KIMIGAYO 君が代: the origins of Japan’s National Anthem and the Scottish connection

By Katy Gow BMus (Hons) MA

Monday 7pm – 6th March 2023

VENUE: University of Edinburgh, 50 George Square – Room G.02

Hosted by The Japan Society of Scotland

Synopsis:  With the end of Japan’s long period of isolation, many western powers began to return. Ships arrived, and bands performed anthems and other music as a mark of respect to local and national dignitaries.  As part of their modernisation policy, Japanese authorities increasingly felt that they should have their own national anthem to accompany internal and overseas visits. They requested help from the British to compose a national anthem, the result was the first version of Kimigayo. Today’s talk will describe the process of selection of the ancient waka poem for the lyrics, the melody and the arrangement. John William Fenton (1831-1890), a British bandmaster who was selected for the task is recognised as one of the fathers of Japanese band music and the original composer of Kimigayo.  He is usually described as Irish or British but in fact his parents were Scots.

Katy Gow spent some years in Japan during the 1970s and 80s and later studied music as a mature student at Sheffield (BMus) and Nottingham (MA) universities. Her MA dissertation focussed on the origins of Kimigayo. She is a former President of the Royal Asiatic Society China and has just been elected as Secretary of the Japan Society of Scotland. 

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