Music Cultures Of The World Japan Term Paper

Length: 10 pages Sources: 3 Subject: Music Type: Term Paper Paper: #45084349 Related Topics: Classical Music, Shinto, Korean Culture, The Last Samurai
Excerpt from Term Paper :

¶ … relationship of music and culture and history in Japan. The music of Japan is as rich and diverse as the culture of Japan's people, and it has a long place in Japan's history. Several different musical forms and instruments make up Japan's musical history, and it has ancient beginnings in the earliest history of Japan in many cases. While the Japanese have held on to their musical past, they are also not afraid to create new musical traditions, such as the karaoke fad that swept the world in the 1990s and beyond.

Ancient Japanese Music

Many scholars believe that Japanese music has its roots in the music of China, an ancient culture that dominated Asian culture from the earliest recorded history. However, studies indicate this is really not the case. Japanese music historian Egon Wellesz notes, "It might be expected that Japanese music would exhibit considerable Chinese influence; but it is perhaps somewhat surprising that it also exhibits features of which only traces are to be found in the music of China" (Wellesz, 1999, p. 144). In fact, the author continues that many of the chord progressions and sounds in Japanese music can actually be traced back to ancient Tibetan and Korean musical scales (Wellesz, 1999, p. 145). This indicates that Japanese culture was in contact with these other ancient civilizations, through trade or other means, and indicates the influences on Japanese music, and therefore culture, were varied and diverse. The author also notes that Chinese, Indian, and Korean music was collected in Japan, and notations and music from these early civilizations was passed down in Japanese history (Wellesz, 1999, p. 147). However, the Chinese, with their written language capabilities, did make note of Japanese music in their writings. Another writer notes that Chinese visitors noted Japanese music, singing and dancing at a Japanese funeral as early as the third century AD (Malm, 2000, p. 31). Thus, Japanese music is a very old, traditional form of Japanese culture, and it has played an important role in Japanese culture throughout time. As the culture of Japan developed, rulers and leaders attempted to build their culture on China's great model, and Chinese music began to play more of an influence, especially beginning in the 700s, when most of the court musicians were actually from China and/or Korea (Malm, 2000, p. 33). Author Malm continues, "Thus, foreign music and dance began to move out of the colonies and became part of the life of the new intellectual centers of Japan very early in the Nara period" (Malm, 2000, p. 33). Music continued to play an important role in Japanese culture and history throughout Japan's growth and development. Author Malm continues that this helped develop a distinctive Japanese form of Asian music. He continues, "The people of the court took up music with a passion, and it gradually developed distinctly Japanese characteristics. While one often thinks of this music as being instrumental, it must not be forgotten that almost all of it contained some poetry" (Malm, 2000, p. 35). Later, the court-inspired music began to lose its appeal, and other forms of music took its place.

During the court music phase, several key instruments played a part in the orchestra. These included huge dadaiko drums played with large beaters, combined with smaller drums, gongs, and other drums, along with wind instruments like flutes and mouth organs, and stringed instruments, like lutes and the koto, noted below. Each of these instruments combined to create strong, often heavy rhythms that helped create the movement and performance of the dancers in their roles.

By the fourteenth century, (the Kamakura period), musical performances became more attractive. Buddhist chanting became popular, and so did theatrical arts, such as lyrical dancing. Author Malm notes, "In general,...


37). During this long history of development of the arts, several musical styles and performances began to develop and mature. During this time, Japan was changing from a dynasty culture to a feudalistic society led by the Shogun class, so as Japan's culture was evolving, their music was evolving as well, indicating how these two aspects of Japanese history go hand in hand.

Then came a period of religious music, mostly Shinto and Buddhist, which included chanting and dramatic dance, which helped form the lyrical dance dramas that became so popular in the country. This religious phase indicates how music was changing as the country's culture changed and grew, and illustrates how the country's leadership influences were changing, as well. These religious songs contained lyrics, but also contained dances, and they were the very origins of the dance dramas of later centuries. The dances were used in religious celebrations from temple dedications to songs sung in the fields to ensure healthy crops, and they became the backbone of the country's musical heritage. It is not known which songs came first or belonged to which religion, because they often used the same songs interchangeably (Malm, 2000, p. 49). The two most common instruments used in these religious songs were the stringed instruments and the flute.

Noo (sometimes called Noh)

The type of music known as Noo reached its peak in the sixteenth century and it is quite representative of the lyric dramas that Japan has become so well-known for in more recent history. They were actually first created as religious dances for the Shinto and Buddhist religious celebrations, and grew from there. The orchestra is small, and the voice is often separate in these types of dramas. Author Wellesz continues, "The Noo orchestra consists of one stick-beaten and two hand-beaten drums and a cross-flute. While the drums maintain a regular rhythm, the voice moves to a large extent arhythmically and is only rarely supported by the flute, which for the most part provides interludes" (Wellesz, 1999, p. 148). This type of music evolved in the seventeenth century into a more modern form. It usually only consists of a short melody of as little as five notes, and the melody undergoes considerable variation throughout the piece (Wellesz, 1999, p. 149). Another instrument used in the Noo is the yamada koto, a lute-like instrument with thirteen strings that provides melody and interludes during the performance.

The noo usually consisted of two very specific acts, with the characters playing very specific roles within the play. Most of the play centers on the principal actor and their emotions and reactions, with a second actor acting as foil to the principal (Malm, 2000, p. 125). The dramas are highlighted by elaborate costumes and the characters wear masks, and dance complicated steps to the formal music. These became one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Japan, and they still exist in modified form today. This indicates how important the dance dramas became in Japanese culture, and how they changed from century to century.

N-mai Dance Drama

Another important dance drama that evolved around the same time is the n-mai. Another writer notes, "Itinerant priests, known as yamabushi (ascetic mountain priests), introduced n-mai to villages on the peninsula about 370 years ago. Yamabushi performed n-mai as a vehicle in proselytizing to provincial audiences and eventually taught it to villagers to ensure its survival" (Asai, 1999, p. xv). These plays incorporate elements of the religious, court dances, and earlier dance dramas, and they are still performed at specific times of the year in Japan today.

Music played an important part of these dances, as author Asai note. It served to "(1) open each piece with introductory music, (2) accompany both singing and dancing, (3) bridge the various song and dance sections, (4) create the mood of a particular scene (such as battle scenes in the warrior dances), as well as (5) conclude each piece" (Asai, 1999, p. 119). Thus, it was the fiber that held the dance together, as well as helped the actors tell the story, and it also plays an important role throughout Japanese history.

The traditional instruments used were the taiko, tebiragane, and fue. The Author continues, "Both sacred and secular folk performing traditions in Japan commonly use this instrumentation" (Asai, 199, p. 119). More about the specific instruments will continue in the next section of this document, but it is important to note that many of these traditional instruments also made the transition from one Japanese music style to another, while others evolved along with the new music styles.

Japanese Musical Instruments

There are several different instruments that make up the music of traditional Japanese dance dramas and early court music, and some of them play more important roles than others. Percussion is one of the main aspects of Japanese music, and there are several different drums and other instruments that play a major role.

Taiko- This is a cylindrical drum that can range in length and diameter from village to village. The standard is about 14-inches high and about 15 1/2-inches around in the…

Sources Used in Documents:


Asai, S.M. (1999). Nomai dance drama: A surviving spirit of medieval Japan. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Malm, W.P. (2000). Traditional Japanese music and musical instruments. Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International.

Tokita, A. & Hughes, D.W. (2008). Ashgate research companion to Japanese music. Surry, UK: Ashgate Publishing.

Wellesz, E. (Ed.). (1999). Ancient and oriental music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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