Sometimes I am tempted to write about the World Cup (that penalty shoot out! The VAR?) but by the time I gather my thoughts, events have moved on. People would wonder why I am writing about Germany’s elimination when last night Brazil won 7-6, scoring four own goals in the process.
But I did want to mention one thing slightly related that affects me: I have finally learned to sing the Japanese national anthem. It’s strange I didn’t get round to it before. It’s something I think I would normally have done in my first year in Japan, except that at that time (1992) I was frequently told by Japanese that no one sings it. I thought that was peculiar but, then, many things were strange to me at the time. We British students were greatly surprised to note that the Emperor’s face didn’t appear on money, as the Queen’s face does on notes and coins in the UK. I thought not singing the anthem was something of a similar nature.
So, somehow, I didn’t learn the Kimigayo early on and then didn’t have a specific reason to do so “now” in the years since. I decided to do so ahead of the World Cup, to put this right. I have to say I found it tricky to sing. I kept singing the words to the wrong line of music. Perhaps the arrangement is not intuitive to an English person. However, once I got the hang of it, I found it quite stirring and on the whole I like it better than the English national anthem. The other thing I notice – and excuse me for stating the obvious – is that it’s incredibly short. It makes it even more embarrassing that I didn’t learn it before. It was less of a task than I realised.
So now I joke that I know the words to three national anthems: the English, the Japanese and the Spanish. The last of these, of course, has no lyrics.
A friend once suggested to me that singing the Japanese national anthem was normalised through football. That each nation has its anthem played before games, and its normal for players and fans to sing it. And through Japan’s participation in international games over the last three decades, this has become usual in Japan too. So in that sense, I am just like a lot of Japanese (except that I actually couldn’t sing the Japanese anthem).
Certainly, I think it’s normal to sing your national anthem. The only thing stranger than not singing it, is being forced to sing it.