Japanese music

Japanese music

Japanese music is often associated with relaxation, meditation, and yoga, also with peace, calm, tranquility and harmony. All of the above always seen from a westernized and commercial perspective.

But it is much more than that. The country of the rising sun has a wide and varied musical production, both native rhythms and imported genres.

The globalization phenomenon has made the Japanese archipelago hear and touch each other pop and rock songs. And there is also space for music born in the Caribbean basin such as the reggae and salsa.

Traditional japanese music

The most iconic Japanese musical tradition is closely related to Zen Buddhism. The Komuso, a group of monks, developed at the dawn of the XNUMXth century a practice known as sound meditation.

To reach the maximum degree of concentration and reach spiritual transcendence through knowledge, During the meditation exercises the sounds of the Shakuhachi are heard in the background. This is a five-hole bamboo flute; the player must hold it vertically, just like the western recorder.

The bars were not improvised. The chord routines used for the meditation sessions were transmitted "orally" and audibly to the new generations of monks.

But long before sound meditation became institutionalized, and with it certain types of music, from the XNUMXth century, during the Nara period, a style of Buddhist liturgical music called Shomyo became known.

 Musically, its structure was elemental. Under simple harmonies, without having instrumental accompaniment and based on a pentatonic scale, a choir recited the sutras (the discourses of the Buddha or his closest disciples).

The Gagaku: Japanese classical music

The literal translation of the term Gagaku is elegant music. Since the beginning of the XNUMXth century, coinciding with the end of the Asanka period, it is the music that is performed in the imperial court. This period is also particularly important in the history of Japan, since Buddhism was introduced.

The Gagaku has not stopped evolving. He has had to overcome all the vicissitudes of Japanese history. Its musicians have had to migrate from city to city, every time the nation's capital has changed coordinates. Nara, Kyoto, Osaka, Koka, Kobe and since 710 Tokyo have been capital cities of Japan since 1868. Some historians point out that there is no document that officially grants the status of capital of the country to the latter, so legally Kyoto is - in theory - the main city of the country.

The influence of Gagaku has been felt beyond Japanese and Asian music. During the XNUMXth century, some Western classical music composers such as the Americans Henry Cowell and Alan Hovhaness, took it as the basis for several of their compositions. The French Oliver Hessiaen, the British Benjamin Britten and the American Lou Harrinson did the same.

Since 2009 and by UNESCO declaration, Gagaku is an Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Japanese music

Traditional instruments

In addition to the Sakuachi flute, other instruments that are part of Japanese music are:

  • Hichiriki: small oboe made with bamboo. It emits a highly incisive sound and is used in all styles of poetic recitation.
  • Shamishen: structurally, it is an instrument similar to the classical guitar, although much thinner and with only three strings. Another difference is that the soundboard is more like that of a drum. It is played using a plectrum or straw, which strikes the strings and the skin that covers the instrument at the same time.

Formerly, leather for cats or dogs was used in its manufacture. At present, plastic derivatives are used.

  • Biwa: like the Shamishen, It is a typical instrument of Japanese music, although of Chinese origin. Very similar to the western lute.
  • Ryuteki: it's a bamboo flute. Unlike the sakuachi, it consists of seven holes and is played transversely. Within the Japanese culture, it is the sound representation of dragons ascending to heaven.
  • Taiko: this is one of the most characteristic and emblematic instruments within the Japanese musical tradition.

During the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the taiko was used within war battalions. They were used both to intimidate enemy armies and to transmit messages to allied troops.

Within folk music, kumi-daiko are common, musical groups made up exclusively of performers of this percussion instrument.

It has also proven to be extremely versatile, becoming part of contemporary jazz bands or within large classical music orchestras.

  • Koto: this is another wooden instrument related to the guitar, it commonly consists of thirteen strings. However, there are multiple variations, including prototypes of up to 80 strings.

Japanese music in times of globalization

Some theorists point out that Japanese music for centuries has been under the influence of foreign traditions. At first, the proximity, in addition to the multiple conflicts with China and Korea, had an influence on the sounds of the Japanese archipelago with those of its mainland neighbors.

However, the great transformation occurred from the Meiji period, at the end of the XNUMXth century and the beginning of the XNUMXth. The 45 years that the nation was ruled by the Meiji Emperor, denote a great opening of Japan towards the West, where art was deeply affected.

The definitive assimilation of the musicians of the nation of the rising sun to western rhythms of the most varied, took place after the Second World War. Rock, jazz, blues, and heavy metal, among other genres, became common among Japanese listeners..

Ya In the 80s, within Japan there was a striking boom of Latin and Caribbean rhythms, with salsa and reggae in first order. One of the most remembered cases is that of The orchestra of light, a salsa ensemble made up exclusively of Japanese musicians who sang in Spanish and English, as well as Japanese.


Image sources: YouTube / Positivando lo Cotidiano - blogger

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