Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Sakura – The Symbol of Japan's Soft Power
CHINO Keiko / Journalist

May 17, 2016
In Jakarta, there is a unique drama group that stages Japanese-language musicals performed by non-Japanese actors. This is "en Juku," launched in 2009 by university students studying Japanese. Their original chorus "Sakura yo – To Our Beloved Japan" has become their signature piece, and is now widely sung in Indonesia and Japan.

"Sakura yo" was created soon after the Great East Japan Earthquake in May 2011. The lyrics were written by Sugako Kaikiri, who coaches the group, while student member Nurfadri Pratama composed the score. As our beloved Japan grapples with various hardships, what we can do as Indonesian students is to raise Japan's spirits, and we will do so by sending the lively energy of our country to Japan – that was the idea.

Based on this shared wish, three songs were created. First came the song "Sakura yo," which was followed the next year by "Let’s Meet Again in that Town," and "To All that Fades Away" in 2013, which were all compiled into a CD.

"Japan is always in our hearts" was the message included in the CD.

I first heard the song in April 2014, at the founding ceremony for the Asia Center of the Japan Foundation. The Center was set up to spearhead the "WA Project – Toward Interactive Asia through Fusion and Harmony," a new cultural exchange policy for Asia centered on ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) announced by the Japanese government at the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit Meeting in December 2013.

Midway into the ceremony the "Sakura yo" chorus began, and a sudden hush came over the buzzing crowd.

The song contemplates the workings of man and nature, how precious the cherry blossoms are to us, how transient and graceful, how lonely its loss makes us feel and how sad it is to let go. The lyrics that follow remind us that even so, spring will return, a year from now and into the future. The finale is a refrain of "let the cherry blossoms bloom in their full glory, let Japan bloom, let me bloom, let the sakura bloom..."

That night in April with the cherry blossoms in full bloom, all present were united in the moment, as young Indonesians – appearing somewhat bashful at the enthusiastic applause – shared the warm atmosphere with attendees who seemed overwhelmed by their emotions.

I was especially impressed by the power of "sakura." The cherry blossom is Japan's national flower and is like an alter ego for the Japanese people. Yet, foreigners also love this flower and have expressed their feelings and support for Japan through the image of sakura.

I learned that upon its first performance at the Japanese school in Jakarta, as many as five hundred Indonesian students joined in the chorus.

In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Japan received generous monetary support from the world and became the largest recipient of aid that year. Yet, we should also pay closer attention to the importance of mental support such as this song, which cannot be measured in numbers.

Such mental support can be rephrased as soft power, a concept advanced by Joseph Nye, a scholar of international politics, in the late 1980s. Soft power as the term is widely used today is often contrasted with hard power – military or economic power, and cultural power is the prime example.

Unlike the hard power of coercion or financial muscle, it signifies the power to influence others through sympathy and support.

Apart from songs, soft power comes in diverse forms such as drama, literature, film, manga and fashion. Broadly defined, it also includes such things as democracy, cultural traditions and festivals. Soft power began to attract attention in recent years because hard power alone is not enough to solve the many problems that have erupted around the world since the 9-11 simultaneous terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, such as ethnic and religious conflicts, failed states and the growing number of refugees.

In 2010, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry launched the "Cool Japan" policy to harness Japan's cultural power. In fact, the US magazine Foreign Policy was the first to recognize Japan's soft power as early as 2002 (in its May and June issues), taking note of the quiet rise of its cultural impact by stating that "Japan has far greater cultural influence now than it did in the 1980s, when it was an economic superpower."

Outside perspectives often shed light on potential strengths that the Japanese themselves have yet to notice.

In April this year, en Juku gave its third performance in Japan, in Hiroshima and Tokyo. According to its young members, "en" means "bond," and their aim is to attain "enjuku" – maturity. I hope "Sakura yo" will spread even further across the globe as a symbol of the bond that binds Japan and Indonesia together.

(The witer is Guest Columnist of the Sankei Shimbun newspaper. This is a revised edition of the article "Offering Support through the Sakura – From Indonesia" that originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of monthly magazine "Tokyo Shobo (Tokyo Fire Defense).")
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野 境子 / ジャーナリスト

2016年 5月 17日






桜の愛おしさ、はかなさ、やさしさ、さらには失う寂しさ、あきらめる悲しさなど自然と人間の営みに思いを馳せ、それでも春は来る、来年も、その先も…と歌詞は続き、フィナーレは、桜よ 咲き誇れ、日本よ 咲き誇れ 私よ 咲き誇れ…と桜よ咲き誇れがリフレーンされた。










去る4月、en塾は3回目の日本公演を広島と東京で行った。enとは縁であり、円熟を目指すという若者たち。日本とインドネシアを結ぶ絆の象徴として「桜よ」がさらに世界にも広がってほしいものだ 。

一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Sakura – The Symbol of Japan's Soft Power