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VULGAR VOICES: MISORA HIBARI AND POSTWAR JAPAN’S BADNESS

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Francis Scott Key Hall Room 0106
Tuesday, March 24, 2020 - 3:30 PM to 5:00 PM

In 1989, Japan mourned the deaths of two very public persons whose passing marked the end of an era. One of these was Emperor Hirohito, whose death officially ended the Shōwa era (1926-1989) that bears his posthumous name. In August 1945, his weakly wavering voice announcing Japan’s defeat, broadcast throughout the nation over crackling air waves startled people as much for his message as for its very sound.
The other very public person whose death was mourned in 1989 was diva Misora Hibari, the “skylark” whose face and voice arose from the masses. The death of this people’s singer at 52 years unofficially ended the Shōwa era as well. I contend that the semiotic positions of both public figures may be understood through their voices. Whereas Emperor Hirohito symbolized national defeat, Misora Hibari represented postwar national re-building. His was a voice most powerful in its silence, holding tenaciously to the past, and subsequently marked by its thin, tinny quality. Hers was the voice of the streets, the boogie-woogie child star grown to adult diva status as the “Queen of Enka” (Popular Song of Japan). Her voice invoked the postwar scramble for democracy in its very sonic materiality, singing through shades of zoku (vulgar) while inciting both critics and fans along the way. This presentation explores that voice and its pitch-perfect capture of postwar Japan’s contradictions.

PRESENTED BY
THE CENTER FOR EAST ASIAN STUDIES
CELEBRATING 50 YEARS, 1969 - 2019
CO-SPONSORED BY
THE JAPANESE PROGRAM THE DEPARTMENT OF EAST ASIAN LANGUAGES AND CULTURES
THE MARLENE J. MAYO ENDOWED LECTURE SERIES ON JAPANESE ARTS AND HUMANITIES
THE MILLER CENTER FOR HISTORICAL STUDIES

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