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Exploring Japanese Media Through “Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life”

Koto, a wooden 13-string instrument with adjustable bridges, has its origins in China before being introduced to Japan.

Watching anime is one of my many pastimes, and I indulge in it quite extensively. I particularly relish slice-of-life series that delve into the more specialized facets of Japanese culture. While some may argue that anime cannot provide genuine insights into Japan and that its content is too detached from actual Japanese culture, my experience differs. Having viewed over 300 different anime titles, I must respectfully disagree. Admittedly, many shows, especially popular shonen anime like “Naruto” and “Dragon Ball Z,” are fantastical and far removed from reality. Even the more grounded slice-of-life narratives do not always mirror real life precisely, as that could risk monotony. Nonetheless, anime is primarily a form of entertainment. Nevertheless, this does not negate the fact that these shows do incorporate elements of authentic Japanese culture.

“Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life” is a 26-episode anime produced by Platinum Vision, airing in two cours in 2019. The story revolves around Chika Kudo, the grandson of a koto craftsman, as he navigates his time at Tokise High School. Initially perceived as a troubled youth and a delinquent with a bleak future, Chika’s life takes a turn following his grandfather Gen’s demise. Driven to grasp his grandfather’s teachings, Chika joins Tokise’s koto club to atone for his past transgressions. Despite the club being in disarray due to the graduation of all members except the current president, Takezou Kurata, Chika perseveres and eventually helps recruit enough members to participate in koto competitions.

“Kono Oto Tomare!” presents a heartwarming narrative akin to typical sports anime like “Haikyuu!!,” delivering a compelling message. I wholeheartedly recommend experiencing it firsthand. While I could extol the virtues of this show endlessly, that is not the primary focus here. Admittedly, not all the minutiae of “Kono Oto Tomare!” faithfully represent a real koto club in Japan. Some club dynamics and interactions with the principal may seem improbable. Nevertheless, the koto remains a tangible instrument deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. Prior to encountering this show, the koto was unfamiliar to me. However, through watching it, I developed a profound appreciation for this instrument, particularly captivated by the piece “Tenkyu” in the penultimate episode. I urge you to listen to it; perhaps, you too will fall under the koto’s enchantment. This musical discovery prompted me to delve into koto-related research, exploring not just Japanese but also Chinese cultural influences, given the instrument’s origins. The series sparked my curiosity not only in koto music but also in the craftsmanship of the instrument, thanks to the poignant scenes featuring Chika’s grandfather, leading me to delve deeper into this realm than I had ever anticipated through an anime.

While some may view anime as inferior entertainment or merely aimed at children with little educational value, this perception is unfounded. Anime encompasses genres like seinen and josei tailored for mature audiences, offering a diverse range of content. Making sweeping generalizations about such a varied form of media is challenging. Ultimately, anime denotes animated shows, and therefore, it is unjust to assert that one cannot glean insights into “real” Japanese culture from any anime. Many series incorporate genuine aspects of life, and engaging with anime can serve as a gateway to discovering intriguing facts that might otherwise have eluded you.