雅楽 GAGAKU

Introduction

What is this mysteriously fascinating dance and music that seems to echo from the ancient past? Its sound world, its colors and forms, possess a certain dignity, a solemn grace that makes one want to sit upright, as if in the presence of something otherworldly. It is Japan’s gagaku. How did this performing art, which seems to float over the boundaries of place and time, come into being?

Gagaku : music of a thousand years

Bugaku-zu, Right panel
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (late 16th to early 17th century)

Songs and dances from Japan’s ancient past; dance and instrumental music transmitted from China and Korea in the fifth to ninth centuries—these were brought together by the nobles of Japan’s Heian court to form the core of gagaku that survives to the present.

A cultural heritage passed down through the centuries, washed by the waves of time. How amazing it is that we can still experience the songs, dances and instrumental music depicted in The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book, writings of that distant age!

A synthetic art form with a wide range of origins

Gagaku embraces indigenous songs and dances from Japanese antiquity, foreign-derived dance and instrumental music of two classes—tōgaku from China and komagaku from Korea—, and the song forms saibara and rōei of the Heian court.

Its performance styles include instrumental music (kangen), accompanied dance (bugaku), and accompanied song (utai-mono). Its venues include ceremonies at the Imperial court, as well as religious rites of both Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. The gagaku tradition of the Music Department of the Board of Ceremonies of the Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo, is registered by UNESCO as an ‘Important Intangible Cultural Property’ of Japan.

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