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Introduction

  • One of the characteristic features of Japanese culture is the way in which the cultural elements of a variety of lands exist side by side in harmony, exerting a constant influence on the existing culture and thus producing a new culture as a result. Music is no exception. The music listened to or played by the Japanese as part of their daily lives is extremely diverse. They enjoy various kinds of traditional Japanese music, Japanese popular songs, American pops, Western classics, and so on, although there are limits to each type's popularity. While music was once confined primarily to live performances in concert, the introduction of radio and later television brought it into homes of the masses. The explosive popularity of electronic reproducing systems in recent years has made music an almost indispensable element in the daily lives of most Japanese.


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Traditional Japanese Music

  • There are two types in traditional Japanese music: art music and folk music. Art music has several different styles, each of which was established separately in different periods of Japanese history. The Japanese have maintained those time-honored styles, modifying them as time has passed. In general, vocal music plays a more important role than instrumental music in the history of Japanese music. Besides, traditional Japanese music often developed as a part of drama such as Noh, Kabukl, and Bunraku.


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Gagaku-Ancient Court Music

  • The first significant development in the history of Japanese music took place in the Heian Period (794-1192 A.D), While Japanese music which had been popular among common people was being sophisticated, all kinds of music from various Asian countries In the previous two centuries were being assimilated and modified, acquiring distinct Japanese characteristics. Gagaku is the music which was performed mainly at Court among the powerful nobility and upper classes.

  • Gagaku is classified into three categories: original foreign music, pure Japanese music, and music composed in Japan using influences from other countries. The representative genre of Gagaku has its origin in China, Korea, and other countries in Southeast Asia or South Asia, and is divided into two types such as To-gaku or music of Chinese origin, and Komagaku or music of Korean origin. It is orchestral music without any vocal part. The music is known as Kangen and when accompanied by dancing is called Bugaku.


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Gagaku-Ancient Court Music

  • Pure Japanese music, called Kokufu kabu or Japanese Song Dance, is vocal music with instrumental accompaniment. It is based on very ancient music performed at shrine rites as well as Court ceremonies. The last category includes Saibara with its origin in folk songs and Roei for chanting Chinese poems. They are accompanied with instrumental music.

  • Instruments used in Gagaku are mouth organs, flageolite-type instruments, flutes, drums, and zither. Arrangements of these instruments differ depending on the genre of music. Gagaku is performed at Court, shrines, and some temples. Recently it has attracted young people's attention and is sometimes used in contemporary music. (For additional information, refer to Facts about Japan: GAGAKU).

  • In addition to Gagaku, another important music style, Shomyo, was formed during the Heian Period. It is vocal music used in Buddhist services and became a very significant source of Japanese vocal music which developed later.


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Noh

  • During the Kamakura Period (1192 1333 A.D), through the Muromachi Period (1338-1573 A.D.), there was a steady growth of folk theatrical arts from shrine ritual plays and peasant rice-planting dances. By the end of the 14th century, there had developed the artistic Noh drama with its own music called Nohgaku, and dancing known as Shimai. Noh is highly stylized and symbolic drama, and is usually performed by a few male actors and musicians. A main character often wears a mask which fits its role.


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Noh

  • Nohgaku has two elements in it: vocal and instrumental. The vocal part called Utai is performed by both actors and a chorus of eight male singers and tells the story. This vocal part which is derived from Shomyo (Buddhist chanting) includes singing and speech stylized m a definite pattern of intonation. Singing is not always accompanied with instruments. The instrumental part known as Hayashi consists of a bamboo flute, or nohkan, and three drums, ko-tsuzumi, o-tsuzumi, and taiko. Taiko is not used in all pieces of the Noh. The flute, the only melodic instrument, produces several short melody patterns. The ko-tsuzumi and o-tsuzumi are played mostly by bare hands while the taiko is played by two drumsticks. Short and sharp shouts by drum performers known as kakegoe also play important musical roles enhancing the tension of the music.

  • Nohgaku had been patronized by the higher military class which was the most powerful social level in Japan. After the Meiji Restoration when the old hierarchy was discarded, it tried to win new patrons and succeeded in attracting the nobility and wealthy people. Nowadays, it is gaining support from among the general public, too.


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Shakuhachi, Koto and Shamisen

  • The Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573 1603 A.D.), is important in the historical development of several instruments. The primitive recorder was modified to become the artistic shakuhachi, while the old court zither became the more sonorous koto. The shamisen (a three-stringed balalaika-type guitar) also took on its present shape. All these instruments achieved great popularity in the Edo Period (1603-1868) by various routes.

  • Shakuhachi was originally played as a part of a Zen service or practice and was the favorite instrument among wandering Buddhist priests. Although the shakuhachi became a purely musical instrument performed by musicians, solo pieces with strong religious significance are still regarded as the most important form of shakuhachi music. It also started to be used with the shamisen and koto as pure music without emphasizing its religious background.


