previous page


Hauta - Utazawa - Kouta
Although the songs of Kabuki became popular with amateurs as well, there were also many popular songs that developed outside the Kabuki theater. Usually very short, some songs are slow and romantic, others fast and witty with lively shamisen music. Sometimes folk songs were brought into the big cities and then became popular, but for the most part, songs were created in the separate urban centers, songs in Kansai and songs in Edo. Many of these popular songs are called "Hauta" and today, this term is usually used for popular songs from Edo like Ume ni mo Haru, Harusame, Kii no Kuni, Satsumasa, Yugure and Binhotsu. In the late Edo period, these songs were very popular and are even worked into Kabuki dances. For example, the Kiyomoto piece Ryusei shows a thunder god who has learned Hauta and croons instead of roaring with thunder and the music quotes several popular Hauta. Or, the piece Karigane, one of the pieces written by Mokuami with soulful music from a neighboring party room, ends with Binhotsu (The Disordered Hair).
At the end of the Edo period, a retired hatamoto or direct retainer of the shogun, felt that Hauta needed to be more refined in terms of elegance and artistic elaboration. This is the origin of Utazawa, and the pieces of Utazawa continue to be transmitted today with teachers and an organization to supervise names and the quality of the art.
"Kouta" means "short song" and there have always been short songs, most notably the medieval kouta, but today, Kouta usually means the short songs developed at the end of the Edo period. These are usually short and very witty, so short that in a recital of Kouta, one performer will usually sing a set of two or three Kouta and even then it will not last for more than five or six minutes. Kouta first began to be popular in the mid-Meiji period but the numbers of students and different schools has rapidly expanded since then so that Kouta is now one of the most popular varieties of traditional music.

Shakuhachi and Koto

Theatrical styles of music, especially Joruri are the most prominent feature of Edo period music, but there was also a great development of music for shakuhachi and koto. The shakuhachi began with an instrument from China that entered Japan during the Nara period, but the shakuhachi and the music for it that we know today begins in the early Edo period. Then it was an instrument played by Komuso priests and was under the jurisdiction of the Fuke sect of Buddhism. The oldest style of shakuhachi, the Kinko school comes from Kurosawa Kinko, a man from the Kuroda clan in Kyushu who traveled throughout the country collecting old and new pieces for the shakuhachi in the early 18th century. The repertory of this school includes such classics as Shika no Tone. The Tozan school began in 1896 after the Meiji government banned the use of the instrument for religious purposes and it became an instrument for ordinary people. Much of the repertory of the two schools is held in common, but the Kinko school tends to emphasize the classics, while the Tozan school emphasizes new pieces.
There have been a variety of koto-like instruments in Japan, including a smaller instrument which is one of the emblems of a Chinese scholar-bureaucrat. These instruments have existed since very early times, but in Gagaku, the koto is only a part of the instrumental ensemble. Only very gradually did a solo repertory appear for the thirteen-string koto. At the end of the 16th century, a priest named Kenjun from the Zendoji temple in Kurume collected some old pieces of koto music called Chikushi Gaku. Eventually these pieces were taken up by a musician named Yatsuhashi Kengyo, who adapted them and established a collection of thirteen pieces. These pieces form the foundation of koto music as we know it today which is preserved in two major schools. The Ikuta school began with Ikuta Kengyo (1655 - 1715) in Kyoto, while the Yamada school began with Yamada Kengyo in the late 18th century in Edo.




With the opening of Japan to the West and the beginning of the Meiji period (1868 - 1912) a flood of new musical styles entered Japan. While people continued to listen to the koto and shamisen, Western style music became standard in the education system and even opera and ballet entered Japan at the same time as Japanese acrobats and sideshow performers traveled through the world in circuses and sideshows. Gagaku got a new lease on life as after centuries, the imperial court again moved to the center of politics. Noh had been richly patronized during the Edo period as the official art form of the samurai class, but received a shock with the collapse of its system of patronage when the power of the samurai disappeared. Kabuki continued to be a popular theater form and there were efforts to raise the status of Kabuki actors and to modernize the theater. One part of modernizing the theater included the introduction of actresses. Although there were some experiments with actresses in Kabuki, the techniques of onnagata had become so highly developed to make the male body look female, that actresses could only be a pale copy of onnagata. Instead, actresses appeared in newer forms of theater like Shimpa ("New School Theater") which uses both onnagata and actresses and Shingeki modern theater.
One important venue for traditional music in the modern world became Yose or vaudeville houses. These began in the late Edo period as cheap theaters featuring Rakugo comic storytelling and gradually developed into full-fledged theaters focusing on storytelling styles like Rakugo and serious Kodan historical tales. But these spoken art forms alternated with juggling, song acts, paper cutting, magic and manzai stand-up comedy. Live shamisen music and singing is an integral part of Yose, from the short melodies that introduce the performers to the music for jugglers and paper cutters. Often a storyteller would dance and such songs as Kappore, Fukagawa and Yakkosan are familiar both in the Yose and as a kind of traditional party entertainment.
But gradually records and radio also became important and many of the art forms from Yose reached immense audiences this way. New stars to suit the age of broadcasting appeared. For example, Yanagiya Mikimatsu (1901 - 1968) took the popular poetry form of Dodoitsu and strung several together with patter in between to create a sophisticated, erotic storytelling form. Hirosawa Torazo II (1899 - 1964) revolutionized Rokyoku by refining the style so that it was perfect for radio and records.
However, in post World War II Japan, gradually traditional music has become very distant from ordinary Japanese. Although it is still very vigorous, there is only a very small fraction of the listening public that exists for western style classical music and popular music. But in recent years, there has been a blossoming of interest in Kabuki among young people and such folk styles as Tsugaru Shamisen, Wadaiko (Japanese Drums) and Okinawan song and dance have become very popular. In addition, in the near future, traditional music will become a part of the educational system and it is to be hoped that this will lead to new interest in the rich heritage of Japanese traditional music.


back to "Ancient Japanese Music"


Copyright 2002 Columbia Music Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved.