Japan: Diversity And Dynamism And A Bright Future In A New Worldby Tribal Stew February 24, 2017
In the eyes of the rest of the world, there has always been a duality to Japanese music and nowhere is that more prevalent than its music. The deeply spiritual and solemn, traditional stylings that reflect a checkered history and the repurposing, almost recycling of modern Western music. But in an age when influence has come to a head in the post-internet era, many are finding an authenticity in their music that speaks to a greater concentration on the self. Japanese musicians are now delving into new genres and forging a path for themselves and their new identity.
The History of Japanese Music
The musical heritage of Japan is tied to its traditional neighbours, China, Korea and South-East Asia. Some historians have suggested that there has been music in the region from as far back as the third century BC. Japan has a number of genres that have survived through the ages such as Gagaku, Buddhist chanting and some forms of court music. There was a time between the 16th and 19th century that the ruler of Japan imposed very isolationist policy and this had many effects on the development of Japanese music. Despite this, the three-stringed lute introduced from China was pivotal in a creating a sound that was very sophisticated and came to represent the pre-modernist culture that was now forming.
Japanese Folk Music
Japan has a rich history of folk music known as ‘Min’yo.’ Fluctuating vocals are paired with light drumming, shamisen, and shakuhachi. The style is defined by the area in which it originates with shamisen probably the most well-known. It has found its way onto the mainstream scene thanks to artists like the Yoshida Brothers.
Okinawa, The Musical Melting Pot
Okinawa. Nestled in the far south of the country, Okinawa breathes life into many genres. Min’yo flourishes here and can be found at many bars and lounges. On the Sanshin, there are spectacular drumming rhythms and beautifully haunting vocals that you won’t find anywhere else. Performers are always dressed to impress, and the flair and imagery are truly something to behold. In fact, Okinawa has been a hub for the creation of unique musical styles for more than 400 hundred years.
After the war, Okinawa was represented almost exclusively by local folk recordings. This is in no small part thanks to the unparalleled Sanshin icon, Shouei Kina. His son, Shokichi listening and learning all the while, combined this with the influence of music from the U.S. namely progressive rock music that was being played around naval bases in the area. Kina’s band, Champloose, attracted a lot of attention from fellow musicians in the states namely Ry Cooder and Henry Kaiser.
The guitarist from Champloose, Takashi Hirayasu, went solo after the band broke up and went on to produce probably one of the most popular albums to come out of Okinawa. Jin Jin/Butterfly was created with American guitarist Bob Brozman and was beautiful in its simplicity. It was recorded in an isolated house on a tiny island and captures that atmosphere on the album. It was to take collaborative efforts to a whole new level in Japan and eventually traces of blues and traditional Hawaiin were woven into Hirayusu’s music.