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Shakuhachi, Koto and Shamisen

  • The music for koto is called Sokyoku. Sokyoku had been composed, played, and transmitted solely by the blind while women and girls in the higher military and wealthy merchant classes learned it as part of their cultural education. Two major schools of Sokyoku, the Ikuta school and the Yamada school, were founded in the Edo Period. Most of the pieces performed by the Ikuta school have their sources in Jiuta which is a genre of vocal music accompanied by the shamisen. They often accompany singing together with the shamisen. However, the primary characteristic of this school is its emphasis on instrumental technique unlike other traditional art music. Even a vocal piece has an independent instrumental part which has beauty as absolute music. On the other hand, the Yamada school puts its stress on the vocal elements rather than the instrumental elements. It is characterized by its narrative singing. Both the Ikuta and the Yamada schools include in their repertoires some selections which do not have vocal parts.


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Shakuhachi, Koto and Shamisen

  • The shamisen is used for accompaniment of two types of vocal music: melodious singing and narrative singing. The former type of shamisen music developed in two different directions, Jiuta and Nagauta; Jiuta has been enjoyed as pure music, following an independent existence as music itself; Nagauta was formed as accompaniment for dancing in traditional Kabuki dramas. Later Nagauta has come to be played by itself without dancing in much the same way as the original was played as an accompaniment for dancing. Several styles of shamisen music have been derived from these two major types.

  • Narrative singing has also several styles of music such as Gidayu-bushi, Kiyomoto, 70ki~axu, and Shin'nai. Gidayu-bushi is mainly used for telling the story in the Bunraku puppet theater. Kiyomoto and Tokiwaxu are often used as accompaniment for dancing in Kabuki. But they are also performed as independent music as is Shin'nai. During the Edo Period, the shamisen be came the favorite instrument in the entertainment district of larger cities. Shakuhachi, koto, and shamisen are often used in trio as pure music


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Folk Songs

  • A great number of folk songs exist in different provinces in Japan. Most of these songs were originally associated with religious events or daily labor, such as farming, fishing, working in the mountains, and packhorse driving. However, now that the lifestyles which generated those songs have drastically changed, they have lost their relationship to the original functions and are generally sung for recreational purposes except in the Okinawa region where folk songs are still alive in daily life. At the same time, the regionality of each song has almost been lost due to the development of the mass media. The great majority of folk songs sung today were formed in the Edo Period and after. Although the origin of folk songs is essentially anonymous, talented poets and composers in the 1920's undertook to compose folk songs based on the traditional style. There are roughly two major musical styles in folk songs: one with free rhythm and the other with metric rhythm. The former types are sung by one singer and were originally sung when one was packhorse driving. This type of song is sometimes accompanied with the shakuhachi. The other type is now often accompanied by drums or shamisen. Folk songs are popular mainly among the older generations.


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Popular Music

  • The Japanese also enjoy various types of popular music. Beside Japanese popular music which is supported by the largest number of fans, American jazz and pops, French chansons, Latin music from South America, and canzone from Italy have always attracted many enthusiasts. In recent times, moreover, rock, soul, and folk music from the U.S. have won widespread popularity, especially among the younger generations. Hit numbers and songs are broadcast on radio and television, while foreign TV shows of pop music have been introduced into Japan. Moreover, pop music is constantly performed live and is available on records or tapes, or by cable broadcasts in restaurants and coffee shops, extensively permeating the people'.s daily life.

  • Popular music numbers and songs, which have become hits in Europe and the U.S., are almost immediately introduced and played in Japan, and recordings are promptly put on sale. A wide range of foreign performers are constantly--and very successfully--appearing in concert in Japan. Those songs are also sung by Japanese popular singers either in the original or in Japanese translation.


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Popular Music

  • The music that receives the broadest sup port from the public in general is Japan's own original popular music called kayo kyoku. People enjoy not only listening to kayo-kyoku songs in live concerts and on radio and television, but also singing them to taped orchestral accompaniment in bars or at home.

  • The basic styles of kayo-kyoku were established in the late 1910's through the early 1920's. They were from the musical style of songs originally composed for school education. The scales used in school music and kayo-kyoku are a blending of Western and Japanese scales. Melodies based on those pentatonic scales are often characterized by trills and grace notes which are commonly seen in traditional folk songs and the shamisen music of earlier times. While keeping such basic styles as a major element of kayo-kyoku, its form has been widened under the influence of Western popular songs. In those selections of the new style, melodies are more sophisticated and rhythm is more articulated with a strong beat.


