People couldn’t sing about love in Japan: Sexualism of Japan

cheerful elderly man listening to music in headphones

A few months ago I wrote about the problem of gender gap in Japan.

In this article I wrote that Japan is ranked 121st out of 153 countries. Then this ranking was renewed, and the new position of Japan is…


So Japan’s world position on gender equality is still very low. But this does not mean that it is not improving. Gradually young people become more equal.

But you can’t believe it if I say so, can you? Then today I am going to explain the change of the way of love in Japan by analyzing the lyrics of popular songs every decade.

Come on, let’s go!

~1945 The time when there was no concept of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”

Before the end of World War II there was no form of love like today. Many couples married someone their parents introduced to their children. That’s why most people had no concept of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”, but only “wife” and “husband”. Let’s look at the specifics.

This graph indicates the cup of the forms of marriage. Blue is traditional marriage, red is love marriage.

According to this graph only 13.4% were married by love marriage in 1935.

For example the rate of left-handed people in Japan is 11%. That is why it was as uncommon as the rate of left-handed people.

In this era a song that seems normal in today’s era was considered too sexual. For example is the song, “I don’t want you to forget me” by Hamako Watanabe.

If the moon were a mirror,
every night I’d try to reflect your face that I love.
Don’t forget me that I feel so, don’t forget me.

It is the song from 1936, and the Japanese government did not allow to broadcast this song on the radio channel. According to the channel, the reason was because the lyrics sounded too sexual. The head of the channel said “Our channel, we cannot forgive to broadcast this song that like a prostitute sings to seduce men”.

In my opinion Japan at this time was like a strict musliman country. Maybe if you are a westerner, you can’t survive in Japan of this era.

But after World War II, the situation changed dramatically.

1945~1965 The era that love was born

集団就職・下 : 『東京慕情』より

In 1945, World War II resulted in the defeat of Japan.

The Japanese government was reformed by the US, and the Americans changed the traditional value of Japanese society.

In this case the very popular movement at the time was “Syudan Syusyoku”.

In order to re-found the Japanese economy, many young people who graduated from the regional high school went to Tokyo or Osaka with the peers of the same age to earn more money in the factories. It is called “Syudan Syusyoku”.

Thanks to leaving the village the young people of this time had two advantages, firstly they were freed from the traditional custom that they had to marry someone their parents decided, and secondly they could work with boys and girls in the same place.

Thanks to the change of society, the situation grew that they could meet the bride and groom of the future. So the Japanese songs of the 1950s reflected this change.

“The flower of this world” 1955, Chiyoko Shimamura

I have not been able to marry the one I wanted.
But I follow the person I don’t love smiling and hiding my sadness.
My flower of first love has already fallen.

This song sings the sadness that she could not marry the one she wanted, but it became famous because there was already the concept that “We should marry the one I feel love. It indicates the birth of modern love, doesn’t it?

“The flower of this world” is the song from 1955, but “Me and You” which was popular in 1965 has more direct lyrics.

If I tell you “I love you”, I seem to lose you. But if I tell you I don’t love you, it’s the lie. I can’t do anything and I kick a stone.

In these lyrics there is a very direct phrase, “I love you”, but if it had been a song from 1935, this would have been too strong.

To conclude we can analyze that around the 1960s love marriage was a normal thing since the trend of these songs.

1965~1980 The time when love was divided from marriage

Until the 1960’s love was born and many Japanese people began to believe that it was better than traditional marriage. In comparison with this, the period from the 1960’s to the 1980’s is the time when love was divided from marriage, and the number of direct and sexual lyrics increased.

The cause is the change of sex awareness among young people. According to a survey of college students in the 1970s, the elite of the country in those years, 73% of men and 39% of women agreed to the idea that having sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend is not wrong if you are engaged to be married.

This result reflected that young people began to think that love and marriage are other concepts.

In fact, the movie that became very popular in 1973, “Kanda River” is the story of a typical couple that young people wanted to live.

草刈正雄 関根恵子『神田川』 – どんぺりもってこいより

Two young men went to Tokyo to change their lives and met their boyfriend and girlfriend. Clearly they started to live together, but they suffered from poverty and drowned in sex to forget the hopeless situation. In the end his girlfriend noticed that she was pregnant, but the boyfriend ran away to avoid taking responsibility, and his girlfriend accepted her fate and went to the hospital to abort it…

The couple in the movie lives in the life as a model of the young people of this time, but the reason that the story of the movie is very sad is what the adults of this time did not allow the young people to live together. So, they were worshipped by the youngsters, and seemed depraved by the adults.

Until the day we see each other, the moment we can see each other, I don’t want to say the reason for the breakup.
It’s already very sad, it’s already very empty.
We hurt each other and just lose everything.
We close the door.
We erase the name.
At this moment my heart says something.

It is the lyrics of “Until the day we’ll meet” by Kiyohiko Ozaki. The theme of this song is also what a couple lives together, and particularly sings about the scene that a couple breaks up and leave their love nest.

Today we have studied the change of sexualism up to the 80’s, because it is the time when my grandparents (I am 24 years old) were young. From next article I will deal with the generation of my parents and us.

Sexualism or feminism does not change easily in a country, but we have to wait for 10 or 20 years. If you want to criticize Japan logically in the point of view of feminism, you should also read the next article.

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