In recent years, the false narrative of a culturally homogenous society in Japan has largely been debunked. Despite this academic understanding of the diversity of Japan’s people, the general population and foreigners remain oblivious to most of Japan’s minority groups. The Ainu, the Indigenous people of northern Japan, have faced this cultural erasure for the past two hundred years as their lands were annexed, their cultural practices were outlawed, and their identities as non-Japanese were questioned and threatened. Since the 1970s, Ainu activists and artists have used their skills as musicians, dancers, artisans, writers, and community leaders to push against these narratives of erasure. Through ethnographic accounts, this chapter discusses many of these musicians as examples of the Ainu as always already Indigenous people presenting themselves on their own terms inclusive of Ainu ways of being in the contemporary, inside and outside of Japan.
This chapter surveys contemporary Japanese Buddhist musical practices. It focuses on the usage of popular music idioms by priests since 2010 and contextualizes this trend with respect to the promulgation of praise songs in Pure Land Buddhism as a technique of modernization. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork focusing on sound and Buddhism in contemporary Japan, the chapter provides a rough guide to the proliferation of these musical practices that attends to contemporary developments, tensions, and controversies. While recognizing that pop-music performances by priests are often heard as “surprising” by Japanese and international listeners alike, it draws at length on interviews with these musician-priests to show how performances that may seem radically new are often grounded in interpretations of Buddhist metaphysics as well as the legacies of their historical forebears who used musical sound to keep Buddhism current and reach new audiences.
Emerging only in the 1950s, ensemble drumming (kumi-daiko) has quickly become one of the most dynamic genres of performance in Japan and beyond. This is undoubtedly due to the striking visual presence and sheer sonic force of the enormous drums it uses. But equally captivating are the stylized, coordinated movements performers make in the process of sounding the drums. The centrality of both sound and movement in kumi-daiko confounds familiar distinctions between music and dance. This chapter examines the relationship of movement to musicality in the creation and stabilization of kumi-daiko as a performing art. In kumi-daiko, the body in motion becomes more than just a vehicle for aesthetic expression. It also roots the genre in a racialized and masculinized understanding of Japaneseness at a time of accelerating globalization.
This chapter explores how eisā, Okinawa’s traditional drum dance, has changed significantly since Okinawa’s annexation to Japan in the late nineteenth century. In postwar Okinawan villages, eisā continued to be performed with an added sense of grief and loss after the Okinawan war. At the same time, its performance context expanded to include anti-base rallies, all-island competitions and festivals, and touristic sites. This recontextualization and transformation of eisā meant departure from its original meaning of commemorating ancestors, but it contributed to the reconstruction of Okinawan identity. In the Okinawan diaspora in Japan and overseas, the dance was performed to build community and forge “Okinawan” identity among its participants, which was sometimes defined beyond ethnicity and ancestry. As Okinawan culture gained popularity among Japanese in the 1990s, concerns about cultural appropriation arose. Despite these concerns eisā continued to broaden the scope of Okinawan/Japanese music (and dance) in the local, national, and world music scenes. This process demonstrates the tenacity and creativity of eisa’s practitioners and the cultural significance it carries in the complex relationship between Okinawa and Japan.
This chapter explores the latest ways to access old and new styles of Japanese folk song (min’yō) on the Web and on-site. An initial overview explains the roots of min’yō, its developments, challenges, and issues. Two songs—“Hōhai-bushi” and “Suzuka Mago Uta”—are presented as case studies with a range of interpretations, events, and personal stories. Diverse figures are spotlighted, from north country veteran Narita Unchiku to Tokyo game and anime music creator Omodaka. The impact of COVID-19 is also discussed. Throughout, the author guides the reader to salient resources and encourages reflection on the pros and cons of technology and on the concept of sustainability of traditional song.
There is widespread anxiety about the future of the traditional performing arts in Japan, perhaps the most precarious being the Nagoya blind tradition of Heike musical narrative, with only one remaining exponent, Imai Tsutomu (b. 1958). While practitioners of a sighted performance lineage stemming from the Tsugaru domain in the Edo period can recite any of the 200 chapters of the Heike monogatari using the 1776 text-score Heike mabushi, the orally transmitted Nagoya transmission has shrunk to only eight pieces. As Imai has shown little interest in teaching Heike to young, sighted musicians, Komoda Haruko developed a music sustainability project to ensure the continuation of the Nagoya lineage by training three young performers of shamisen and koto music. This chapter gives a brief overview of the transmission of Heike from medieval times to the present. It then introduces Komoda’s ambitious project to ensure the future of the Nagoya lineage and considers the prospects for its success.
This chapter focuses on three case studies that explore the shamisen’s innate hybridity from three perspectives: physical, musical, and socio-cultural. For physical, the hybrid construction of the shamisen is explored through analyzing Takahashi Kumiko’s composition “Yojigen Zahyō” (Four Dimensions; 2019), which exploits the contrasting sounds of the shamisen’s three strings. For musical, the hybridity of shamisen musical genres is examined through analyzing Nakajima Katsusuke’s 1995 shamisen genre Sōsaku Kamigata-jōruri, which combines various musical and regional styles from the shamisen’s history and from the present. For socio-cultural, how the crossroads of culture, time, and place of shamisen performances can be observed in its various performance styles is highlighted, focusing on the surprising case study of Hanawa-bayashi, a shamisen festival genre from northern Japan. This chapter discusses hybridity’s role within the various performance methods of shamisen and its deeper meaning within today’s music.
“Satsuma-biwa” is a term that has been in currency since the late Meiji era; it denotes a Satsuma-region form of biwa-accompanied katarimono (musical recitation) that flourished in Tokyo from the 1880s, where it soon inspired the development of modern repertory and new streams of practice. Until 1945, the martial and heroic “ballads” that comprise the core repertory were well known throughout Japan and the Japanese diaspora. After the war, Satsuma-biwa was tainted by its association with militarism, and the number of player-reciters greatly diminished. Among the youngest prominent performers in the 1930s, two figures came to represent divergent paths in the late twentieth century. One was Tsuruta Kinshi (1911–95), who attained international renown following her work with the composer Takemitsu Toru and her modifications of both the instrument and performance techniques. The other was Fumon Yoshinori (1911–2002), who strove for decades to maintain and transmit the Seiha (“orthodox” school) practice as he had received it in the 1920s from Satsuma tradition bearers. This chapter documents Fumon’s innovative approach to implementing his fundamentally conservative project. In light of study with Fumon in the 1980s and 1990s, the co-authors elucidate his elaborate notations of instrumental and vocal elements and his conceptualization of the style’s modal and rhythmic bases.
This chapter discusses the rise and development of Japanese popular songs in the twentieth century. Especially focusing on the impact of American popular music (including Hawaiian) on Japanese music scenes, it examines from musical and socio-historical viewpoints how Western influences have been adapted and hybridized in unique and creative ways in Japanese popular songs. It also discusses changes in the production system of Japanese popular songs and their impacts. The genres dealt with include Jazz Song, ryūkōka/kayōkyoku, mūdo kayō, Group Sounds, Idols, enka, J-Pop, and City Pop, whose legacies continue in the twenty-first century.