manzanar

Categories: Japan Country

The interpretation of song lyrics and how they connect with our emotions and experiences has long since been a reason why music is crucial in so many people’s lives. However, there are some song lyrics that hold opposing views in the minds of its listeners. The Japanese National Anthem, called the Kimigayo, plays a conflicting role in the eyes and minds of its people (the Japanese); it could be viewed either positively, with strongly connecting to the lives of the Japanese, or it could be looked down upon, with bitter resentment.

The anthem speaks of rocks and stones, which are symbolic representations of most of the Japanese who lived in U.S. internment camps during World War Il. The Japanese, like rocks, can remain strong and resistant against anything that will break them down. In the case of Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s family from the book Farewell to Manzanar, the Kimigayo affects Papa with its conflicting role the most.

The article “Japan National Anthem”, written by Kodansha International, explores both the history of the anthem and a possible interpretation of its meaning, The author asserts that the Kimigayo (Japanese Anthem) is meant as a wish of “good health” and “long life”.

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However, the author also states that this message is likely directed towards the emperor and has militaristic undertones, There is evidence supporting this in the anthem’s very title, The word kimi means friend, lover, or even household. Yet, it has also become a term directly referring to the emperor.

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Another place in which militaristic undertones are evident is in the anthem’s history. The man who stressed its creation was a member of a marching band in the army. These supporting facts point to the clear conclusion that the kimigayo was written to strengthen empirical rule and patriotism within Japanese culture.

Jeanne’s papa sings the anthem out of disappointment and sadness, for his entire family is trapped in the internment camps, stripped of rights and secluded from regular society. “It can be a hearty or a plaintive tune, depending on your mood. From Papa that night, it was a deep- throated lament.” (Houston 64) “Deep-throated lament” portrays that he sang out of sorrow and pain that his home country (Japan) is now taking part in such a cruel bitter war with his other home country (U.S.). Papa sang the anthem out of the remaining love and loyalty he had left for his country. Also, the lyrics in the song connect to Papa; they stones they mention are a symbolic representation of him and the Japanese at their time in the internment camp. The anthem includes stones which are described as being able to remain unchanged and venerable over a long period of time, This depicts that even though the Japanese have survived the camps and were able to maintain their culture (remain unchanged), their impassive and surrendering acceptance of the camps leaves them unprepared and scared for what lies ahead outside of the camps. From this, depiction, another conflicting point of view the anthem gives to the Japanese is seen; while it is connecting to them and possibly even giving hope, it is at the same time revealing a harsh truth and brings them down,

The Kimigayo is commonly perceived as being a military song. This is because over time through all the conflicts that Japan went through with other nations (Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, Manchurian Incident and Pacific War), the anthem took on a more combative and warlike feel. Overall, this anthem is contradicting to the Japanese, It speaks of hard endurance and gives the Japanese hope while its symbolic meaning is perceived by many as being
militaristic and related to the emperor system. This is especially the case for Papa from Farewell to Manzanar. The lyrics speak of stones that have grown a thick layer of moss; similarly, Papa is like the hard stones because he was able to endure Manzanar, growing a layer of “moss” to protect him, However, the anthem makes Papa very emotional and dismal as he sings it in the story. In addition, the very title of the anthem, Kimigayo, is contradicting. “Kimi” can mean lord, household, friend, lover” but at the same time the term “kimi” was directly used to address
the Emperor. Although this song plays a contradictory role for the Japanese, the context of the anthem (stones) is most important, It is an accurate figurative portrayal of the Japanese especially during World War II. In conclusion, the stone and moss represent that the Japanese’s ability to endure trials at Manzanar could lead to growth. No matter what obstacles hit it, ike a stone, the Japanese will be able to hold its shape and stay unyielding, growing and adapting in order to protect themselves.

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The Contradiction in the Japanese National Anthem and Its Influence on Papa in Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's Farewell to Manzanar. (2022, Aug 09). Retrieved from

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