Handy guide! History of Japanese music

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[Introduction: "Japanese Traditional Music - From Primitive to Modern"]
The sound of instruments that you've heard somewhere, a strange ringing sound you hear for the first time, and a song that is somehow nostalgic. All of them are forms of Japanese traditional music passed down the generations from long before your own grandfather or grandmother were born. Let's explore the world of Japanese music together.
[Primitive music]
Do you all know the ancient Japanese myths? As was told in stories such as the goddess named Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto dancing on an overturned tub in front of the Ama-no-Iwato cave, or how Okuninushi-no-Mikoto brought a koto with him when he escaped from the home of Susano-O-no-mikoto, there is no doubt that there was music and dance in ancient times. Unfortunately, we do not know what the music of those times was like.
The ancient music of Japan; the music which arrived from the Asian continent around the birth of the nation of Yamato; and the songs which were created in response to that influence; each of these became shaped as music that was performed at the Imperial court, and from this "gagaku" was born. Gagaku can be considered the oldest Japanese music that still exists to this day.
"Shomyo" or the musical chanting that accompanies Buddhist ceremonies, arrived along with the introduction of Buddhism to Japan. There were chants sung as they were in the original foreign language, and later others were created with Japanese lyrics. It had an influence on a variety of later music, such as Heike Biwa and Yokyoku.
[Heike Biwa (Heikyoku)]
Heike Biwa is a type of music that tells about the "Heike Monogatari", the story about the prosperity and downfall of the Heike family, accompanied by the biwa. It is also called "heikyoku", and it was established around the beginning of the Kamakura period. The story told by a blind monk who was a biwa-playing mistrel became well known among the common people.
Yokyoku, which is also called "utai", is the music that is used in Noh. Noh is an art first formed by the father and son team of Kan'ami and Zeami with the backing of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and developed during the Muromachi era mainly with the patronage of the samurai class.
Jiuta is shamisen music which was developed during the Edo era in Kamigata, what is now the area around Kyoto and Osaka. The blind musicians who had inherited Heike Biwa began to play the shamisen, and this was later closely linked to Sokyoku.
Nagauta is shamisen music that developed together with kabuki in the Edo era. It late became popular as music in its own right, separate from the kabuki stage.
[Gidayu Bushi]
Gidayu Bushi is the music used in ningyo joruri, Japanese puppet theater. It was started by Takemoto Gidayu in Kamigata (the area around Kyoto and Osaka) during the Edo era and gained popularity along with the outstanding plays of Chikamatsu Monzaemon.
Sokyoku is music where singing accompanies playing of the so-called "o-koto(Japanese harp)". In the early Edo era, Yatsuhashi Kengyo created sokyoku that became popular among the general public. It eventually interacted with the jiuta in Kamigata (the area around Kyoto and Osaka), and sokyoku with strong narratives was born in Edo.
[Ryukyu classical music]
While the shamisen has had a major influence on Japanese music, the musical instrument from which it originated is said to have come from China to Japan via Ryukyu, that is, through present-day Okinawa. This instrument evolved independently in Okinawa and became the sanshin. "Ryukyu classical music" is the court music cultivated during the Ryukyu Dynasty, and sanshin music has also been passed down as "uta-sanshin".
[And today]
There was a period from the beginning of the Meiji era when Western music became all the rage and Japanese traditional music was neglected. But now, on the other hand, it is being revisited as a treasure trove of music without compare anywhere in the world. There are still many more kinds of traditional music that are the very roots of we Japanese as a people. This homepage introduces the vocal music of "kasho", which has come to always be central to Japanese music. So, choose the items that take your fancy, and let's meet various kinds of singing.


Handy guide! History of Japanese music
When you study Japanese traditional music, the first thing that will surprise you is the variety. This is due to the fact that the music created in various eras has not been lost but has been passed down to the present time and is still being performed, one of the major features of Japanese traditional music. Here, we introduce 9 of the most famous musical genres.