Monday, March 13, 2006

The House Bandleader of the Rising Sun

Without John William Fenton, the Japanese would have nothing to sing before baseball games. The bandmaster was deployed with a British regiment in Japan in 1868, and wound up introducing his hosts to the two most important institutions yet devised by the West: the brass band and the national anthem.

The first Kimi Ga Yo anthem was performed before the Emperor in 1870. Fenton's melody proved so popular that it was discarded six years later, replaced by the Japanese-written tune still in use. It is among the shortest national anthems, lasting all of seven seconds, I believe.

Now the Japanese want to recognize Fenton for his contributions to Japanese culture, if only they can locate his final abode.

The Scotsman has discovered that after leaving Japan in 1877, the Irish-born bandmaster moved to Angus.

Documents at Scotland's Register Office show he was 50 in 1881 and lived at 18 George Street in Montrose.

He is described as a "bandmaster pensioner", married to Philadelphia-born Jessie Pilkington, then 47.

His family also included daughters Jessie Woods, 17, and ten-year-old Maria Corser born in Miaaouei Tabo, Japan.

His name is last recorded in 1883 when he appears to have left a teaching post with the army in Scotland.

However, no death certificate has been found so far and the Japanese are keen to locate his grave and track down any living relatives or descendants, whom they hope to invite to Japan. [Link]
So, if you happen to have John William Fenton lurking in your family tree, speak up. You might just score a free trip to Japan, accompanied by endless renditions of a 19th-century ode to Japanese imperialism. On the bright side, you'll be force-fed raw fish.
(Thanks, Fred!)
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