Christian Composer Leaves Legacy of "Tomi-songs"

by Maruyama Motoko, head piano teacher

Toyo Eiwa Educational Institution, Tokyo ?

The boys camp with the longest history in Japan, Nojiri Gakuso, is held every summer at Tokyo YMCA’s Lake Nojiri Campground. The 73rd session was held this year. The camp songs sung there are called “Tomi-songs,” and there are more than 100 of them. The man who compiled the songbook is my father, Tomioka Masao.? From 1937 until he died in April 2008 at the age of 98, “Tomi San” (Mr. Tomi) spent his life as a song leader and songwriter. My father was born in Gunma Prefecture in 1909. His father, a dedicated Christian, died at the age of 37. As his father had willed, my father began to board at the age of 14 at the home of Noguchi Suehiko, pastor of Yumicho-hongo Church. There he heard organ music and the four-part harmony of hymns, and this experience set him on his life’s course as a musician and music teacher with a deep Christian faith.?

The interesting point about the Tomi-songs is that they capture the accent and intonation of spoken Japanese. They make the songs as enjoyable as conversation. Because the melodies and verses are so natural, no one can keep from smiling. In addition, there are a variety of other Tomi-songs: some like traditional Japanese melodies, others like the folksongs of countries like the United States, England, Finland, and India. Some verses are even set to melodies from the hymnal and from Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”.

After he turned 43 years of age, my father taught music for 20 years at the junior high and senior high school of Toyo Eiwa Educational Institution. During this time he rearranged many pieces of religious music for women’s voices, which were sung during the school worship services and on ceremonial occasions. He also directed all the students in a great chorus. Among his arrangements for women’s voices are Handel’s “Messiah,” Rossini’s “Faith, Hope, and Love,” and a collection of Christmas music published by the Ongaku no Tomo Sha (Friends of Music Company), all of which are still used across Japan.

My father put into song Bible stories like the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Parable of the Sower, and Noah’s Ark as well as the names of the Books of the Bible and the names of the 12 Apostles, so learning the songs results in learning the Bible stories, the books of the Bible, and the names of the 12 apostles. My father often said that if we learned these as children, we would understand their meaning as adults. A Toyo Eiwa Educational Institution graduate said that these songs were very useful when she took the entrance exam for theological seminary.?

My father was also a member of the committee that created the new children’s hymnal.? He wrote many hymns for adults, children, and even kindergarteners, including the hymn usually sung at church school birthday celebrations. A Catholic priest who was transferred to Brazil took my father’s Christmas pageant “Jesus’ Birthday” there, and it is being used in Japanese classes for third-generation Brazilian-Japanese living in that country.

My father always ended his work with the words “Glory to God,” and now he must be at peace, resting with his Father.

Note: Maruyama Motoko (born in 1949), the eldest daughter of Tomioka Masao, was a student of Toyo Eiwa Educational Institution’s elementary, junior high, and senior high schools and graduated in 1968. She majored in piano at Musashino College of Music, graduating in 1972, and is presently the head piano teacher at Toyo Eiwa Educational Institution in Tokyo, which has schools for kindergarteners through graduate students. (Tr. JT)