Things to Do in Japan: Enjoy Traditional Japanese Music Forms
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Things to Do in Japan: Enjoy Traditional Japanese Music Forms

Visitors to Japan may enjoy traditional music performances while they are in the country. there are several instruments which are unique to this nation and tourists will enjoy hearing traditional Japanese music played by people who have studied these instruments for decades. Some of these instruments are used in other art forms. For example, visitors will notice their use in theater performances.

Japanese traditional music, shomyo, gagaku, etc. gets its sound from the concrete elements which represent nature and the sounds of life. Japanese music has a slower, more meditative pace than most Western music. Just as with calligraphy or sword-play, Japanese music involves seeking the mastery of the instrument and focuses more on that discipline than on mastering a technique.

The musician’s self expression is minimized through the use of these concrete sounds in a ritualistic pattern. Japanese audiences look to see whether the musician has achieved self-mastery. So for traditional music, it’s not about expression, it’s about self-mastery. With Japanese contemporary music, the aesthetic is different, though.

With traditional music, musicians were not considered to have individual ownership of their work. The music was developed according to the rules of certain schools and so any new work was considered to belong to that school. Traditional Japanese music places emphasis on the flow of time because for Japanese, time and becoming are very important in music and other forms of art, traditionally. Therefore, in traditional music, the flow between all notes, parts and words is seamless.

Japanese Traditional Musical Instruments

Gagaku means elegant or refined music and the gagaku ensemble was typically made up of percussion, string and wind instruments. this is similar to the mix found in many other countries. The precussion instruments include drums such as the da-daiko and ninai-Daiko drums, as well as gongs, cymbals and other, smaller drums.

The stringed instruments include a 7-stringed table zither called a wagon, a 13-stringed table zither called a gaku-so and a 4-stringed lute called a gaku-biwa.

The wind instruments include three transverse flutes (the kagura-bue, koma-bue and the ryu-teki), a mouth organ-the sho- and the hichiriki, a short double-reed instrument.

Koto Musical Instrument

Three ofJ apan’s best-known traditional instruments are the koto, the shakuhachi and the biwa. The shakuhachi is an end-blown flute. It came from China along with gagaku music. The koto is a table zither and was originally created in China. The biwa is a lute. The biwa’s ancestor is the Arabic Ud.

During the Edoperiod, many samurai became ronin, that is, samurai without masters, and some disguised themselves as komuso, or monks of nothingness, who carried shakuhachi, in order to spy for the shogun. This is said to account for the thickness of the type of bamboo used to make shakuhachi. It made them better weapons.

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