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At the Japan Lullaby Forum 2007

The Japan Lullaby Forum hosted by the Japan Lullaby Association was held on Saturday and Sunday, May 19 and 20, 2007 at Iki City on Iki Island. On May 19, a lullaby concert was held at Bentenzaki Park on the coast. On May 20, a forum and concert were held on at the Iki Culture Hall at Gonoura. Several hundred people attended from the both Nagasaki Prefecture and outside the prefecture to nearly fill the 1000-capacity hall. The forum was clearly a success.

The Japanese Lullaby Association is a non-profit organization established by Yoshiko Nishidate. I am involved as an officer of the association because I believe that the lullaby movement is one important way to change society. In the past, the association has held this sort of conference in Kanazawa and other regional cities, but this one was particularly special and successful, not only because it took place on the island of Iki, but also because it was supported by Nagasaki Prefecture and neighboring prefectures.

I was invited to attend this symposium, too. On these two days in May, the weather was fine, with a slight chill but balmy sea breeze. Before families sitting on the park grass or in lawn chairs and children with their friends, it started with a lively Japanese drum performance, followed by lullabies from Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea and then choral performances. The first day ended with the traditional Iki kagura or ceremonial dance. In the evening, each symposium group held a party to get acquainted.

On the second day, the 20th, the morning symposium entitled "Let's Bring Back Lullabies" was held in the magnificent hall and moderated by Nishidate Yoshiko. I participated along with Ichikawa Shin-ichi, playwright; Kobayashi Michiko, pediatrician; and Yamaori Tetsuo, scholar and philosopher. It opened with a discussion of Kitahara Hakushu, the poet who wrote many great folksongs, but focused on the question of considering lullaby songs for raising children. We all concurred that reviving the lullaby was important for social change.

In my opinion, the content or lyrics of the lullaby should be considered separately from its musical elements such as melody, rhythm, pitch, and modulation. I also pointed out that the effect or importance of lullabies differs in infants who do not yet understand language and in young children. Lullabies relieve mothers from the fatigue of child-rearing, emotionally calm them, and heighten their desire to take care of the baby. For babies, the effect differs depending on the particular lullaby, but research indicates that playful lullabies give them a feeling of joy while bedtime lullabies soothe and put them to sleep. The concert featuring vocal and guitar solos made for an enjoyable afternoon.

The problems of our affluent society such as the increase in children abuse are well known, but I believe we should tackle them by enriching human relations within the family and society at large and making them more kind-hearted and affectionate. And one important way is to promote lullabies so that they are sung to infants more often. This means reviving the regional lullabies that have passed down through the generations so the lullabies are sung everywhere. At the same time, I think that new lullabies--jazz-style or with a contemporary beat--should be created to express the time we live in now.

For Tokyo residents, Iki Island may sound faraway, but it is only about one hour away from Fukuoka by hydrofoil. Iki Island has a long history. It is mentioned in the ancient legends of Japan, and was also a strategic outpost as an important crossroads linking Japan and Korea. From the 11th century to the 13th century, it occasionally became a front where clashes with Portuguese and Spanish who visited Japan between the 14th and early 17th century and Mongolian invaders took place. In the 16th century, it became Hirado Matsuura domain which began whaling and raising cattle for beef.

Since becoming Iki City, the population has reached 30,000. The island is rather flat with rich natural beauty. The town with its beautiful port and the farming villages surrounded by forests and low hills are linked by a road so that the entire island now is connected with a transportation network. Nevertheless, there is still untouched nature to be enjoyed. My day started as I woke up to the singing of nightingales. At the party in the evening, we were taken to a place without electric lights to see fireflies glowing in the total darkness, and I was reminded of Zenpukuji River that used to flow in Suginami when I was a child.

Thinking of the success of the Japan Lullaby Forum 2007, now is the time for NPOs in Japan to make the most regional character, not only the use of lullabies, but also toys and picture books in children's play and learning and to help support both parents and the community. This is the power that will change our society and bring back kind-heartedness that will solve the problems of children today. This is what I was thinking on the hydrofoil back to Fukuoka.
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