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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May 2004, 23:50 GMT 00:50 UK
Japanese revive company songs

By Jonathan Head
BBC correspondent in Tokyo

Japanese companies once offered their employees jobs for life, and in return expected a lifetime of loyalty.

Workers singing company song (archive picture)
Singing is meant to reinforce company spirit
The bonds between firms and their workers were reinforced by rituals like singing the company song, which was supposed to express "shafu" or company spirit.

But lifetime employment in big companies have been in decline for a decade in Japan - with them, it looked as though the company song and other corporate traditions would also die out.

However, a small demolition firm is unexpectedly leading a company song revival.

Nihon Break Kogyo has made an amateur promotional video that has become an unexpected hit in the Japanese pop charts.

It features the firm's own staff, in overalls and helmets, smashing buildings, singing and playing guitar.

We wanted something to differentiate us from other firms so we wrote our own song
Shogo Kurita
Nihon Break Kogyo director
Thanks to the publicity, Nihon Break Kogyo now has more demolition work than it can handle.

The video was the brainwave of Shogo Kurita, one of the company directors.

"The economy is very bad for us now. Every time we submit a cost estimate to potential clients, all our competitors give the same estimate," he told the BBC.

"So we wanted to have something which would differentiate us from other demolition firms - we chose to write our own song."

Japan's largest retailer, Ito-Yokado, also has a company song.

"Flap your wings, carry hope on your shoulders... hand-in-hand, Ito Yokada people will make a rainbow across the world," sing some 770 new recruits at a special ceremony.

Song-writers

So what if you would like your own company song, but you lack home-grown talent among your staff?

Brand-new, Tokyo-based enterprise Mysong will write one for you.

They offered to do one for the BBC.

I am not sure how well the BBC's company song would fare in the charts...

First, they gave us demonstrations of songs they had written for other clients - one for a butcher's shop that was certainly jolly, but did not seem quite suitable for a global broadcaster.

Next we had to describe our company values.

This stage was important - not just to get the right kind of inspirational lyrics, but because I was supposed to be describing "shafu".

We discussed it for some time before the team at Mysong felt they had enough to compose something for us.

It would be different from a traditional company song, Mysong's boss Masatoshi Aoki told us.

The conventional company song is written for the employees, to inspire them to work better.

But our idea is to use the song for public relations, to appeal to the outside world and put across the company's image and message to potential customers.

True to their word, a few weeks later Mysong delivered us our very own BBC song.

I am not sure how well it would fare in the charts against the dancing demolition men - but at least we now have something to rouse our company spirit, should it ever start to fade.



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The BBC's Jonathan Head
"The company song is supposed to instill a sense of togetherness and common purpose"



SEE ALSO
Japan's business optimism returns
04 Dec 03 |  Business
Country profile: Japan
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