How an Israeli biblical song became a Japanese video game hit

Read how the words of Isaiah flew all the way from Israel to Japan to inspire Japanese folk dancing and even video games.

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October 5, 2017 01:43
1 minute read.
Prophat Isaiah in the Sacristy of Saint Mark

Prophat Isaiah in the Sacristy of Saint Mark. (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ SAILKO)

 
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What's the connection between Israel, Japan and video games? A pre-state Israeli song. Yes, you read that right.

An Israeli folk song called Mayim Mayim (i.e. 'Water, Water' in Hebrew), whose lyrics are based on a biblical promise for salvation, is now the well-known tune accompanying countless Japanese video games.

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How did this come about? According to the Jewish daily online magazine Tablet, American educator Ricky Holden, an expert on folk dancing, was asked by the Japanese after the Second World War to help them in the process of cultural transformation.

Holden, who wasn't Jewish, found the Israeli folk song Mayim Mayim to be a worthy addition to the folk dancing music he was set to introduce to the youth of Japan.

The American folk expert, who probably became acquainted with the song during his visit to Israel in 1957, introduced it to the Japanese, never suspecting that it would become a massive hit.

The song was popular with labor movements and youth groups, and eventually it was even played in Japanese schools, possibly influencing would-be video game designers who were then elementary school students.

The Hebrew original was composed by Emanuel Amiran-Pougatchov, who composed over 600 songs and is quite famous in the world of Hebrew folk music. Amiran-Pougatchov was inspired by one particular verse from the Bible (Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation, Isaiah 12:3).

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A dance was created for the new song by Else I. Dublin and Israeli folk dancers still practice it today.



The composer would doubtless have been surprised had he known that his celebrated tune accompanies video games such as this Konami 1996 original game titled Sexy Parodius



So who knows? Maybe in a decade or two, other Israeli pop culture hits will make the crossover to Japan.

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