World Arbiter 2012

Japanese Traditional Music

Kokusai Bunka Shinkkai 1941

  • KBS 78 sp 25 - 36, recorded 1940 by Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai
  • ASIN: B004V6JPSM
  • $12.99, free postage within the US
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Track List

  1. Hien No Kyoku
  2. Rokudan
  3. Shôchikubai
  4. Kogô No Kyoku
  5. Chidori No Kyoku
  6. Mikunino Homare
  7. Miyako No Haru
  8. Shin-Sarashi
  9. Kumagai Jun'ya No Dan
  10. Kitsune Bi No Dan
  11. Sakaya No Dan
  12. Nozaki-Mura No Dan
  13. Sukeroku Yukari No Edo Zakura
  14. Matsu No Hagoromo
  15. Sekitori Senryônobori
  16. Toribeyama
  17. Shin-utsubo
  18. Ichikawa Yamauba
  19. Kanda-matsuri
  20. Sanja Matsuri
  21. Echigo-jishi
  22. Aki No Irokusa
  23. Ayatsuri Sanbasô
  24. Tsunayakata No Dan

Koto music: sôkyoku

Sôkyoku is a vocal and instrumental music using the koto, a long thirteen-stringed zither. Koto music was traditionally transmitted by the tôdô, a blind musician’s guild, who also taught samurai or rich merchants’ wives and daughters.

The koto derives from an instrument in the gagaku ensemble (royal court music). In the 12th century, the instrument was adopted into Buddhist vocal music, such as gokuraku shôga (songs yearning for heaven) as an accompaniment. Based on this tradition of the koto accompanying songs, tsukushigoto, a form of koto music was developed and established by a priest Kenjun (1543?-1634?) in Kurume, northern Kyushu. In the mid 17th century, a talented musician Yatsuhashi kengyô (1614-1685), second-generation pupil of Kenjun, further developed koto music by devising new tunings. It is believed that tunings were pentatonic until the end of medieval times, their scales lacking a semi-tone: Yatsuhashi created those with a semi-tone. Today there are over twenty tunings: works often employ several tunings, requiring a player to shift during performance.

The basic repertoire is koto kumiuta (literally, combined songs) that consists of vocal and koto parts, and instrumental music known as dan-mono, or kinuta-mono. After the 18th century, many ensemble compositions included the shamisen, a three-stringed lute: the koto and shamisen played unison in the early pieces; later, the koto adopted an ornamental variation to the shamisen’s basic melody, finally becaming a sort of counterpoint. Shakuhachi (vertical bamboo flute) or kokyû (fiddle) are sometimes added to the ensemble, which is often called sankyoku. In the first half of the 19th century, many elaborate songs were created from ancient literary texts such as Kokin-wakashû, a poem anthology compiled by imperial command in 905. After the Meiji period (1868-1912), koto music was influenced by western music like other Japanese musical genres, and a variety of new compositions added western elements.

Presently there are two main koto tradition schools; Ikuta-ryû, deriving from Ikuta kengyô (1656-1715) and Yamada-ryû from Yamada kengyô (1757-1817). Historically, Ikuta-ryû flourished in Kansai area and Yamada-ryû in Kantô. They differ in the performer’s position at the instrument, form of nails, repertoire, and musical style. Yamada-ryû maintains kumiuta and dan-mono repertoire like Ikuta-ryû. In addition, as it has encouraged collaboration with such jôruri (shamisen narrative) music as katô-bushi, icchû-bushi, and tomimoto-bushi, the songs of Yamada-ryû are deeply influenced by a strong sophisticated jôruri vocalization.

1. Hien no kyoku (Ikuta-ryû) uta: Kikuhara Hatsuko, koto: Kikuhara Kotoji

Koto-kumiuta. Six verses are arranged from a Chinese poem composed by Li Pai (701-762) in the Tang period. It praises the beauty of Yang Gui-fei in the Tang dynasty who was said to be as beautiful as Empress Zhao Feiyan of the early Han dynasty. This recording includes the third and the sixth verses.

2. Rokudan (Shin-Ikuta-ryû) koto: Nakahashi Gyômu

A representative work in the koto’s instrumental repertoire called dan-mono, or kinuta-mono, consisting of six sections: a theme is first presented, then followed by sections of variations. The tempo gradually increases toward the end of the piece.

