Japanese Choirs


Figure 1.--Sailor suits are generally seen to be girls clothes in Japan because they are a common uniform style at girls' schools. Both the boys and girls at this choir wear sailor suits. The only difference is that the boys wear short pants and lace up shoes and the girls wear skirts and strap shoes. These children are performing in the musical "Sound of Music". There is an old boy (O.B.) of Tokyo FM boys choir in the picture, the second person from left. He was in the second grade in junior high school.

Japan has several boy choirs. The internet sites, however, are in Japanese. So I know very little about them. They appear to be mostly boys choirs rather than mix boys and girls children’s groups. I’m not sure when boys’ choirs were first formed in Japan, presumably after World War II. Unlike many European choirs they are not associated with Japanese churches or other religious groups. The Japanese have a unique nack of incorportaing fotrign institutions and activities, often with their own unique style. After the War, the Japnese incoportated many American and European styles and activities from baseball to Scouting--apparently boys' choirs was one such import.

Choral Tradition

There is no indigenous tradition of children's choirs in Japan. It is almost entirely a European import. European and American missionaries enterd Japan after the opening by American Admiral Perry in the mid-19th Century. The missionaries built churchs and schools. These churches began organizing choirs, but the impact was limited.

Almost all Japanese children's choirs have been organized since the end of World War II. Japan at this time looked abroad and many foreign activities and institutions were imported. The Japanese primarily looked to Europe with its strong tradition of boys' choral music. One of the most famous choir, Nishi-rokugo choir's director said "Vienna Boys Choir (Austria) are the most influential for me".

The Japanese choirs vary greatly in musical ability. They can not be easily compared with the better known European choirs where boys may board at the school and practice daily. Some of the Japanese choirs may only meet for parctices once a week for 2-3 hours. Those few choirs associated with schools may have a more rigorous practice schedule.

Choir Directors

Boy choir Director are usually men. Many mixed children's and girls' choir directors have women directors. This is in part because many fewer men choose to major in music at Japanese universities. Science and buiness are much more popular fields for men.

Types of Choirs

Most all choir are mixed choirs. There are only a few boys choirs. In most mixed choirs, few boys participate. These groups are normally 90 percent are more girls as boys are so reluctant to participate. The groups are fun to watch, but the rather limited training means that they do not begin to reach the same music standards as the European boys choirs. The Tokyo FM boys choir and Gyosei boys choir are rare cases, but very famous in Japan.


Figure 2.--This is the Victor Boys Club Choir, probably photographed in the 1960s. They wear red blazers and pink short pants with white kneesocks.

Type of Music

The Japanese choirs primarily perform popular music. Especially popular are Chiristmas songs, hymns, Japanese children's song, and animated movie music. Hayao Miyazaki is Japan's most famous animated movie director. His movies are very popular and boys often sing his theme song. Japanese choirs do not perform the clasical and religious music that is sung by many European choirs. The Japanese choirs are not trained to the extent of the major European choirs. There are, for example, not boarding schools for choristers in Japan. Thus the Japanese choirs are not trained to the standard of European choirs, nor do Japanese audience appear to want the classical performances given by many European choirs. Japanese choirs peform some clasical music, but they do not concebtrate in it and studfy it like the European choirs do. Popular music is more widely performed by the Japanese choirs.

A typical program at a Japanese choral performance might include: 1.Sprituals, 2. Fukurou-Megane...Makiko Kinoshita, 3. Ayu no Uta...Akira Yuyama, and 4. Aoi-tikyuu to Kodomotachi...Hideo Kobayash.

Some impresarios have for years brought over British groups and continental European boychoirs (the Vienna and Kings College are very popular and usually sing to sold-out audiences that are 90 percent women and girls). In recent times, impresarios have been arranging for some of the top British boy sopranos to make pop-like recordings and apperances for Japan. Boys Air Choir (English boy sopranos) in mid-1999 was the bestselling classical music CD in Japan.

Individual Choirs

There appears to be quite a number of Japanese children's choirs. We have noted both boys' choirs and mixed children's choirs. We have been able to find information on the following choirs, although our information is still quite limited. The various Japanese choirs have quite a variety of uniforms. The choirs appear to mostly dress in European style clothes. I do not know of any choirs performing in traditional Japanese costumes. Choirs in the 1950s and 60s appear to have primarily performed in blazers and short pants. Some choirs have more infgormal uniforms. Some even had berets. The short pants, especially the shorter cut continental styles, and berets suggests that for some reason France figured prominently in influencing boys fashions during this period. Choir costumes in the 1990s appear to include many informal costumes with just short-sleeved shirts. Some choirs perform in blazers with long dress trousers. These uniforms appear to have more of an American flavor about them. HOpefully our Japanese readers will provide more information on the different Japanese choirs.

Garments

There are many similarities in the garments worn by Japanese choirs. The uniforms adopted in the 1950s and 60s have begun to change in the 1990s. Most choirs have both formal and informal costumes. Many uniforms are very casual, only "T" > shirts and shorts. It is common to give performances in casual clothes. The choirs operated by Chiristian churches and afilliate schools tend to have more formal uniform. But most Japan's children chorus are not religious. Because most Japanese believe that children should be lively and active, there are performances in such casual clothes. Of course, it depends on the nature of the concert.

