Rock Star Skepticism

If you thought there was no skepticism in the Japanese rock scene, you would be wrong.

Most people reading this (i.e., English speakers) are probably unaware of just how much music Japan produces. Japan has a rich musical history and distinct cultural sound, not to mention the second biggest music market in the world, right after America. I find that some Japanese bands are able to tap into the sounds of their American counterparts, but not really vice-versa. Regardless, I’m not here to review music. I’m here to introduce you to the award-winning Japanese rock band “Radwimps.” Their music is not only fantastic, but their lyrics are always meaningful and fascinating. My favourite Radwimps song did what so relatively few have done in Japanese history (or mainstream music history in general): They dissed God.

If I could pick an “anthem” to represent Skeptikai, this would be it.

Click here now to see the only available version of the music video that has English subtitles (click the button labeled “CC” to turn on captions.)

Since the person who uploaded that video above isn’t allowing embedding, the video below is the same music video, but with Spanish subtitles. So check it out the song above, and make sure you turn the captions on. Don’t worry, the explanation that follows will still be here when you’re finished.

The song is called “Oshaka-shama,” which is an intentional “misspelling” (note: Japanese doesn’t really have “spelling” per se, since it doesn’t have an alphabet system) of the word “Oshaka-sama” – a respectful way of saying “God” in Japanese. By saying “sha” instead of “sa” – which is like saying “horshe” instead of  “horse” – they turn it into some ridiculous-sounding word that doesn’t exist. Except that when you say “oshakashama,” you’re not talking about just some barnyard animal; you’re talking about the all-knowing, all-mighty, all-powerful, omnipresent creator of… well, all.

The song preaches doubt, and promotes the notion that we should focus on the life we’re privileged to have now, not the one that may not even exist afterward. This is a similar sentiment to those which started running along hundreds of buses in the UK since a couple of years ago, and were repeated in many countries around the world. I’m of course talking about those conspicuous ones that caused a lot of uproar because of their lewd messages.

A major theme of the song is that humans may have just selfishly imagined a God, considering how anthropomorphized God’s image always is. Indeed, one of the awards Oshakashama won was for lyrics, which (translated) include:

“If an afterlife exists, or if it supposedly doesn’t, what about it?
If we are to reincarnate, or if we aren’t to, who cares?
Mankind are always egotistical about everything.
They insist that there’s still more beyond, even while we stand on top of the chain of… whatever it’s called.”

While it’s true that God is a rare topic in the mainstream Japanese music scene, and that skepticism seems to be a culturally modest attribute in Japan, a few quick Google searches suggest just how many Japanese people have been paying attention. Typing in Oshakasama (God) currently yields 677,000 results, while Oshakashama (Radwimps) yields 207,000. Not bad for a song that came out 2 years ago. Unfortunately, a simple search comparison doesn’t really tell us any useful information about listeners’ actual attitudes. But in general, I suppose most people will already have their minds made up by the time they turn on their iPods. Like the religious-folk who overtly say that it’s good to question God and the bible, but then never really think critically when they themselves do so. This sentiment is echoed in the lyrics:

“You pretend to hold a question mark, while you actually already know.”

I was planning on blogging about this topic on March 11, exactly two years after the song had come out. But I was a little distracted. Instead, I waited until Radwimps went on their “Radwimps Zettai Enmei” tour, which I recently had the pleasure of attending in Saitama Prefecture’s famous Super Arena. I was surprised to see such a wide age range in attendance, but it must have been because of their surprising versatility of song types. I guess this is to be expected from true rock stars who can belt out fast, slow, and even English songs. So not only was I glad to see that everyone had a good time, but Oshakashama was definitely the best song they played, and probably the “climax” of the event. They extended it into a 7- or 8-minute masterpiece that no one wanted to end.

You may have noticed that I didn’t specify what god we’re talking about. The “Shaka” in “Oshakashama” refers to Buddha, but the lyrics suggest that they are speaking about the Judaeo-Christian God. So I presume that they wanted to lump numerous deities in there.

“If I were to become God, and able to decide everything,
I would certainly not do such a thing as making the world within seven days.
I would definitely spend more time, and make a proper plan.
Because look, since it was made in such a hurry and rush…
It’s been cut and pasted, formed and ruined.”

Perhaps if a popular American artist sang about the same thing, it would make some headlines, but I presume the lack of backlash to this song is a reflection of Japan’s lack of religious conviction. Just keep in mind that this isn’t just some garage-band that no one has heard of – they are a famous rock band with a large fan base. This is especially true for the front-man, Yojiro Noda.

Noda is second from the left

The last lyrics I’ll present really bring out Noda’s message:

“Mankind are born foolish, and they are to die foolish.
Then it’s just pointless to use our minds!
Well, let’s just look forward to ourselves in the next world.
Hey wait… what about ourselves in this world!?”


Do you know of any mainstream or popular bands/singers/artists that express similar views in their art?

If you do, leave comments and try to send links to them.

This entry was posted in Activism, Culture, Japan, Skepticism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Rock Star Skepticism

  1. Hello says:

    Cool article, Oshakashama was the first song I heard from them and it’s awesome. I’m a skeptic when it comes to God as well, but I’m also a Buddhist, and the odd part about this is that the Buddha didn’t really believe in an almighty creator God either. He is also said to have discussed with beings who believed they were almighty creator gods about how they were wrong or mistaken. Of course there is still mythology and deities that Buddha may have acknowledged to exist as more powerful beings than humans, but he did not tell people to worship them or believe that any of them were all-powerful and created the universe. I know that some people do worship Buddha as an almighty god, and I don’t believe that, but I know that historically, Shakyamuni Buddha (from which “Oshaka-sama” is derived) just wanted to teach people a way to ease suffering. Anyway, Oshakashama is still a great song with lyrics that make me think about human nature.

  2. E says:

    The last picture isn’t Noda-san..but G-Dragon from South Korean group Big Bang under YG Entertainment

    • Ryo says:

      Wow, thanks a lot for the heads up! That’s crazy, I was completely fooled by the image search that said it was Noda. I guess because he wore a similar hat in the video, and they look relatively similar. But ya, thanks for letting me know, E.

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