3. Shôchikubai (Ikuta-ryû)

koto: Yonekawa Fumiko, shamisen: Kawase Satoko, Fukuda Eika

Shôchikubai refers to three auspicious trees (pine, bamboo, and plum). The music celebrates a yearning for peace and longevity, consisting of vocal and long instrumental interludes called tegoto, the latter heard on this disc.

4. Kogô no kyoku (Yamada-ryû)

koto: Koshino Eishô, Onodera Tamae, shamisen: Fujii Chiyoga

One of the four important pieces (Yuya, Aoi no ue, Chôgonka, and Kogô no kyoku) composed by Yamada Kengyô himself, Kogô was a woman who served the Empress Taira no Tokuko but was loved by Emperor Takakura. She withdrew herself from the court, feeling sorry for the Empress. As she was a skilled koto player, an emperor’s vassal found her by searching for the koto’s sounds. This recording includes an excerpt in which the Emperor plays koto as he missed Kogô after she disappeared from court.

5. Chidori no kyoku (Ikuta-ryû) koto: Yokoi Mitsue, shamisen (kokyu?): Satô Masakazu

Composed by Yoshizawa kengyô, a koto player of the 19th century, a kokyû tune is arranged by its composer for koto and kokyû. As the koto repertoire of the late Edo period (19th century) tends to take themes or lyrics from Heian or Kamakura classical literature (IX-XIII centuries), Chidori no kyoku also adopts waka poems from Kokinwaka-shû of the Heian period and Kin’youwaka-shû of the Kamakura period. There is a long tegoto interlude between the two poems. The tegoto and part of the second poem, followed by another interlude that imitates plovers chirping, are heard on this disc.

6. Mikuni no homare (Ikuta-ryû)

koto (low range): Yonekawa Chikatoshi, koto (high range): Katô Jûko

Music by Kikutaka kengyô (1838-1888), text by Nakamura Yoshiaki; a new Meiji period composition for two koto (in high and low registers). Unlike the traditional common tuning, this piece lacks a semi-tone, employing instead a gaku-jôshi tuning for the high range and kankan-chôshi tuning for the low range, influenced by minshin-gaku (Chinese music of the Ming and Qing dynasties). The verse carries a celebrative content to praise a virtue of Emperor Meiji and the nation’s prosperity. This disc contains the instrumental interlude.

7. Miyako no haru (Yamada-ryû)

koto: Yamamuro Chiyoko, shamisen: Chibu Tose, shakuhachi: Nôtomi Judô

Composer: Yamase Shôin III (1845-1908), lyrics: Nabeshima Naohiro (1846-1921). The piece was created for the 1890 opening ceremony of the Tokyo Ongaku Gakkô hall (Tokyo Academy of Music). A long instrumental interlude and the following vocal part are heard.

8. Shin-sarashi (Yamada-ryû): koto: Imai Keishô, shamisen: Yamase Shôin

Arranged from Sarashi, a jiuta-shamisen tune, into a Yamada-ryû version for koto and shamisen, both vocal and instrumental parts are highly technically elaborated. The last interlude is usually improvised. Such great masters as Yamase Shôin, Imai Keishô, and Nakanoshima Kin’ichi each rendered their original arrangements. An interlude is heard in this disc.

Shamisen music

Shamisen, a three stringed lute, is said to have been imported from China through Okinawa into mainland Japan (Sakai, Osaka) in the latter half of the 16th century. After its arrival in Japan, the instrument’s structure and accessories changed; from a round body to one square-like, from snake skin to cat skin, from a small pick to a large plectrum. It began to accompany popular songs and contributed in bringing about a variety of genres of shamisen music in the early 17th century. The oldest shamisen repertoire is a series of kumiuta songs, until now preserved by the Nogawa-ryû school in Osaka and Yanagawa-ryû school in Kyoto. Kumiuta is composed of combinations taken from pre-existent tunes.

In addition, various jôruri narrative genres to accompany puppet and kabuki theaters appeared and vanished in Kansai throughout the 17th century until gidayû-bushi was created by Takemoto Gidayû (1651-1714), acquiring an overwhelming popularity in the 1690s. Old jôruri genres were now categorized as kojôruri (literally ‘old jôruri’), among which only the katô-bushi established by Masumi Katô and icchû-bushi created by Miyakodayû Icchû have survived. Bungo-bushi was founded by Miyakoji Bungo, a disciple of Miyakodayû Icchû, which later developed into such various genres as tokiwazu-bushi, tomimoto-bushi, kiyomoto-bushi, shinnai-bushi, and miyazono-bushi in the 18th century. Apart from these narrative genres, nagauta was born and developed in Edo as kabuki dance accompaniments.

