The Story of Furusato

A friend recently asked me where the idea for "Furusato" came from. This Four Immigrants song appears in the so-called "11 o'clock Number" slot - late in Act II, just before the show ends. My friend wondered if the concept of furusato was addressed in Kiyama's book (it is not), and whether it was based on an existing folk melody (it is not or at least only incidentally). The story of this song is actually something magical, and one that makes me wonder if the Muses are indeed a real thing.

One day, while getting frustrated with a section in Act I, I decided to fiddle around with some pentatonic melodies and tonalities. I knew I wanted a song or two that would reflect Japanese culture at some point in the show. In my exploration, I stumbled upon a four-note phrase with an underlying harmony that struck me emotionally. My eyes started tearing up as I played this phrase over and over again. "Why am I crying?" I thought to myself. I jotted down the notes, then headed out to grab lunch. As I was walking, though, I remember thinking "I don't know why or how, but this song is in the show..."

I wondered what the song could be about. As more and more of the script was completed, and as I got to the harrowing Turlock scene during which Frank is forced out of town, it was clear to me that this mystery song must arise from that pain. The idea of "home" seemed a fitting theme for it. For the immigrants at this point in the play, there is a big question as to whether America has become or will ever truly be home. I looked up the Japanese word for home, and among the many options, I found furusato. A word with four syllables that perfectly fit the four-note phrase I had discovered. What is particularly poignant about the word is that while you can use the words "home" or "hometown," there is a unique, nostalgic quality to the word in Japanese. There is also a bit of a rural connotation that seems to fit the story of these four men who travel to the urban center of San Francisco.

In my research, I did discover an existing Japanese children's song called Furusato. Interestingly, it seems to be based in Western harmonies (take a listen), and I made an artistic choice that I wanted the folk song in my show to harken back to a time before Western harmony had entered Japanese music. It makes for a complicated discussion about where "authenticity" comes from when writing culturally-specific work -- a discussion that deserves its own full article.

Fascinatingly, though, when Akiko Kiyama - Henry Kiyama's granddaughter - came to see the show, she said that my "Furusato" reminded her of a song she knew. And of course, it was the children's song.

"Furusato" is reprised at the end of the show with a wish for the entire audience: "May you find furusato." At a party at translator of The Four Immigrants Manga Frederik L. Schodt's house, Akiko commented that it was apt to end the show that way, because her childhood "furusato" was one that you might sing with others at the end of a gathering, as a sort of benediction. She and her husband Ken'ichi graciously sang the song for us as our gathering drew to a close. A magical coda and further confirmation that indeed, "Furusato" was meant for The Four Immigrants.

A photo with Akiko (to my left) and her husband Ken'ichi (to my right) at translator Frederik L. Schodt's house (far left).

A photo with Akiko (to my left) and her husband Ken'ichi (to my right) at translator Frederik L. Schodt's house (far left).

Posted on August 22, 2017 and filed under Composition, Creative, Musical Theater, Research, Writing.