Most schools in Japan have a small radio studio, the main purpose of which is to facilitate the lunchtime broadcast. For this, two or three students talk about the day’s menu – for example, at one point last week we were treated to an explanation of both the history and nutritional value of the cocoa bean – and pass on information about school activities. At my elementary school, the results of a daily competition are announced, based on the number of students from each class who have forgotten to bring their water flask, their handkerchief or their toothbrush, or whose toothbrush bristles are overly worn. Just like a proper radio station, the students are sometimes given the opportunity to make music requests, although at junior high school, we are treated to the same selection of rather mournful chamber pieces – chosen, I suspect, by the soon-to-retire music teacher – every day.
Normally everyone stops chatting and at least pretends to pay attention to the lunchtime broadcast, but as I was sitting down to eat with 2:1 class the other day, one of the students turned down the volume on the PA system and put on a CD instead. The song – Ikimonogakari’s Arigato (ありがとう / Thank You) is probably my favourite J-pop tune, and I was soon humming away to myself, much to the amusement of the students at my table.
‘Who chose this?’ I asked one of them.
‘Er, I don’t know,’ he said.
‘Was there a class vote?’
‘I can’t remember. Hey,’ he said to the girl sitting opposite, ‘why are we playing this CD?’
‘Dunno,’ she replied.
So much for the change of routine, but anyway, what better (and more flimsy) excuse to pull a few pop facts from Ikimonogakari’s Wikipedia page, and to share the video with you:
(When I say ‘the video’, what I really mean is ‘the video uploaded to Vimeo without permission and augmented with Spanish subtitles’, and there is a very real possibility that by the time you read this it will have been taken down for legal reasons, thus defeating the object of this blog post altogether. If so, you should be able to find a similarly illicit version with a quick Google search).
Ikimonogakari means ‘person in charge of living things’, and was coined because rather than presenting the lunchtime broadcast, the two original band members – Yoshiki Mizuno and Hotaka Yamashita – were responsible for feeding the goldfish at their elementary school. Along the way, Mizuno and Yamashita acquired a lead singer – Kiyoé Yoshioka – and began to hone their skills at small scale live venues and as buskers in the western suburbs of Tokyo. Their independently released debut CD had the charmingly self-effacing title of While It’s Sincerely Presumptuous Of Us To Say So, We Have Made Our First Album (Makoto Ni Sen-etsu Nagara Faasuto Arubamu Wo Koshiraemashita… / 誠に僭越ながらファーストアルバムを拵えました…), and they soon gained a reputation as specialists in the art of commercial, TV and movie tie-ins. Since the early noughties, their songs have been used by Coca Cola, Nintendo, Asahi, several mobile phone companies, and in a score of TV dramas, animé and feature films (their latest release – Itsudatte Bokura Wa / いつだって僕らは – is in this TV ad for correspondence courses).
While Ikimonogakari were respectably successful by 2010, Arigato was the song that turned them into one of the most popular bands in the country – so popular, in fact, that their songs Sakura and Yell are now used as jingles to announce approaching trains at Ebina and Hon-Atsugi Stations (outside which they often used to busk) on the Odawara Line. Arigato was the opening theme for a soap opera called Gé-Gé-Gé No Nyoboh / ゲゲゲの女房 (part of an ongoing NHK series I have mentioned here before – Renzoku Terebi Shosetsu / 連続テレビ小説 – whose location and story changes twice a year), but while the commercial exploits of the band have no doubt made all three of its members very wealthy indeed, don’t let that put you off their music, as they have a knack for coming up with emotionally stirring chord changes, and some of their best songs are structurally original too – for example, like The Beatles’ She Loves You, Arigato starts with the chorus instead of the verse.
In case you don’t understand Spanish, there follows my somewhat inexpert translation of the lyrics, which was hampered by the fact that in Japanese, it is the exception rather than the norm for a sentence to have a subject, and exactly who is doing or saying what with or to whom is very much open to interpretation.