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Popular Music

  • In the 1960's, the English rock group, the Beatles, and American folk singers such as Peter, Paul, and Mary, the Brothers Four, and Joan Baez exerted a great influence on the youth of that day, fostering ideas of harmony and deep concern for the nuances of rhythm that had not originally been a part of the Japanese approach to music. Exposed to the method of expressing one's own assertions or feelings in the form of a song, the younger generation started to compose their own tunes and lyrics, and to play them by themselves. Many amateur groups were formed, and various rock and folk bands began to hold concerts in all parts of Japan, winning many followers but also refining their own music and eventually be coming able to attract a wide range of sup porters. Pieces composed by those people after the "Beatles" generation are musically more Westernized than ever before.


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Japanese Children’s Songs

  • Japanese children's songs can be divided into the traditional and the modern. While the former have been sung by the Japanese over many centuries, the latter started to appear around 1918 after the end of World War I when a movement was begun to create new songs for Japanese children. There are different types of traditional songs for children in Japan, including lullabies, play songs, and festival songs. Songs for smaller children since older times are about rope-skipping, kite-flying, cat's cradle, battledore and shuttlecock, and hide-and-seek.

  • The movement for new children's songs which started at the end of

    World War I produced many songs reflecting the joys of childhood days. Celebrated writers and poets composed many excellent songs at that time. The writers' reminiscences of their childhood used to be favorite themes in these modern children's songs. Today, poets and composers are creating songs for children more directly expressing the children's own feelings and aspirations.


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Western Music

  • The Meiji Restoration of 1868 in Japan opened a new era in which Japan emerged from feudal isolation into the world community of nations.

  • In those days, Western music was extensively introduced, especially in public education, as part of a concerted effort to modernize the nation. For the purpose of promoting musical education, a music re search institute (the Ongaku-torishirabe sho) was established in 1880 and musical textbooks, which combined Western and Japanese styles of music, were published for the first time. Instrumental music from the West permeated the general public through performances by the military bands of the Army and the Navy, organized with the cooperation of foreign countries such as Britain, France and Germany.


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Western Music

  • As for the education of professional musicians, the Tokyo Music School (which succeeded the Ongaku-torishirabe-sho and became the Music Department of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1949) was established in 1887. In the second decade of the 20th century, private music schools, the predecessors of the present private universities of music, were founded in major cities such as Tokyo or Osaka. Professional musical education has its roots in the widespread musical education of children at home, and there are many private classes, large and small, for helping such home education. Conspicuous among them are such large-scale musical education systems as Suzuk Shin'ichi's Talent Education Research Institute and the Toho Musical Class.

  • Every conceivable form of Western music is performed, composed, and enjoyed in Japan today. At the apex of musical performance groups is the NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo with a sixty-year history. Tokyo and other large cities have a fairly large number of professional orchestras and even a number of amateur ones.


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Western Music

  • There are also many performing groups for chamber music, which also has a large following. Participation in choruses and brass bands is also very popular. It is estimated that several hundreds of thousands of people are singing as members of choruses at lower and upper secondary schools and universities and other amateur chorus groups throughout the country.

  • Concerts, recitals, and performances of opera and ballet draw large audiences with programs of works by composers ranging from Bach to the most modern experimentalists.

  • There are many opera lovers in Japan, but presenting opera is not easy since Japanese theaters as a rule do not have the facilities required for such an undertaking. However, in recent years more and more fine singers are appearing. In addition to the numerous performances of opera from abroad, Japanese companies give increasingly fine performances, and there is now a plan to establish a Second National Theater for opera.


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Western Music

  • Many composers are also active in Japan's musical world, the best-known of them being Takemitsu Toru.

  • Every year, besides the performances by Japanese musicians there is a steady flow of celebrated foreign musicians and organizations coming to perform in Japan.

  • Japanese musicians themselves are per forming overseas frequently and are achieving a growing international reputation. Individual conductors are also drawing attention abroad, such as Ozawa Seiji, now music director of the Boston Symphony in the United States, and Wakasugi Hiroshi, who has conducted many European orchestras.

  • Other internationally known musicians include conductors Iwaki Hiroyuki and Akiyama Kazuyoshi; pianists Sonoda Takahiro and Uchida Mitsuko; violinists Eto Toshiya and Ushioda Masuko; and vocalists Okamura Takao and Azuma Atsuko.


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New Japanese Music

  • The preservation as well as development of Japanese music in its classical forms is not being neglected and many composers including Miki Minoru and Ishii are actively working on modern compositions in the traditional styles. Especially in the fields of koto music and more recently of shakuhachi music as well, many excellent composers are trying to combine Japanese traditional forms and the Western style. One group dedicated to cultivating new Japanese music within its classical tradition is the Ensemble Nipponica, formed in 1964 and consisting of distinguished soloists and composers. While a chamber orchestra complete with Japanese wind, string, and percussion instruments, it has a broad repertoire using all or some of the instruments, or at times a single instrument in solo performance, in forms approaching the Western style of composition. Yonin-no-kai Tokyo is also making active efforts in this field both in Japan and abroad.


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