an old, surviving rose in my backyard
I didn’t know this old but still interesting copyright related issue: the melody of “Akatonbo (赤とんぼ A Red Dragonfly).” I listened to "Introduction and Allegro in D Minor," Opus 134" by Robert Schumann. Wow, it isn’t similar. It’s exactly the same.
On Facebook, Rip Rense and I discussed this issue. We both thought originally Shumann borrowed the Japanese song, but Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was much older than the Japanese composer, Yamada Kosaku (1886-1965) who was also a well-known, prolific Japanese composer. I became curious how he reacted to this issue.
So, I went to the Yokohama Central Library and read his article which had appeared on Bungeishunju, a prestigious monthly magazine. The issue was September in 1961. Because of the copyright issues-- I’m not making fun of it, but since he died in 1965, I cannot translate it. So, I’ll recap the article below.
“The Phantom Shadow of Akatonbo, Goodbye!”
Yamada Kosaku wrote that he learned that Ishihara Shintaro (politician, author, and former governor of Tokyo) wrote about the issue in Chuoukoron, another monthly magazine. Kosaku replied to an interview, “It’s my 37-year-old song like my own child. It’s been sung and loved by Japanese people all these years.” He could not say more than that. Then he read the article by Ishihara, so below is my recap of his recap.
Ishihara Shintaro was drinking with a friend of his, a German journalist, I guess at a piano bar. The piano player started “Akatonbo.” Shintaro told him that the song is a well-known Japanese song. The friend pointed out that the song was an old German folk song. They argued for a while. The German stood up and started to sing the same tune in German.
Anyway, I guess Shintaro and the customers around them were impressed, and he was convinced with the performance. I also guess Shintaro, a veteran author, and the German journalist didn’t think of investigating further about it and confirm the whole situation.
Kosaku did not defend or attack Shintaro’s article. But I thought the following paragraph showed his thought. He wrote that he concluded by reading Shintaro’s writing that the argument took place over their drinking alcoholic beverages and therefore, it was light and vague. The journalist later updated his information to say that the source song was a Nadeland’s missionary song of a few hundred years old. Kosaku decided that this was not an issue that mature adults need to discuss with open heart.
He also wrote that the German journalist later made a visit to Kosaku, and they spoke in German. I don’t know how well Kosaku spoke in German, but he wrote; that the journalist was impressed and apologized of causing him a trouble. The journalist also told him that the incident gave him a chance to visit Kosaku, and he was appreciative.
It made me think. I’ve also talked about this matter with a friend of mine in Japan. She said it was common to sing foreign songs in Japanese. That’s true. When I was small, we used to sing all kinds of foreign songs in Japanese. The title of those songs had notes such as an old Russian or German folk song. We didn’t think of copyright in those days.
This is what I think. I think Kosaku concluded that all the people involved in this argument were not thoughtful and did not see the big picture, therefore, he wouldn’t come forward to discuss it. If the people thoroughly investigated the matter, studied the history and other copyright cases and came to him with good attitude, I think, perhaps he would have discussed further. What do you think? So, those people including me were not worthy for his time to defend his work. He has much more meaningful things to do. Well, he didn't say that. I did, but you understand my point.
Interesting, isn’t it? I now admire him to have had written the essay about it for posterity although I’ve spotted some overly proud moments here and there. But I think we can understand his pride. After all, he was a well established composer, educator, and author of many essays. I’ve read some of them, and they are very interesting. He wrote about Isadora Duncan and Ishii Baku, creative modern dancers and choreographers. He met Isadora a few times, and he worked with Baku. He was the center of the Japan’s first modern art movement. It must have been very exciting.
Reading his essays further, this touched me. I read that he used to travel to Yokohama by train to hear the classical western music. He went to the house of a British man who gave a concert regularly at his home. The man was not a professional artist. I think he played cello and his wife sang or played piano. Kosaku had to bribe the policemen in advance to let him listen to the sounds outside the house because he wasn’t invited. The train fare was expensive for him in those days, and he did this during a dead cold winter! Oh, I can’t imagine how that first generation of the European art movement in Japan had to go through.
I hope when the copyright expires, someone translates all his essays for the world to read. It's inspiring.
One thing. While I was talking about this with the friend, she told me about Lion King’s issue. What Lion King's issue? I said. She said it is the copy of ジャングル大帝 by Teduka Osamu. I just read a few sites about it. The organization which is supposed to protect all Japanese manga artists had protested Disney. My goodness, out of all the companies in the world, it’s Disney. Nobody knows what happened. Well, I like to zoom into a big picture.
I don’t know if you can understand why I bring this up. One difference between Yamada Kosaku and Teduka Osamu is that Kosaku knew the culture and practice of Europeans or Americans. The culture is this, generally speaking: Do not apologize. Don't I know it. Kosaku studied in Germany, but I don’t think Teduka has. I think that’s a big difference.
Do we need to change? Come to think of it, no. That’s my conclusion today.