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Tracing the path an Israeli folk song took to end up in Japanese video games

The folks at PRI dig into an old mystery: how did the old Israeli folk song "Mayim, Mayim" make its way into Japanese pop culture -- and from there, into Japanese video games like Sexy Parodius?

This week the folks at Public Radio International dug into an old mystery: how, exactly, did the old Israeli folk song "Mayim, Mayim" make its way into Japanese pop culture -- and from there, into Japanese video games like Sexy Parodius?

It's an interesting bit of mystery tied to the game industry's history, a mystery revived this summer by a Tablet magazine article on the topic. If you're not familiar with the song, you might recognize it in some curious places: the background of one stage in Konami's Sexy Parodius, for example, or in the menu music of Nintendo's Game Boy Camera.

The Tablet article traces "Mayim, Mayim" back to noted 20th century Israeli composer (and the country's first Minister of Music Education) Emanuel Amiran-Pougatchov, and suggests that it may have been introduced into Japan after World War II by a well-traveled folk dance scholar, Rickey Holden, who had been to Israel and later traveled to Japan and taught folk dances as part of a post-war cultural exchange program.

Both PRI and the Tablet article acknowledge that this is effectively an educated guess, as there's no hard evidence of how or when "Mayim, Mayim" became popular in Japan.

"Folk dance has always been done in Japan. It is not only during occupation that it was introduced," Boston University's Merry White, who teaches contemporary Japanese cultural anthropology, told PRI. "So, it’s not brand new, but it was revived after American interventions."

What iknown is that it's now a relatively well-known folk song in the country, one that's commonly performed by Japanese students -- some of whom likely grew up to be game developers.

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