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  Wikipedia: Music of Japan

Wikipedia: Music of Japan
Music of Japan
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

For many outsiders, Japanese music is associated entirely with cheap, disposable bubblegum pop, of which there is plenty. However, many distinct styles and innovative artists play folk and classical music, much of it very intense, and others play distinct forms of rock, electronica, hip hop, punk rock and country music.

Classical music

There are two types of classical music in Japan. Shomyo, or Buddhist chanting, and gagaku, or orchestral court music.

Geisha with her shamisen, 1904
Gagaku is a type of classical music that has been performed at the Imperial court for several centuries.

Related to gagaku is court theater, which developed in parallel. Noh was developed in the 14th century, and soon evolved into bunraku and, eventually, the lively and popular kabuki; kabuki, in turn, helped invent the popular nagauta style of playing the shamisen.

Biwa hoshi

The biwa, a form of short-necked lute, was played by a group of intinerant performers (biwa hoshi) who used it to accompany stories. The most famous of these stories is The Tale of the Heike, a 13th century history of the triumph of the Minamoto clan over the Taira.


Taiko music is played by large drum ensembles called kumi-daiko. Its origins are uncertain, but can be sketched out as far back as the 6th and 7th centuries, when a clay figure of a drummer indicates its existence. Chinese and Korean influences followed, but the instrument and its music remained uniquely Japanese. Taiko drums during this period were used during battle to intimidate the enemy and to communicate commands. Taiko drums also gained religious use, in Buddhism and Shintoism. Players were entirely holy men, who played only at special occasions and in small groups.

Modern ensemble taiko is said to have been invented by Daihachi Oguchi in 1951. A jazz drummer, Oguchi incorporated his musical background into large ensembles, which he had also designed. His energetic style made his group popular throughout Japan, and made the Hokuriku region a center for taiko music. Musicians to arise from this wave of popular included Sukeroku Daiko and his bandmate Seido Kobayashi. 1969 saw a group called Za Ondekoza founded by Tagayasu Den; Za Ondekoza gathered together young performers who innovated a new roots revival version of taiko, which was used as a way of life in communal lifestyles. During the 1970s, the Japanese government allocated funds to preserve Japanese culture, and many community taiko groups were formed. Later in the century, taiko groups spread across the world, especially to the United States.


Among the minority Ainu of the north, yukar (mimicry) is a form of epic poetry. The stories typically involve Kamui, the god of nature, and Pojaumpe, an orphan-warrior.

Folk music

There are four main kinds of Japanese folk songs (min'yo): work songs, religious songs (such as sato kagura, a form of Shintoist music), songs used for gatherings such as weddings and funerals, and children's songs (warabe uta). Many of these songs include extra stress on certain syllables, as well as pitched shouts (kakegoe), especially in northern Honshu.

In min'yo, singers are typically accompanied by shamisen, taiko and shakuhachi. A guild-based system exists for min'yo; it is called iemoto. Education is passed on in a family, and long apprenticeships are common.

A unique form of drumming from Sado island has become internationally famous through the groups Ondekoza and Kodo.

Okinawan folk music

Okinawa has been under the control of Japan since 1609, except for a brief period of US domination during and after World War 2. Umui, religious songs, shima uta, dance songs, and, especially katcharsee, lively celebratory music, were all popular.

The arrival of Western music

After the Meiji Restoration introduced Western musical instruction, a bureaucrat named Izawa Shuji compiled songs like "Auld Lang Syne" and commissioned songs using a pentatonic melody. Western music, especially military marches, soon became popular in Japan. Two major forms of music that developed during this period were shoka, which was composed to bring western music to schools, and gunka, which are military marches with some Japanese elements.

As Japan moved towards representative democracy in the late 19th century, leaders hired singers to sell copies of songs that aired their messages, since the leaders themselves were usually prohibited from speaking in public. This developed into a form of ballad called enka, which became quite popular in the 20th century, though its popularity has waned since the 1970s and enjoys little favour with contemporary youth. Famous enka singers include Misora Hibari and Ikuzo Yoshi. Also at the end of the 19th century, an Osakan form of streetcorner singing became popular; this was called ryukoka. This included the first two Japanese stars, Yoshida Naramura and Tochuken Kumoemon.

Westernized pop music is called kayokyoku, which is said to have begun with "Kachusha no uta" (1914; see 1914 in music). This song was composed by Nakayama Shimpei and first appeared in a dramatization of Resurrection by Tolstoy, sung by Matsui Samako. The song became a hit among enka singers, and was one of the first major best-selling records in Japan. Kayokyoku became a major industry, especially after the arrival of superstar Misora Hibari.

Later, in the 1950s, tango and other kinds of Latin music, especially Cuban music, became very popular in Japan. A distinctively Japanese form of tango called dodompa also developed. Kayokyoku became associated entirely with traditional Japanese structures, while more Western-style music was called Japanese pops. In the 1960s, Japanese bands imitated The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, along with other Appalachian folk music, psychedelic rock, mod and similar genres; this was called Group Sounds.

Since then, bubblegum pop and J-Pop has become one of the best-selling forms of music, and is often used in films and television, especially in Japanese animation. The rise of disposable pop has been linked with the popularity of karaoke, leading to much criticism that both trends are consumerist and shallow. For example, Kazafumi Miyazawa of The Boom, claims "I hate that buy, listen and throw away and sing at a karoake bar mentality".

Japanese rock

Homegrown Japanese rock had developed by the late 1960s. Artists like Happy End are considered to have virtually developed the genre. During the 1970s, it grew more popular. The Okinawan Champluse, along with Carol, RC Succession and Harada Shinji were especially famous and helped define the genre's sound. In the 1980s, the Southern All Stars became the biggest band in Japanese rock's history, and inspired alternative rock bands like Shonen Knife & the Boredoms and Tama & Little Creatures. Most influentially, the 1980s spawned Yellow Magic Orchestra, which was inspired by developing electronica, led by Hosono Haruomi.

In 1980, Huruoma and Ry Cooder, an American musician, collaborated on a rock album heavily influenced by Okinawan music for Shoukichi Kina. They were followed by Sandii & the Sunsetz, who further mixed Japanese and Okinawan influences. At the same time, singer-songwriters like Yuming became extremely popular. Other forms of music, from Indonesia, Jamaica and elsewhere, were assimilated. Soukous and Latin music was popular as was Jamaican reggae and ska, exemplified by Rankin' Taxi and Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.

Roots music

In the late 1980s, roots bands like Shang Shang Typhoon and The Boom became popular. Okinawan roots bands like Nenes and Kina were also commercially and critically successful. This led to the second wave of Okinawan music, led by the sudden success of Rinkenband. A new wave of bands followed, including the comebacks of Champluse and Kina, as well as new acts like Soul Flower Union. An updated form of Okinawan folk called kawachi ondo became popular, led by Kikusuimaru Kawachiya; very similar to kawachi ondo is Tademaru Sakuragawa's goshu ondo.

Western classical music

Western classical music has a strong presence in Japan and the country is one of the most important markets for classical music. A number of Japanese composers have written in the western classical music tradition, with Toru Takemitsu (famous as well for his avant-garde works and movie scoring) being the best known. Also famous is the conductor Seiji Ozawa.

List of Japanese popular artists (including some J-Pop)

Traditional instruments

See also


  • Clewley, John. "The Culture Blender". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 143-159. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

External link


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
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