By Randy Fiedler
A Japanese language rap video written and performed by Baylor Modern Languages and Cultures students received an Award of Excellence in the Japanese Rap Competition, sponsored by the Japan Foundation. The competition is open to submissions from around the world.
Dr. Yuko Prefume, a senior lecturer in Japanese in Baylor’s Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, acted as the coordinator for the rap video project.
“This was not an assignment for any specific courses,” Prefume said. “It was one of the extracurricular activities our students can be involved in for extra credit. We recruited from all classifications of students in Japanese language classes here at Baylor, regardless of their language levels.”
Jim Kumahata, director of the Interactive Media and Language Center in the College of Arts & Sciences, said he was excited when he heard the idea for the rap video.
“As a Japanese instructor and the director of the language center, I knew our students could execute this project from beginning to end, both linguistically and technically,” he said. “Having some experience in studio recording, I knew what needed to take place in what order. I suggested the project roadmap to the team, knowing the most significant obstacle was to meet all the deadlines at the end of the semester when students were busy.”
Prefume said the idea for the rap contest stemmed from “Kind World,” a 2021 rap song in “easy Japanese.”
“Kind World had the message of let’s create a world with easy Japanese –– Japanese that is easy for non-native Japanese speakers to understand –– and with kind feeling to advocate for a multicultural and inclusive society,” she said.
The rap lyrics in the videos entered in the Japan Foundation contest, which were all required to be written to the same melody as “Kind World,” were supposed to deal with what students think or feel when they study Japanese or communicate in the language.
“The lyrics could also be anything about Japan, such as why students like Japan or the Japanese language, or what they would like to do when they go to Japan,” Prefume said.
Grace Chen, a senior University Scholars major, took on the challenge of writing the rap lyrics for Baylor’s video entry.
“Writing the lyrics was only possible with the support of the rest of the group,” Chen said. “We had a big meeting with both professors and students about what we wanted to include in the song. Our theme was centered on the world you can explore with the Japanese language. Since we all have experience with the language, it was easy to think of examples from our own lives.”
Chen tried to make the lyrics flow well with the music, “because while learning Japanese can be difficult, it’s also super fun and rewarding,” she said. “In addition to the real-life examples from my classmates, I tried to convey a sense of excitement and pride in the work that the Japanese department does here at Baylor.”
The English version of the Japanese rap lyrics Chen wrote is:
Do you want to go to a faraway place? Do you want to meet interesting people?
Whenever you hear a song in Japanese, does your heart pound, do you get excited?
Let me tell you a kind and fun answer: let’s learn Japanese together!
You can read a Japanese menu in front of your family — surprising them, making you a hero.
Secret conversations and anime subtitles, haikus and songs too, their meanings you can understand.
The JET program is plus, as well as securing a job.
You can meet wonderful teachers and friends!
Once Chen’s lyrics were written and the video was planned out, the group had several practice sessions before recording the audio and shooting the final video. Some of the scenes were recorded at locations on campus, including a choreographed scene shot at the Rosenbalm Fountain.
“At first it was difficult, since everyday conversation and singing rap music are totally different. It is hard because you have to rhyme and match the perfect beat,” Prefume said. “I didn’t know how it would turn out, but in the end, everyone worked hard, and it turned out to be a great rap. The most importantly, we had a lot of fun making the video.”
The faculty, staff and students who took part in the project have good memories of the experience.
“It was so fun to work with these talented students,” said Yoshiko Fujii Gaines, senior lecturer in Japanese. “I contributed to the chorus part of the video, and for that I had to get out of my comfort zone. But Andy, our recording engineer, made sure I was singing okay, and the cool recording booth at the library made me sing much better than I would normally sound.”
“I agree with Professor Gaines –– working on this project was incredibly fun,” said Andy Clark, who is senior coordinator of Learning Space Technology for Baylor University Libraries. “As the person who engineered the recording sessions, I was in a unique position which allowed me to see each of these students grow in confidence and express their creativity. Recording yourself singing or rapping can be nerve-wracking in your first language, but adding in a second language that these students were still learning certainly was a tall order. In each instance, I watched as the students rose to the challenge of recording their parts of the rap.”
“It was great to come together with my peers to make this video,” said Katlin Nguyen, a senior communication major. “Originally, it started as an extra credit project for us, but it developed into so much more. We spent a few hours outside of class –– writing lyrics, recording and filming –– but we could have never imagined it to turn out the way it did. This project not only exposed us more to more Japanese culture, but increased our language proficiency as well, as we had to memorize these lyrics and actions for the music video. After receiving word about winning the award, it was extremely nice to see our hard work pay off, and our Japanese teachers get the recognition they deserve for all their dedication to us as students.”
The Baylor students who took part in the video were: Mariela Barrientez; Grace Chen; Yang Chen; Claire Giannetti; Binyao Hu; Maegan Mahula; Dan Martinez; Tao Meixi; Katlin Nguyen; Shanelle Santiago; Hannah Shimer; and Jack Slates.
If you’d like to see all the award-winning contest videos — not just Baylor’s –– visit the Japan Foundation’s YouTube page.