Anniversaries and Memories: Finland, Japan, USA.
How many Finland 100 year anniversary events have you already attended? If none, don't worry: there's plenty more to come in Finland, Japan and where ever there's Finns. Rightly so as it is almost a miracle that our small country managed to become independent out of the storms that were raging around Europe in 1917. First World War that caused 17 million deaths and big Russia in turmoil with revolutions one after another made for the dramatic background scene for Finland's emergence. Those two are what most people around the world know of 1917.
America, too, joined the war in Europe in 1917 and back home the year was marked by the first recording of jazz music. Japan, Britain's ally then, had occupied German colonies in China and Pacific already in 1914 and in 1917 it sent war ships all the way to Mediterranean to help its ally there. Back home, it was peaceful, Emperor Taisho ruled, Prime Minister was Terauchi Masatake and two remarkable events were parliament elections and Far Eastern sport games with visiting teams from Republic of China and Phillippines, a US protectorate. The contested sports included athletics, swimming, tennis, football, volleyball and, of course, baseball. Not much change from main sport topics here today.
In 1917, Finland went through plenty hardships, tumult and drama through the year before the final declaration of independence on December 6. More was to follow soon after in form of a bloody Civil War. We Finns have learned it all in our school history class, but new information has come out since then that helps to understand even better how lucky we were back then. It has been interesting to read monthly updates from YLE, our "Finnish NHK", what was going on each month.
Already in March, following the first Russian revolution, which disposed the Tsar in St. Petersburg, Finland's Parliament declared itself the top authority in the country disposing the Russian General Governor. Yet, there were thousands of Russian Army troops in the country, out of their commanders' control, that could pose a challenge against Finnish rule. Moreover, a feud was rising between Finnish Right and Left as to which way the country should go – the Conservatives wanted to maintain the liberal, free enterprise society as it was whereas Socialists' idea was that working class would rule and all property would belong to State. Strikes and violent demonstrations were every day news and by June - with local crops still months away - the food started to run out as the customary imports from Russia were held back by turmoil there. Holding order and the whole country together was a growing problem and, at the end, it fell upon the Parliament Chairman, who interestingly was a Socialist. Democracy was in place already then in Finland.
If you can, please join in reading YLE's monthly updates how Finland progressed towards the final independence declaration in December. They make for useful background in understanding the background for all the anniversary celebrations this year.
If you are a jazz fan, you know that the music was born in New Orleans from black marching bands that played in funerals, festivals, dances and picnics, yet the first to record it was a white unit called Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the recording was made in New York. The music was not exactly same as the black N.O. bands played, but main point was that Livery Stable Blues sold over 1 million copies and created a national craze for jazz. The band followed with two more No.1 hits in 1917, At the Jazz Band Ball and Tiger Rag, both classic numbers for trad jazz units even today. Tiger Rag was recorded 136 times by other bands, black and white, within the next 25 years and by now there's 1,5 million jazz numbers recorded from 230,000 studio sessions over the years. Not just jazz, but the entire sound recording industry and fan following of artists really took off with ODJB's pioneering recordings. You did not have to go to black speakeasy or Metropolitan Opera to listen to your favorite artist, but you could do it at home in Helsinki, Hamburg or Hokkaido. It was to lead to global pop music industry as we have today.
For older pop music fans like myself, this year is 50th anniversary of "Summer of Love" when pop music reached a new stylistic maturity – and hit a new social fashion fad with "flower power", universal love and peace - and pot smoking. The summer culminated in the first ever worldwide satellite television broadcast with Beatles singing in studio and simultaneously recording with orchestra and chorus of celebrities their song All You Need Is Love. There was also the first ever big rock festival in Monterey, California, where the best of British and new wave local bands got together to play for ecstatic audiences outside customary concert halls. Woodstock was to come only two years later at the end of the flower power movement.
The pop music that was recorded in 1967 still stand the test of time: Beatles' Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band, Rolling Stones' Between The Buttons, Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale, Cream's Sunshine of Your Love, Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced, Eric Burdon's Winds of Change and Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The new "psychedelic" bands from California had weird names like Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Doors, Fish and Moby Grape. The music they played was totally different from the simple commercial pop that we had heard from USA before. When other parts of the country got on the new wave, they came up with even stranger names: New York City Library, Pacific Gas & Electric, Chicago Transit Authority and Blood, Sweat and Tears, to name a few.
The black popular music changed gear in 1967, too, with Otis Redding showing the way with his immortal Sitting On Dock of The Bay. He died soon after in flight accident, but there was no holding back black talent like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder taking over from the studio producers and writing their own lyrics and melodies, while James Brown, Sly & Family Stone and others provided the new heavy "funk" rhythms to dance to.
In Japan, Oricon chart that provides unbiased data for the music sales instead of each producer's claims even today, was started in 1967.
In Finland, we managed that year to see and hear in concert some of the big names like Cream and Jimi Hendrix before they became too famous and expensive for Finnish concert arrangers to pay them anymore. We also got John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, where Eric Clapton had played before, as blues boom had landed to Finland from Britain. It still continues with many active bands and players all the way back from those days while Finnish Blues Society and Blues News magazine, which I had honor to lead back then, are still going strong and Järvenpää Blues Festival next weekend is bigger than ever.
