In the previous article, I wrote that city pop’s sunny, breezy, open vibes were from the pre-bubble era (late 70’s ~ early 80’s), rather than the bubble era. In this article, I will cover overwhelming American influence on Japan’s post WWII culture, which became the bedrock for city pop.
Japanese City Pop 2: Was it Japanese version of “Western” music?
In 1945, Japan lost WWII in a devastating way. U.S.-led occupation started in the same year till 1952, during which time Americans guided Japan’s rehabilitation and overwhelmed the war-torn country with its economic power. For Japanese who were forced to endure hardships for a prolonged time, freer, materially abundant American way of life was a dream that was almost too good to be true. Shocked and electrified, they immediately started learning every aspect of American values that suddenly poured into the country. And Japanese did a good job absorbing everything quickly, as learning was something they have always been good at. In addition, it wasn’t their first “Westernization” frenzy. The first one happened toward the end of the 19th century, when Japanese government officially set a goal to Europeanize its systems to improve Japan’s competitiveness. It was a top-down approach that mostly involved elites: politics experts went to Britain; top-notch artistes went to France and doctors went to Germany in order to modernize Japanese systems.
But when Americans came to Japan in 1945, the change was sweeping. Their ways changed every aspect of people’s lives from living, eating, or entertainment not just political, education or economic systems. And as far as the America was concerned, there was familiar gateways for Japanese. Rotate the map by 90 degrees.
As you can see, Japan is part of the Pacific Rim and faces the West Coast. Before WWII, Japanese immigrants sailed over the Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles or San Francisco to enter the mainland U.S. After the war, American soldiers came from the West Coast stations and some Japanese managed to fly to those cities. In addition, there’s also Hawaii in between the West Coast and Japan, which has long been a dream vacation destination that almost felt like a paradise. West Coast, notably Los Angeles and Hawaii were where all the “cool” stuff came from, including music.
The Ptichfork article stated that: “Essentially, city pop is Western music that’s been adapted by the Japanese, now coming back to us as a retrospective source of fascination.” But in reality, it was really American and West Coast music and culture adapted by the Japanese. Europeanization and Americanization are two completely different things, and Japan really looked to America up until the bubble era.
Not only that, West Coast and Hawaii have sunny, dry, breezy, open and free vibes. It’s almost the complete opposite of traditional Japanese way of life which was disciplined, wet, subdued and conservative. Post WWII young Japanese craved for a West Coast lifestyle. I mentioned the magazine “Popeye” in my previous post, and its first edition, which was enthusiastically received by young Japanese, featured Los Angeles, UCLA college life and the surf culture. By the way, curiously enough, Tokyo happened to be part of the bay area that faced the Pacific Ocean. The Shonan beach area, an upper-class retreat south of Tokyo, served as the mecca where affluent, fashionable young people spent weekends, partying and disseminating West Coast-style trends including fashion and music. City pop was born from the Shonan area beach/surf culture.