Gidayû-bushi is heard with ningyô jôruri puppet and kabuki, while tokiwazu-bushi, tomimoto-bushi, kiyomoto-bushi, and nagauta is mostly used in kabuki. Icchû-bushi, katô-bushi, shinnai-bushi, and miyazono-bushi had been played in kabuki but is now enjoyed mainly as chamber music without theater, sometimes categorized as kokyoku.

In the late Edo period (early 19th century), small-scale shamisen vocal genres as ogie-bushi, hauta, utazawa, and kouta were performed by geishas in ozashiki chambers. This disc includes shamisen music for theater, while volume 4 contains chamber music without theater.


Gidayû-bushi was created by Takemoto Gidayû (1651-1714) as an accompaniment for Osaka’s ningyô jôruri puppet theater. The music, dramatically realizing a script written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon 1653-1725), gained great popularity around 1688-1704. The works of ningyô jôruri and kabuki can be categorized into either jidai-mono or sewa-mono. The former treats fidelity, betray, and conflict in historically famous heroic episodes, while the latter describes the duties and loves of contemporary Edo commoners. Gidayû employs a thick necked shamisen, the futozao, one that produces a heavy, complex sound. Tayû, a sung narrative, is also dynamic and powerful.

9. Section ‘Kumagai Jun’ya no dan’ from Ichinotani Futabagunki

jôruri: Takemoto Oritayû , shamisen: Takezawa Danroku, Nozawa Katsuyoshi

Ichinotani Futabagunki is categorized as a jidai-mono, describing a historic battle between the Heike and Genji clans at Ichinotani valley. In the Kumagai Jin’ya no dan section, an old Genji warrior, Kumagai Naozane, tells his wife how he defeated a noble Heike warrior, Taira no Atsumori, who was as young as his own son. After this battle, Naozane became a priest , to help understand life’s mortality and the uncertainty of the world.

10. ‘Kitsune bi no dan’ from Honchô nijûshikô

jôruri: Takemoto Oritayû , shamisen: Takezawa Danroku, Nozawa Katsuyoshi

Jidai-mono. Honchô nijûshikô deals with a conflict between the Takeda and Uesugi, two samurai clans, in the late medieval times, and includes the love story of Takeda Katsuyori and his fiancée, Princess Yaegaki-hime. In this section, Yaegaki-hime, possessed by a fox spirit that is an incarnation of the Suwa shrine’s deity, got magical power and saved her fiancé by bringing him a kabuto helmet from the family treasure. Two shamisen play technically demanding patterns to accompany a dramatic scene of puppets showing acrobatic movements.

11. ‘Sakaya no dan’ from Hadesugata onna maiginu

jôruri: Takemoto Oritayû , shamisen: Takezawa Danroku, Nozawa Katsuyoshi

Sewa-mono. A love suicide story of Sankatsu, a female entertainer and Hanshichi (pronounced as Hanhichi in the narration), young master of a dyehouse who has a wife named Osono. In ‘Sakaya no dan’, Osono confronts Hanshichi who was kicked out of his house by his father because of his indulging the entertainer.


12. ‘Nozaki-mura no dan’ from Shinpan utazaimon

jôruri: Takemoto Oritayû , shamisen: Takezawa Danroku, Nozawa Katsuyoshi

Sewa-mono. The love-suicide story of Hisamatsu, employee in an Osaka pawnshop, and Osome, the shop owner’s daughter. Hisamatsu meets his parents in his home village Nozaki-mura but refuses an arranged marriage, deciding to commit suicide together with his lover Osome, who has followed from Osaka. The lovers return separately to Osaka, one by boat, the other by palanquin. Shamisen play florid melodies to enliven a sad and strained atmosphere.


Katô-bushi was created in 1717 in Edo by Masumi Katô (1684-1725), developed from Handayû-bushi, a kojôruri (old jôruri genre). It was enjoyed by the rich merchant class but gradually declined as newer Bungo-bushi jôruri schools flourished.  Today, katô-bushi is mainly used at festive occasions such as the title succession ceremony, one rarely performed in kabuki except for the play ‘Sukeroku yukarino Edozakura’.

