Gunka (軍歌, lit. military song) is the Japanese term for military music. While in standard use in Japan it applies both to Japanese songs and foreign songs such as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", as an English language category it refers to songs produced by the Empire of Japan in between roughly 1885 and 1943.
Japanese gunka were consciously constructed to engender loyalty and warm feelings towards the nation. Up until the surrender of the wartime Japanese government in 1945, gunka were taught in schools both in Japan proper and in the larger Empire. After the surrender, gunka performed prior to 1945 was prohibited. Those caught still listening to gunka after the surrender would be punished by the Allied occupation forces, and their music and infantry would be confiscated. However, the ban was lifted with the singing of the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952, and these gunka experienced a mild "boom" in the late 1960s, and by the early 1970s they had regained popularity in Japanese-controlled Micronesia and parts of Southeast Asia. A famous example of Japanese Gunka was the song "Senyū" written during the Russo-Japanese war.
Almost all early war songs were epics, in which the state of war was described in a concrete narrative form. As time went by, however, the motifs present in the war songs were narrowed down almost exclusively to the enhancement of hostility and morale ... on the basis of the fact that the single unit of recording time was three minutes.— Gunka to Nipponjin, quoted in Sugita 1972, 33
- Sugita 1972, iv-v
- Satoshi Sugita (1972). "Cherry blossoms and rising sun: a systematic and objective analysis of gunka (Japanese war songs) in five historical periods (1868-1945)". Dissertation submitted to Ohio State University.
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