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Masataka Umeda

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The World of Miyuki Nakajima

Masataka Umeda
Former Professor, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: French language, French literature

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Universality and originality

Miyuki Nakajima is a singer-songwriter who represents Japan. She has probably composed well over 400 tunes as of today. Along with such an enormous quantity of songs, you can find comfortable melodies and pleasing rhythms throughout dozens of her albums. The tone of her songs is quite diverse, covering a wide variety of themes. Although Nakajima is an extremely distinctive and original singer, there are many fans that enjoy her taste. When acting as an FM radio personality in the past, she said that she had received messages from people of various ages, from small children to the elderly in their 70s. This probably implies that her songs have a kind of universality—a mysterious attractiveness that may reach people’s hearts by transcending differences in gender, age, background and occupation. For some time in the past, she seemed to be called the queen of lost-love songs, half jokingly. It is true that the songs she sang when she was in her 30s to 40s include many tunes about love or the relationship between a man and a woman, most of which is about a woman who was rejected by, separated with, or ignored by a man. Among the few exceptions include a recent song titled Mugi no Uta (Song of Wheat), in which a Scottish woman finally wins the love of a man. As seen above, almost all of the many characters in the world of Miyuki’s songs are women who were disappointed in love. This does not mean however that Miyuki only sings about such a frivolous world of falling in love or getting dumped. Her 400 and more songs also include serious themes that may even seem almost political.

Political or social Miyuki Nakajima

A song with a unique title, 4, 2, 3, is based on an actual incident that impacted society. This incident is when hostages were taken at the official residence of the Japanese ambassador to Peru, which broke out in December 1996 and took more than 4 months to be resolved. In the end, all of the Japanese hostages were saved while all the guerrillas who raided the ambassador’s residence were killed and some Peruvian soldiers also died during the rescue operation. The incident was finally resolved on April 23 of the next year, which is the origin of the title 4, 2, 3. Nakajima was watching the dramatic rescue operation that was broadcasted on TV. Exceptionally long for one of her songs, the lyrics lasting over 10 minutes tells about the scene broadcasted on TV chronologically, like a documentary.

On TV, a reporter is saying happily “Japanese people have been saved. … Hostages are waving their hands, they look healthy, they are smiling!” Near this somewhat excited reporter, burnt-black nameless Peruvian soldiers who sacrificed themselves to save the Japanese hostages were being carried out on stretchers—the songwriter is watching this scene carefully. She pays close attention to the details of the images that were almost ignored by thoughtless Japanese people watching the rescue on TV.

Those solders also probably have a father, mother, wife, or child
… People who have the kindness to pray for the safety of Japanese hostages— why do they not care for the people who rescued the hostages?

These few lines consist of the modest anger and the calm objection by Miyuki Nakajima. She is sending a wake-up call to the people in Japan.

A message to people who have disputes with each other

The song titled Himawari “SUNWARD” (Sunflower “SUNWARD”), released in 1994, can be regarded as another song dealing with a social problem that is tinged with a political color in some sense.

From here and there behind that strange fence that stretches far way
Gunshots have echoed again today from before dawn
Awakened birds fly away like flames of fire
Surprised by that sound, a baby begins to weep

Beginning with such words, the lyric of this tune seems directly suggestive of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Beyond that, however, I think that this work also applies to all the conflicts between nations or ethnic groups breaking out even now around the world. Nakajima is sending a passionate and important message to all the parties involved in such outrageous conflicts.

The fence is extending as if it forced me to choose either the blood of my father or the blood of my mother inside me
The flower would continue smelling sweet, even if it was called by another name

Go ask that sunflower, is there anything that can pour on everywhere?
Is there any love that pours on everyone?

Miyuki Nakajima proposes an extremely simple solution. Flowers bloom equally, smell sweet equally, and are loved equally everywhere on the earth even if they are called by different names. In the same way, we can simply love everyone equally, or pour our love out to everyone. I definitely believe that understanding what each line of the lyrics of Himawari truly means is much more effective for solving the situation than one thousand bullets flying beyond “that strange fence.”

Finally, let me mention a song that has a funny title Sukuranburu Kosaten no Watarikata (How to Cross a Scramble Intersection). While this song is rendered a little humorously with a sigh of the singer near the end of the tune, its content has a rather deep implication. As reasonable people should notice, this is a song designed to present a lesson of life or the way of life as a human being. In particular, this song satirizes an evil inclination that has prevailed widely among modern Japanese people or the national trait of Japanese people—surrendering to peer pressure easily, loving to follow others’ behavior, and jumping on the bandwagon quickly. Nakajima shows a concession by saying “I came to know that I should simply follow the person ahead of me,” but she also gives a warning casually: “But because I sometimes arrive at an unexpected place, it is important to foresee where that person is heading.” However difficult it may be to cross the intersection, or whatever situation we may confront in our life, we must cross the intersection by thinking for ourselves, and not stop thinking. This tune might be a perfect song that would motivate those people who are not suited at making their way in the world.

Masataka Umeda
Former Professor, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: French language, French literature
Masataka Umeda was born in Tokyo in 1946. He served at Chuo University as an assistant from 1972 when he was still a student at the French Literature Course in the Graduate School of Letters, Chuo University, and became a professor in 1989 after serving as a full-time lecturer and an assistant professor. He retired from the university in March 2015 because he reached retirement age. Umeda specializes in French literature and his research subjects include novels in the 19th century, focusing on Flaubert. He is interested in Romanticism, realism, naturalism and other tides or movements in literature, as well as a wide variety of areas such as history, society, politics, popular culture, and women’s issues in the 19th century.
His major papers include “Studies on Madame Bovary [Bovari fujin ron],” Journal of the Faculty of Letters, 1987; “Studies on L’Éducation sentimentale [Kanjo Kyoiku ron],” Journal of the Faculty of Letters, 1991; “Studies on La Légende de Saint-Julien l’Hospitalier [Sei Jurian Den ron],” Journal of the Faculty of Letters, 1994; and “Flaubert’s description technique in Madame Bovary [Bovari fujin ni okeru Furoberu no Byoshagiho],” Studies on French Language and French Literature [Futsugo Futsubungaku Kenkyu], 2001.