13. Sukeroku yukari no Edo zakura

jôruri: Yamabiko Yoneko , shamisen: Yamabiko Hideko, Yamabiko Yaeko

A kabuki title ‘Sukeroku yukari no Edo zakura’ represents this music. Sukeroku (real name Soga no Gorô), while chasing a foe who has killed his father and took the family’s missing treasury sword, goes into Yoshiwara (a pleasure quarter in downtown Edo) and in the course of a brawl with him, finds that the enemy has their sword. The lively florid atmosphere of Yoshiwara is well expressed in music.


Icchû-bushi was founded in the early 18th century by Miyakodayû Icchû (1650-1724) in Kyoto. After flourishing in Edo during the middle 18th century, it branched into two schools, Miyako-ha and Sugano-ha in the middle of the 19th century. In other ways, bungo-bushi also derived from icchû-bushi in the 18th century, which later developed into many genres such as tokiwazu-bushi, shinnai-bushi, miyazono-bushi, kiyomoto-bushi, and others.

14. Matsu no hagoromo

jôruri: Miyako Ichiume, shamisen: Miyako Ichihana

This song is based on the widespread South-east Asia feather-robe legend. A celestial beauty was robbed of her feather robe (hagoromo) and married an earthly fisherman. They had a child but once she got back the robe, she left for heaven. We can hear the part where the woman robbed of the robe is lost and deeply grieves.


Shinnai-bushi was derived from bungo-bushi jôruri in the mid 18th century. It was performed in kabuki theater as a dance accompaniment and also played in an ozashiki (a small chamber) in the Edo period. It was also sung by strolling musicians. Today, however, it is mainly heard as chamber music. The expression of shinnai-bushi is dramatic and stirring using an elastic rhythm and many melismas. There are several schools bearing the names of ‘Tsuruga’, ‘Fujimatsu’, and the like.

15. Sekitori senryônobori

jôruri: Fujimatsu Tsurutayû, shamisen: Fujimatsu Tsurutodayû, Fujimatsu Tsuruhachi

A play first staged in the Takemoto-za (puppet theater in Osaka). The wife of a sumo wrestler tries to save her husband by sacrificing herself to become a prostitute.


This genre was founded in the first half of the 18th century in Kansai by Miyakoji Sonohachi, disciple of the kojôruri artist Miyakoji Bungonojô. ‘Miyazono-bushi’ was taken from the name Miyazono Ranpôken used by the second Miyakoji Sonohachi. Miyozono-bushi was introduced to Edo by Harufuji Shôden, a disciple of the first Sonohachi, and soon adopted in kabuki plays. The tradition was lost in Kansai during the 19th century but survived in Edo. It is still performed today but only as chamber music (no longer with kabuki).

16. Toribeyama.  jôruri: Miyazono Senhiro, shamisen: Miyazono Senyae

From the miyazono-bushi repertoire, a love suicide story of Ukihashi, woman from a pleasure quarter, and Nuinosuke, a young samurai. A travel scene to the final destination (death) is heard here.


This music was created in the middle of the 18th century in Edo by Tokiwazu Mojitayû (1709-1781), disciple of Miyakoji Bungonojô. It was made to accompany kabuki dance in the latter half of the century. Employing a middle-size shamisen called ‘chûzao’, tokiwazu-bushi expresses rich feeling by subtly blending gorgeous narrative and melodic singing.

17. Shin-utsubo

jôruri: Tokiwazu Matsuodayû, shamisen Tokiwazu Mojibee, Tokiwazu Yaohachi

A kabuki title based on a kyôgen play ‘Utsubozaru’, premiered at Ichimura-za theater, Edo, in 1838. The formal title is ‘Hanabutai kasumi no saruhiki’, which is usually called simply ‘Utsubozaru’. A female lord looking for a good ape skin to make a ‘utsubo’ (arrow holder)wants a monkey trainer to give her a little monkey in his keep but she gives up because the monkey was too sweet to kill as the trainer shows her little monkey’s performance.

18. Ichikawa yamauba

jôruri: Tokiwazu Mitosedayû, Tokiwazu Mitosedayû ;

shamisen Tokiwazu Mojibee, Tokiwazu Yaohachi

A kabuki play formally titled ‘Takigi ou yukima no ichikawa’ that premiered in 1848 (Kawarazaki-za theater, Edo) tells the story of yamauba, a ‘mountain witch’ raising her son Sakata no Kintoki, a boy of great strength, in mount Ashigara-yama. This excerpt includes part of the latter half of the music that depicts the mountain landscape’s four seasons’.


