Plucking the forest sound

Borealism in the Japanese enthusiasm for the Finnish kantele




Finnish kantele, Japan, enthusiasm, borealism, nature


This article examines Japanese enthusiasm for the Finnish kantele from the perspective of Borealism (Schram 2011). The question it addresses concerns the Northern characteristics that spring to mind among enthusiasts who use the kantele for recreational purposes. It also examines how these qualities are further used and developed in Japan. This cross-cultural music phenomenon reflects homogenous Japanese notions of the kantele, which influenced how its sound is used in a new environment. Borealism is reflected in the enthusiasts’ narrative and adoption of the instrument, which is perceived as an excellent tool with which to approach nature, fulfilling the fantasy and inspiring the imagination. The primary data comprises interviews and participant observation conducted in Japan between 2016 and 2018. Other supplementary materials include Internet data, liner notes, CD covers, promotional materials (posters, leaflets) and decorated instruments discursively gathered in the community.     

Article cover photo: A five-string kantele painted green with Unikko as decoration, made in Sapporo, Hokkaido, 2009 (courtesy of Mitsuko Sato).


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A five-string kantele painted green with Unikko as decoration.





Chen, Y.-H. (2023). Plucking the forest sound: Borealism in the Japanese enthusiasm for the Finnish kantele . Etnomusikologian vuosikirja, 35, 11–38.