Composer Nakayama Shimpei (1887-1952) wrote more than 300 popular songs in his lifetime. Most are still well known and recorded regularly. An entrepreneur, he found ways to create popular songs that powered Japan’s nascent recording industry in the 1920s and 1930s. An artist, his combination of Japanese and Western musical styles and tropes appealed to Japanese sentiments in a way that not only reflected the historical and social context, but anticipated and explained those historical changes to his listeners.
This book seeks to apply contextual analysis of Nakayama’s popular songs to the events that occurred in the context of Japan’s development of a record industry and popular music market between 1887 and 1952. The book evaluates Nakayama’s positions within the world of musicians, and as a bridge between intellectuals and pure artists, on the one hand, and the Japanese people on the other to understand how popular songs can enrich and deepen our understanding of the history of political and industrial development in modern Japan.
The book concludes that Nakayama’s uncanny ability to make listening to Western music a comfortable experience for Japanese by adding elements from Japanese musical styles allowed him to be successful financially, and to hold respect within the artistic community as well. His skill in creating songs that spoke to large groups of people, successfully marketing those songs through an understanding of how music would sound on record, and careful communication with his audiences to understand their interests and lives made him the most popular composer of his time, and a powerful asset for Japan Victor, Inc., his record company. The ultimate goal of the book is to show how popular songs can be utilized as primary sources to help deepen our understanding of historical contexts.