The Rise and Fall of Japanese Folk Song Protest Movement: From an Infrastructural Perspective


With the benefit of American folk songs and state-of-the-art listening technologies such as records, transistor radios, and tape recorders, Japan initiated its own modern folk song movement in the early 1960s. As the anti-Vietnam war protest gained its momentum in the late 1960s, which also constituted part of the global counterculture, young people in Japan started its own folk song protest movement.

From a critical infrastructural perspective, we can see that infrastructure, especially listening technologies, served as a double-edged sword for engendering both politicized and later depoliticized listeners or participants. On the one hand, it helped to foster listener autonomy and to popularize anti-establishment political folk songs among individuals, who were then motivated to gather together for protest. On the other hand, as student protests were suppressed by the government, the listening infrastructure led to the birth of a new folk song genre, inexorably associated with a new type of listener immersed in a privately controlled world of sound, thereby foreshadowing a depoliticized form of political subject.

This starter kit zeroes in on two salient moments during the Japanese folk song protest movement: the Folk Guerrillas’ rally at the Shinjuku West Exit Underground Plaza in 1969, and the emergence of the yojōhan music around the early 1970s. In unveiling the infrastructural support such as media technologies, public squares, and traditional Japanese architecture, this project attempts to examine the rise and fall of Japanese folk song protest movementfrom the unique angle offered by critical infrastructure studies. 

Starter Kit (Readings)


Theoretical lens:

Alan Liu. “Toward Critical infrastructure Studies.” Adapted version of paper last presented in full at University of Connecticut, Storrs, February 23, 2017.  

Brief introduction of Japanese modern folk song movement and folk song protest in 1969:


Primary materials:

“Fooku nyuuzu.” Uta, Uta, Uta: Folk Report 8 (November 1969): 4-8.

Nihon minken hōsō renmei. “Nihon minken hōsō renmei kayōkyoku nado no toriatsukai naiki.” Uta, Uta, Uta: Folk Report 9 (September 1969): 7.

Nobuyasu Okabayashi, Okabayashi Nobuyasu no mura nikki. Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1982.

Yoshihiko Jimbō, “Haikei URC rekoodo sama” (letter to the editor). Uta, Uta, Uta: Folk Report 2, no. 1 (January 1970): 27–28.

Secondary Materials:

Azenbō Soeda, A Life Adrift: Soeda Azembō, Popular Song and Modern Mass Culture in Japan, ed. and trans. Michael Lewis (London and New York: Routledge, 2009).

James Dorsey, “Breaking Records: Media, Censorship, and the Folk Song Movement of Japan’s 1960s,” in Asian Popular Culture: New, Hybrid, and Alternate Media, ed. John A. Lent and Lorna Fitzsimmons (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013), 79-107.

Kitanaka Masakazu, Nihon no uta: Sengo kayōkyokushi (Tokyo: Heibonsha raiburarii, 2003).

Mark Anderson, “Folk Music,” in Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture, ed. Sandra Buckley (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 151-52.

Martin Cloonan, “Call That Censorship? Problems of Definition,” in Policing Pop, ed. Martin Cloonan and Reebee Garofalo (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003), 13-119.

Michael Bourdaghs, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

Susumu Kurosawa, Nihon fooku ki (Tokyo: Shinkō myuujikku, 1992).

Toru Mitsui, “Music and Protest in Japan: The Rise of Underground Folk Song in 1968,” in Music and Protest in 1968, eds. Beate Kutschke and Barley Norton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 81-96. 

Infrastructure Gallery:

  1. The Advancement of Listening Technologies:
Exhibit 1: A 12-inch LP (Long Play) vinyl record
“The LP (from ‘long playing’ or ‘long play’) is an analog sound storage medium, a phonograph record format characterized by a speed of ​33 13 rpm, a 12- or 10-inch (30- or 25-cm) diameter, and use of the ‘microgroove’ groove specification. Introduced by Columbia in 1948, it was soon adopted as a new standard by the entire record industry. ” (Wikipedia).
Exhibit 2: Regency TR-1,
which was the first commercially manufactured transistor radio, introduced in 1954 by the Industrial Development Engineering Associates in the U.S. 
Exhibit 3: Sony TR-63, released in 1957, led to the transistor radio becoming the most popular electronic communication device of the 1960s and 1970s. 

2. The Rise:Folk Guerrillas and the Shinjuku West Exit Underground Plaza:

Exhibit 4: Mimeograph
 Exhibit 5: Katagiri Yuzuru (1931-) who published the magazine Kawaraban (The Broadsheet) with the help of mimeograph
Exhibit 6: Hata Masaaki (1930-2003) launched the Underground Record Club (URC), providing subscription service of underground folk songs via the postal system
Exhibit 7: Shinjuku Station (新宿駅)
Exhibit 8: Shinjuku West Exit
Exhibit 9: Student Protests at the Shinjuku West Exit Underground Plaza
Exhibit 10: Folk Guerrillas’s Protests from February to July 1969

3. The Fall: Yojōhan Folk Music:

Exhibit 11: 4½ tatami mats: the size of the rooms that single young people normally occupied in the early 1970s;
On the right is a typical layout of a ​4 12 mat tea room in the cold season, when the hearth built into the floor is in use.

With the end of the turbulent student movement, folk music softened into yojōhan music that dealt with personal feelings.

Exhibit 12: An example of yojōhan folk by the folk song group Kaguyahime (かぐや姫) formed in the 1970s


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