SOAS University of London

JRC Research Associate, Dr David Hughes awarded The Order of the Rising Sun

3 November 2017

On 3 November 2017, the Government of Japan has announced the conferment of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette on Dr David W. Hughes, former Head of Department of Music, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London and former Chairman of the Center of the Music Studies, SOAS, University of London, in recognition of his significant contribution to promoting cultural exchange and mutual understanding between Japan and the United Kingdom.

Dr David Hughes has played a significant role in promoting understanding of traditional Japanese music, particularly folk music, in the UK. He has organised over 200 performances featuring visiting practitioners from Japan and has set up three groups in the UK that are at the forefront of teaching and performing Japanese music, alongside his significant academic achievements relating to increasing understanding of traditional Japanese folk music in the UK. 

From 1987 until his retirement in 2008, Dr Hughes taught music at SOAS, where he is now a Research Associate of the Department of Music and the Japan Research Centre. Throughout his extensive career, Dr Hughes has published a wealth of literature in Japanese and English on traditional Japanese folk music. Some of his most notable publications are Traditional folk song in modern Japan: sources, sentiment and society and The Ashgate research companion to Japanese music, the latter of which he co-edited. Traditional folk song in modern Japan: sources, sentiment and society is arguably Dr Hughes’ most significant contribution to the study and understanding of traditional Japanese folk music. It marks the culmination of his 30-year academic career specialising in this subject and his 10 years of living in Japan studying the art form locally and formally.

 Alongside his academic contributions, Dr Hughes has been a key figure in promoting Japanese traditional art forms to the wider public in the UK. He founded three groups which continue to this day: the SOAS Min’yo Group, the London Okinawa Sanshinkai and the SOAS Noh Group (which has subsequently become part of the University of London Noh Society). These groups successfully contributed to iconic key events including the 1991 Japan Festival and Japan 2001, as well as to Japan Matsuri in recent years. They not only give the public in the UK a unique opportunity to learn and perform a wide variety of Japanese arts but also make them more accessible by demonstrating them extensively around the country. In 2011 Dr Hughes received the annual Japan Society Award for “outstanding contributions to Anglo-Japanese relations and understanding” for his role in making traditional Japanese music better known among people in the UK.

Alongside these activities, he has also personally facilitated or contributed to numerous performances by Japanese folk musicians in the UK. At these events he often acted as an interpreter, translator or commentator so that audiences in the UK could come to understand the social context from within which the pieces had been created. It is no exaggeration to say that many people in the UK owe their exposure to Japanese music or performance art directly to Dr Hughes.

In light of these significant contributions to furthering the appreciation of Japanese folk songs and performance art in the UK, Dr Hughes well deserves to be honoured for his exemplary contribution to mutual understanding and the wider UK-Japan relationship.