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Both personally revealing and informed by years of Fulbright- and MTV-sponsored research, JAPANTHEM’s honest vignettes delve beyond the aspects of Japanese culture that have captivated the western world to portray a society’s deep relationship with music, and what it means to listen and understand as a cultural outsider.

Following a decade of back-and-forth across the Pacific while researching her doctoral thesis in ethnomusicology, JAPANTHEM author Jillian Marshall reveals contemporary Japan through a prism of magic, serendipity, frustration, unique underground culture, learning life lessons the hard way, and an insatiable curiosity for the human spirit. The book’s twenty vignettes — including what it’s like to be subtly bullied by your Buddhist dance teacher, go to a secret rave in woods near Mt. Fuji, meet a pop star at a basement club while tipsy, and experience a nuclear disaster unfold by the minute — are based off first-hand experience, and illustrate music’s fascinating relationship to (Japanese) society with honesty, intelligence, and humor. JAPANTHEM offers a uniquely nuanced portrayal of life in the Land of the Rising Sun — while encouraging us to listen more deeply in (and to) Japan in the process. 

JAPANTHEM: Counter-Cultural Experiences, Cross-Cultural Remixes by Jillian Marshall

ISBN: 978-1953103154; Trade Paper Original; 230 pages; $16; April 12, 2022

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Excerpt from JAPANTHEM by Jillian Marshall

“In Tokyo, I once saw a guy slam his face into a cymbal, break a piece of Plexiglas over his head, and throw himself on the ground as he was playing distorted Metallica records at maximum volume, all while taunting a bunch of sweaty dudes (plus me) in a basement: ‘This is too gentle for you, isn’t it?’

“But there I was, laughing, nearly euphoric, and totally feeling these guys playing what was, in actuality, some pretty dark music. And I wasn’t the only one having a grand ol’ time; it was a packed party, an anniversary show that a friend has been putting together for a few years now. For a person who covers her ears when an ambulance goes by in the US, I wondered how I could actually enjoy the abrasive Noise gig in a grimy little basement somewhere in western Tokyo. It was so loud that my ears felt like they were growing a coating of fuzzy cotton from the inside out: a feeling I savored as I unexpectedly waxed nostalgic about temporary hearing loss.

“Ah, the Tokyo days . . . they were actually pretty fun, weren’t they?”

About the Author

Jillian Marshall grew up in a rural town in Vermont, just south of the French-Canadian border. After graduating from the University of Chicago in 2009, she moved to a fishing village in Japan to teach middle school English. She came back to the US to pursue a doctorate in ethnomusicology at Cornell University, frequently returning to Japan to conduct research on contemporary Japanese music. Following the completion of her PhD in 2018, she left academia in pursuit of a more public intellectualism. In addition to writing, Jillian currently teaches the languages and history of Japan and China; she is also a lifelong musician, and plays trumpet and piano. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.