The Thinking 

“Country Roads” in Japan

April 23, 2015


PAUL C. writes:

I have been watching this Japanese group’s charming songs.  They can sing in almost perfect American English but choose here to use their sweet little accents to sing John Denver’s Country Roads in mostly Japanese.  Amazing how languages can be adapted to sing foreign songs. Music, song, and mathematics are international languages.

I expect your Asian observer, Anti-Globalist Expatriate, has seen strong ethnic identity (which there is nothing wrong with) and bad thinking, driven by parts of an old culture, by some to come to his overbroad conclusions about Asians, who have adopted Western dress and obviously music and movies.  But they really look down on us?  I think not.

— Comments —

John G. writes:

I believe this Japanese version of the John Denver song is taken from the lovely and touching Studio Ghibli movie “Whisper of the Heart.” It’s a movie that I think your readers would enjoy. You can watch it on-line at this link.

Anita Kern writes from Toronto:

I agree with commenter John G.

Whisper of the Heart immediately came to mind when I saw the illustration of Japanese youngsters and “Country Roads.”

Some Japanese “anime” films are really very fine. There is also From up on Poppy Hill and I’m waiting to see When Marnie was there and even bought the now reprinted book, which mentions at the end how the filmmaker came to make the latter movie.

Earlier ‘anime’ that are suitable for children – actually whimsical – are My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service.

For older children Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke – some of  the scenes can be a little scary.

To boot, most of these anime have a nicely woven-in moral!

Michael writes:

Re: the “overbroad conclusions about Asians,” down here in Asia (Australia to be specific) everyone is “freaking out” about the rise of China (to coin a phrase from Trevor Loudon).

Japan is especially worried about China stealing islands and rattling the war sabre. Ditto for Vietnam and the Philippines and others. China is claiming all of the South China Sea and everyone is worried the U.S. will not be around to stop China.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently spoke in the Australian Parliament calling for Japan and Australia to become very tight: “We will now join up in a scrum, just like in rugby, to nurture our regional and
the world order and to safeguard peace”.

Whatever differences there may be between Asians and Westerners generally, they are quickly being dissolved. The new fault line is China versus everyone else.

We are quickly entering a post-American world down here. Or at least preparing for it. Everyone who doesn’t want to be subsumed by China has become instant allies and best friends.

James G. writes:

I agree with Anita from Toronto. The Studio Ghibli movie “From Up on Poppy Hill” is one of my favorite movies. You can watch it at this link here.

I would mention one mis-translation in the subtitles. There is a scene where the girl says to the boy “Suki desu” which means “I like you” and is a very common phrase in Japanese. The sub-title says “I am in love with you” which seems very inappropriate in the context, but the original Japanese is not. I mention this only because this movie is wonderful G-rated family viewing, with the exception of that one mis-translation which might bother some parents.

 Bill writes:

I was always taken by ABBA’s flawless English singing even though none of them spoke a word.

Professor L. writes:

I, too, immediately thought of Whisper of the Heart when I saw this post. Most of the films
from the same company, Studio Ghibli, are suitable for the whole family, and are uplifting tales of
morality and personal growth. In particular, My Neighbor Totoro is a classic that can be
watched and enjoyed again and again. It ought to be as well known as any classic children’s film,
and it’s a shame that it isn’t.

However, the main figure behind Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, is an avowed feminist (hence the
preponderance of heroines in his films), a pacifist, and an environmentalist. The anti-development,
anti-civilization themes of two of his movies, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and The
Princess Mononoke
, make them tedious and tendentious, so I cannot recommend his entire
oeuvre without reservation. (Similar sentiments sneak into some of his other movies, but are not
as overt.)

Finally, in response to James G., I would like to say that while I have not yet seen From Up on
Poppy Hill
, I am almost certain that “I am in love with you” is an appropriate translation for the
Japanese phrase “suki desu.” While it does mean “I like it” in other contexts, it is the most natural
way to express the idea “I love you.” I base this on my thirty-plus years of working with the
Japanese language as a student, researcher, translator, and professor of Japanese.

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