Lead singer Yojiro Noda says it isn’t an army song, but rather a celebration of the people in Japan
12 Jun 2018 - 10:53 AM  UPDATED 12 Jun 2018 - 10:53 AM

Japanese rock band RADWIMPS have been enjoying quite a bit of success over the last few years, thanks to their own albums and their work on the film Your Name. That positive image was challenged recently after the release of the group’s newest single. Specifically, the number “HINOMARU” was accused of being nationalist by some online, prompting lead singer and songwriter Yojiro Noda to tweet a clarification, which you can see below.

The song in question comes from the single Catharsist,” which came out last week in Japan. It serves as the theme song to Japanese TV station Fuji TV’s World Cup coverage. However, it’s the second song on that release that has become a buzzed-about topic online (and, as of yesterday, in mainstream media) in Japan.

HINOMARU” refers to the national flag of Japan — you know, white background, red sun — and the lyrics centre around a narrator looking at a flag fluttering in the wind and getting nostalgic for the past. There is talk of a “kingdom,” and of “protecting” it. Noda uses a lot of old Japanese words throughout, vocabulary tied to a time now long passed. For Japanese readers out there, here’s a four-page analysis of the lyrics

While the words of “HINOMARU” never specifically mention Japan, it’s pretty clear this is a song expressing pride and hope in Japan (confirmed by Noda’s response). It’s important to also note the context of the single release — it’s a song (albeit, not the controversial one) tied to the World Cup, an event existing on the cliff between patriotism and nationalism. Many users on Twitter accused the band of creating a nationalistic and pro-military number due to its celebration of Japan. At the most extreme, some people called for protests outside of the band’s upcoming show in Kobe.

Noda says the song isn’t about nationalism, and based on previous songs done by the band I think he’s probably channeling the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. But I see why people would have that view. Some listeners would be ruffled by a song simply celebrating Japan in 2018, but most would have accepted it (see: how nobody really brought up similar objections to 2014 World Cup number “Nippon” by Sheena Ringo because it was a straightforward rock number about... liking Japan). The trick comes from Noda’s use of the past and older Japanese words — nostalgia turns into “remember the good ol’ days” which often turns in nationalism pretty quickly (“Make America Great Again”).

Discussion about “HINOMARU” has split down the middle in Japan, many fans defending the song but with many more offering criticism of it. It’s probably not going to mutate any further from this, and RADWIMPS probably don’t have to worry about this impacting their status in Japanese rock.

Yet what it does reveal is that Japanese listeners are becoming more critical about the politics of music, and that artists can’t just put out music into the world and expect people to just embrace it.


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