Shiina Studies 101 – Second Lecture

According to the information on her website, Iori Ishikawa is a professor at Niigata Prefectural University and an expert on Hegelian philosophy.  She also does work on education, gender studies and other matters.  In 2004 she published an article whose English title is Dissolution and Reconstruction of the “Song” by SHÉNA RINGÖ.  It’s an amazing study and it’s great that she has it on her website [here].  Plus it’s also on PDF in CiNii if you have access to it [here].

Ishikawa’s introduction points out that Ringo’s songs are hard to sing at karaoke.  This is a problem, because the precondition for a pop hit in Japan is that fans may be able to sing the song.  I can testify from personal experience that this is true: when I politely complained about the quality of J-Pop singers in Japan I was told that the idea was that anyone could sing their songs relatively well (when compared to the original) and that’s what made it fun.  I was in Japan when Utada became big, and I recall women giving up halfway through her songs at karaoke, or just not singing certain parts.  And yet she became popular, and so did Ringo Shiina.  So there must be something to this popularity that bucks the trend.

Ishikawa goes on to discuss several songs, but I will limit myself to Tadashii Machi, which is the focus of this post series.  I will summarize the main points in her discussion, with my own interjections in brackets [ ].  To make things easier to follow, I will refer to the “I” of the song as the woman, and the “you” as her “boyfriend”.


It’s very difficult to pin down the meaning of this song, and this is probably deliberate, as it conjures up more powerful images that way.  The woman in the song left the town one year ago and disregarded her (ex-)boyfriend’s warnings.  She insisted on going and he became violent.  The line “You lost your surroundings and I ignored that” is unclear but the point is that these warnings were ignored.  Now one year later when she returns she is confused because he is kissing her.

She can’t stop lying now, and all the lies are driving him into a corner.  He starts crying, but she ignores that.  The fact that he hasn’t found a new lover makes her suspect that he is still in love.  She recognizes her own arrogance but the fact is that she is lonely in the big city.  Regardless, she thinks it would be shameless to ask him to go to the airport with her, and feels like those warnings are returning as punishments.


The symbols and colors I used in the last post point out the structure as Ishikawa has broken it down for us.  The song has a typical 4/4 beat (with some syncopation), where the first beat is strongly stressed and the third beat somewhat stressed.  [Here I have used red for the first beat and magenta for the third beat]  The dashes (/) separate each phrase of the melody [I have used double dash (//) to highlight the special case where the break occurs in the middle of an actual word]  The letters (A, A’, B, C, C’, D, E) refer to the musical forms, so the whole song breaks down into C’ + AA’BCC’ + AA’BCC’ + DE + CCCC’.


There is a hidden meaning to this song, and it is revealed in the gap between the rhythm of the music and the intonation of the words sung.

The key point to look at here is the A forms.  Let’s take line 2.

(2 – A) Fuyukai na emi o mu//ke, nagai chinmoku no / ato
taido o sara ni waruku shitara /

Speaking generally, the  breaks in the sentences sung and the breaks in the melodic phrases don’t match up at all. [The most glaring case is the break between the first melodic phrase and the second, which slices through the single word “muke”]  The strong beats don’t match well with the Japanese either, and you can see how the first beats (here and later on in the song) tend to go with words ending in -ai.  [Ishikawa doesn’t do this analysis for other phrases of the song but it’s obviously possible to do so, e.g. in line 7]

Normally a sentence of this type would be sung with a pace like this: “Fuyukai na – emi o – ukabe – nagai – chinmoku no – ato…”.  Each Japanese word would be heard clearly and the music would reinforce the meaning of the lyrics.    But this song ends up sounding like this: “Fuyu – kai na emi – o mu – ke na – gai chinmo – ku no ato…”  The unusual beat only reinforces this -ai element.

What to make of this -ai is up to the listener.  Love, Pity, Together and Sorrow (愛, 哀, 相, 遭) are all pronounced “Ai”.  The fact is that however you interpret this, underneath the narrative of a woman leaving her town and going to the big city then coming back and having issues with her (ex)boyfriend we keep getting this “ai, ai, ai, ai” hammered into us.  This “ai” lurking as a secondary meaning beneath is probably the key to unlocking the song.


We will see this notion of “Ai” coming up again with the next analysis.  I think it’s a brilliant element in the song.  On the one hand, the four “Ai” that Ishikawa mentions can be temporally linked to each other in a way that reinforces the song’s lyrics, thus Meeting → Together → Love → Sorrow.  But this is not what Ishikawa wants us to conclude.  The double meaning here would simply be the same meaning twice, a clever technique and nothing more.

Rather, what she thinks we’re getting (and I wholeheartedly agree) is one “Ai” (most likely the word for “Love”) repeated over and over.  That is, the woman in the song claims she’s confused.  She claims she doesn’t understand why the (ex)boyfriend is kissing her.  She claims to wonder why he doesn’t have a new girlfriend.  But she herself knows the answer, and unconsciously she herself is telling us: it’s Love, Love, Love.  She misses her hometown and her boyfriend, and blames the weather.  But all the while she’s telling us the real reason: once again, it’s Love, Love, Love.  Just Love.

In the next lecture we will explore the analysis of another scholar who does an even closer reading of the lyrics 🙂

~ by Haloed Bane on May 24, 2011.

4 Responses to “Shiina Studies 101 – Second Lecture”

  1. Hmm… That’s an interesting ai hammering there 😛 Let’s see what further deconstruction will bring 🙂

  2. That’s pretty damn clever. For some reason, now that you have me focusing on this -ai notion, I can’t help but think of Ringo’s cover of that Cyndi Lauper song XD

    • Yeah, there’s that interesting phenomenon in which any Japanese singing a love song in English will probably be thinking of Love everytime they say the word “I” 🙂

      I love you = Ai love you, Ai = Love.

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