Chage & Aska "Say Yes" — More from Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

In “Bubblegum Music in a Postbubble Economy,” the concluding chapter to Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical History of J-Pop, Michael Bourdaghs discusses the very popular Chage & Aska (C&A), whose 1991 single “Say Yes,” became a breakout hit.

Bourdaghs’s discussion focuses on the ways in which the song, reflected concern about shifting gender roles in Japan. Bourdaghs writes:

It is also hardly surprising that the lyrics reflect a celebration of heterosexual, romantic marriage. As the chorus insists, all will be right if you (the woman [kimi]) simply say yes to me (the man [boku]). But the persona of the singer is not entirely self-assured [and] betrays a touch of panic, of hysteria. The man is insisting that the woman say yes precisely because he is not certain that she will. The man tries to define for the woman her own thoughts, a paranoid stance that tries to preempt alternative and (from his perspective) undesirable responses to his proposal. The weakened stance of the male speaker can be read as another manifestation of the strategy of male feminization.

Here is a video for the song:

Later in the chapter, Bourdaghs continues his discussion of how the song reflected the political and geopolitical concerns of 1990s Japan:

We should keep in mind that C&A’s audience consisted largely of a generation of young Japanese women who in the 1990s increasingly postponed their own marriages, to the alarm of conservatives like Ishihara. Of course, this propensity for Japanese women to delay marriage (their refusal to accept confinement in the private realm) was itself a product of their increasing assimilation into the labor market (their domination in the public realm)—an assimilation that increased their purchasing power, making it possible for C&A to sell their music in such massive quantities. But the consumers of “Say Yes” purchased not only its dominant ideological message but also its blind spots, gaps that they could use to their own purposes to create the “autistic” space of the Walkman listener, momentarily withdrawn into a hiding place marked by a “freedom to be deaf to the loudspeakers of history.”

Any discussion of the reception of “Say Yes” has to extend beyond the boundaries of Japan as well. With the end of the Cold War and the bursting of the economic bubble, the bipolar Japan versus America geopolitical map that had framed Japanese popular music since 1945 began yielding to a new mapping that increasingly situated Japan within Asia. Just as Ishihara’s The Japan That Can Say “No” inevitably led to The Asia That Can Say “No” (a literal translation of the title of the fourth “No” book), in which Asia is figured as desiring a strong, masculine Japan that can impregnate it with investment capital, so C&A labored to carry their success in Japan into the broader Asian market. Realizing the potential of the pentatonic scale, Chinese characters, and other cultural forms as bridges that might connect Japan to Asia, C&A long had their eyes on the continent. As they declared (in English) in the chorus to the title song of their album Mr. Asia (1987), “We are the Mr. Asia.” The door to the Asian market finally opened to C&A with the success of “Say Yes,” which rode into Asian hit charts following the rebroadcast of The 101st Proposal on Hong Kong’s satellite channel Star TV (it has subsequently been rebroadcast elsewhere, including Singapore and China)

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