Finland's own pop charts in 1967 were topped by such everlasting idols as Danny, Katri-Helena, Tapani Kansa and Paula Koivuniemi, all still active today like Japanese enka singers from that time. Record companies ruled what was recorded and an old jazz musician Lasse Martenson was selected by producers to do the Finnish cover of the flower power anthem San Fransisco (Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) while mustached fat Freddy scored Finland's first bottom score at Eurovision Song Contest with overly dramatic Varjoon Suojaan. That dubious achievement was not to be repeated until 80's when we tried Finnish version of Jamaican reggae on French, Italian and German audiences. By that time, we thought we were international. Back in 1967, we still had such proto-Finnish songs in the charts as Irwin Goodman's Ryysyranta and Martti Innanen's Elsa Kohtalon Lapsi. For those too young to know these cultural treasures: check them out on Youtube for a good laugh.
On classical music side, Savonlinna Opera Festival was re-started in 1967 in the old medieval castle where they had been held already 1912-30, so this year's festival is the 50th anniversary. It's as popular as ever and lauded by critics as before, certainly recommended for all Japanese readers to experience at least once.
In 1967 world events, Vietnam War was getting worse and so was anti-war movement in USA. Muhammad Ali was stripped of his crown for refusing to go and Detroit exploded in race riots. Little Israel fought and miraculously won Egypt, Jordan and Syria in Six Day War ending up controlling big chunks of unfriendly Arabian land, a challenge for it today. Military junta ruled in Greece and composer Mikis Theodorakis was sent to prison. In Asia, ASEAN was established to lead the way to tight economic and political union in South East Asia. It still has not materialized.
The biggest films of the year included The Graduate with young Dustin Hoffman and music by Simon & Garfunkel, Bonnie and Clyde with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway - and hit song for Georgie Fame. In James Bond flick You Only Live Twice, Sean Connery adventured in the modern, but still mystical Tokyo. The bad guys' (Osato Chemical & Engineering Co., Ltd.) headquarter was in Hotel New Otani and Japan's secret police's secret office was in ever moving Marunouchi Line metro wagon "so nobody knows where it is". It's hilarious to watch today, too. Tokyo was just three years after the 1964 Olympics, now we have three to go to 2020.
It was Showa Year 42 and Eisaku Sato was Prime Minister. There was parliament election, of course, and heavy rains and mudslides claimed 142 lives in Niigata and Yamagata. What's new? In Osaka, Hankyu Senri line opened to the area where the 1970 World Expo would be held and a home-made bomb exploded on Hyogo-Himeji line causing 2 deaths and 29 wounded. No terrorist organization stepped up to claim the blame or fame. It was still 4 years to Japan Red Army bombings, Tel Aviv airport attack and the hostage drama shoot-out at Mt. Asama in my peaceful Karuizawa.
Pardon me for dwelling in history and nostalgic memories that come to mind as I'm preparing for the annual summer trip to Finland. What I hear, the weather there is far from "summer", but it's always good to see old places, meet old friends and family.
Leaving Tokyo in a tilting moment in Japan politics. After all, Abe-san did not escape from the Kake university scandal with closing of the Parliament spring session as opposition parties joined to demand an extraordinary session to dig deeper in how Abe's friend got the building permit. This happens just when the campaigning started for the July 2 Tokyo election that has potentially nationwide impact. It is up to the Cabinet to decide when exactly the Diet should convene, but delaying the session will only add to the public doubts about Prime Minister's integrity. His expected new, more popular minister line-up did not materialize last week and with 10% drop in popularity PM himself is bound to stay away from visibly mingling in the City election. All forecasts say Governor Koike's "Tokyo People First" movement together with it allies will wrest the Assembly majority from LDP's old guard. Government controlled NHK's biased attack in its Friday night news on Governor Koike's "indecisive theatrics" in the fish market move will likely turn more voters on her side. NHK has neither broadcasted the interview made with the Education Ministry "deep throat" last month about the documents that show PM's involvement in the matter. Indeed, the establishment has a strong grip on all media in Japan, not just NHK.
On my "shotengai" bumped into one young Koike candidate making his stump speech and picked up a leaflet where "Tomin First" lays out its message in unusually strong words. "Tokyo is fast. Tokyo metropolitan government is slow. In the past 25 years, only one new ordinance has been passed. What is Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly doing?" This is completely different from the usual loudspeaker cars blasting: "I am Ito. Please vote for me. Counting on your support."
It is easy for the voters to understand that what applies to Tokyo, can be expanded to the whole country. With LDP's steadfast Parliament ally Komeito joining Koike against it in the Tokyo election, it will be political dynamite if the movement will score a Macron-like win next Sunday.
It will be interesting to see where we are when I'm back from Finland. Until then wishing relaxing summer time to those on holiday and stamina to endure Tokyo heat for those toiling in office.
Tokyo, June 26, 2017
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The columnist is a Japan veteran among Finnish business, our Chamber ex-president and today Member of the Board of Trustees.
After running a major Finnish industry company's Japan business for over 20 years, he is now Senior Associate in a strategic consulting company.