Figure 3.--This choir wears black berets, bright blue blazers, and white short pants. While berets are not commnly worn by Japanese boys, several choirs use them as part of their costume.

Caps

Japanese boys commonly wear caps of various types, in part because many schools require them. I have little information, but it appears that most choirs do not require caps. A few, however, require berets. Berets are not common for Japanese boys. Some private (perhaps Chirstian) school have berets as uniform. But in this case, it is often only the girls that wear berets. In some kindergartens, boys also wear berets. The use of berets for boys' choir uniforms probably is related to the European influence. The Japanese looking to Europe which has a strong tradition of boys' choirs.

Shirts

Boys in formal outfits (jackets or vests) usually wear white shirts. Almost all formal outfits were worn with white shirts. One group had pink long sleeved shirts that theu wore with pink shorts and kneesocks.

Many choirs also have informal costumes of "T" shirts and shorts. Often the choir name or logo appears on these shits. Some boys also wear turtleneck long sleeved shirts.

Ties

The boys normally wear solid color neckties for formal performances. Some boys performing in Eton suits wear bowties. Some choirs have the boys perform in open necked shirts without ties. One group in the 1960s and 70s wore white bows.

Jackets and vests

Most serious choirs have formal uniforms consisting of blazers, colarless Eton suits, or vests. They come in many different colors, including red, blue, grey, and other colors.

Pants

Almost all Japanese choirs have short pants uniforms for boys. Only in the late 1990s have long pants begun to appear. Some choirs allow older boys to comtinue participating. These older boys are allowed to wear long pants.

Socks

Almost all boys and childrens choirs wear white kneesocks. One choir had short white socks and another pink kneesocks. The prevalent style, however, is white kneesocks.

Shoes

Black leather dress up shoes are nmot as common in Japan as America and Europe. Elementary schoolboys, for example, commonly wear white sneakers to school. Most boys choirs require black leather shoes. One choir in the 1960s had red shoes to go with red blazers and pink shorts.

Uniforms in Mixed Groups

The mixed choirs often have to decide how to blend the uniforms of the boys and girls. There are typically two or three boys in a sea of girls. Often they wear the same caps, shirts or vests and then wear short pants rather than skirts, but the pants and skirts are nornmally of the same color. Both typically wear the the same white knee socks and black shoes.

Costume Design

I'm not sure who desisgns the uniforms. The choir directr may be involved. Perhaps parents had a say, but in the generally more autthoriative Japnese system it is likely that the administrators decided on their own. Once the decision was made, the same uniforms were often worn for years.

Boys' Attitudes

Many Japanese boys are reluctant about joining a choir. Some boys are quite keen about singing and performing. Other boys were proud to be selected for a choir. Most boys, however, are not very interested. Some really dislike theidea. They generally believe that participating in a choir is a girlish activity. Although most boys are reluctant, there are a few boys who are interested in joining choirs. Some simply love singing. In many cases, however, their parents (usually the mother) insist on their sons joining. Once joining the choir, however, all member wear same costume. Many boys are used to wearing a uniform as some elementary schools require uniforms, in some cases similar to the less dressy choir costumes. As a result few boys object.

Interest in Choral Music

I'm a little unsure about the popular of choral music in Japan. One HBC contributor believes that there appears to have been a boom in appreciation of children's choir music in Japan. Another knowledge Japanese obserer sees little change.

Most of the fans seem to be mothers who are often more interested in children's personalities and the like rather than the music itself. The people who attend concerts and buy records do not seem to be serious classical, "longhair" musiclovers, of whom Japan also has many. The choir audiances appear to prefer more pop music.

Tokyo Broadcasting Child Chorus Party

The Tokyo broadcasting child chorus party is one of the several child chorus parties which are held throughout Japan. The party is held in the NHK broadcasting center in the Tokyo city in the astringent juice valley ward. More than 300 children participate. They vary in academic level from the second year in high school down to the second year in elementary school. NHK held the first Tokyo broadcasting child chorus party in December, 1951. It was called the Tokyo broadcasting child chorus study meeting and subsequently the more familiar namer, the Tokyo broadcasting child chorus party. Each year preparation for the Party begins in March. The selection and training begins to prepare the children. The first broadcasts begin in October. After that, appearances in radio station become quite frquent.

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1957: It broadcasts in November, 1957, on the Tokyo broadcasting child chorus party 5 Žό”N record wish performance meeting ( the Tokyo broadcasting child troupe and the combination ) NHK hall, exhibiting.
1961: The performance travel which is first with the city snow festival of February, 1961, the 10th of Niigata prefectures.
1962: The television program "Everybody's Song" first appeared in 1962. After that, the television appearances become more frequent. In September, the Tokyo broadcasting child chorus party 10 Žό”N time table meeting per the same year. (The Tokyo broadcasting child troupe and the combination.) The NHK hall
May, 1964: The Hungarian boy girl chorus party and the ι joy performance meeting appeared on television.
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Figure 4.--These boys belong to the Tokyo FM Boys Choir. They wear green "T" shirts with the choir name, black short pants, and white knee socks.
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Theatrical Productions

Choristers in Japanese boy choirs are often selected for roles in musical theater. Broadway musicals are popular in Japan and often performef by local groups. The recording companies also draw on the choristers for Japanese recordings of muscical theater as well as other types of music recquiring boys' voices.







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Created: July 20, 1999
Last updated: 4:03 PM 11/6/2004