Derived from tomimoto-bushim, a family of bungo-bushi narratives, it was created by Kiyomoto Enjudayû (1777-1825) in 1814 at Edo. One feature is its high range of voice and ‘agitating’ singing style. Chûzao, a middle type of shamisen, is used.

19. Kanda-matsuri

jôruri: Kiyomoto Umejutayû, shamisen: Kiyomoto Umekichi, Kiyomoto Umesaburô

‘Kanda-matsuri’ is a kabuki play that premiered at Kawarazaki-za in 1839. The formal title is ‘Shimeiro yareiro no kakegoe’. The music depicts a lively festival at the Kanda-myôjin shrine in downtown Edo.

20. Sanja matsuri  jôruri: Kiyomot Shizutayû, shamisen: Kiyomoto Eijirô, Kiyomoto Eiji

Sanja matsuri is one of the biggest festivals of Asakusa-jinja shrine in downtown Edo. The music was composed for the second section of kabuki entitled ‘Yayoi no hana Asakusa matsuri’ which premiered at Nakamura-za theater in 1832. While fishing in the ocean, two fishermen were possessed by spirits of good and evil respectively, which fell from the sky. The phrase heard on this disc starts in an extremely high range for male voice.


Nagauta was developed in the first half of the 18th century Edo’s kabuki theater. Even today it is very popular, especially as dance accompaniment. Hosozao, a slender neck type of shamisen, produces light florid sounds to accompany a bright and strong vocal tone. Sometimes a hayashi accompaniment is added, including fue (flute), kotsuzumi (small hourglass-shaped laced drum), ôtsuzumi (big hourglass-shaped laced drum), and taiko (flat laced drum).

21. Echigo-jishi

uta: Yoshimura Ishirô, shamisen: Kineya Rokuji, Kineya Rokushirô, fue (flute): Katada Kisaburô, taiko (drum): Katada Kisaku, sasara (bamboo whisk): Mochizuki Taijirô

Echigo-jishi was originally a folk acrobatic performance art including a shishimai (lion dance) that was mainly played by the children of Echigo (Niigata) county. The kabuki play Echigo-jishi was premiered at the Nakamura-za theater in Edo in 1811, in which an actor Nakamura Utaemon danced with quick costume changes.

22. Aki no irokusa uta: Yoshizumi Kotôji, shamisen: Kineya Rokuji, Kineya Rokushirô

This music was composed in 1845 for the celebration of a newly completed mansion of the samurai lord Nanbu clan in Azabu, a residential area of daimyo lords in Edo. The lyrics were attributed to Nanbu Toshitomo, 13th chief of a family, or to Nanbu Noriko, widow of the 11th chief Nanbu Toshitaka. The music was composed by Kineya Rokuzaemon X. The text describes a beautiful autumn landscape in Azabu.

23. Ayatsuri sanbasô

uta: Fujita Shinzô, shamisen: Matsushima Jusaburô, Kashiwa Senzaemon, fue: Katada Kisaburô, Mochizuki Taigorô, kotsuzumi: Mochizuki Tazaemon, ôtsuzumi: Mochizuki Taijirô, taiko: Katada Kisaku

The formal name of this kabuki play is ‘Yanagi no ito hikuya gohiiki’, which was premiered in 1853 at Kawarazaki-za in Edo. It is a revision of the play ‘Hatsu yagura tanemaki sanbasô’, which gained large popularity by the performance of an actor Arashi Rikaku II in 1852 at Osaka. The present-day’s music is from a revision by Kineya Kangorô, made during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). The dance’s choreography of features puppet-like jerky movements.

24. Tsunayakata no dan.

uta: Kineya Rokuzaemon, shamisen: Okayasu Kisaburô, Kineya Rokosuke, fue: Katada Kisaburô, kotsuzumi: Mochizuki Tazaemon, ôtsuzumi: Mochizuki Taijirô, taiko: Katada Kisaku

The formal name of this kabuki play is ‘Watanabe no Tusna yakata no dan’. The music was arranged by Kineya Kangorô III in 1869 based on ôzatsuma-bushi music used in the play Tsuwamono azumaya zukuri, premiering in 1741 at Nakamura-za. Watanabe no Tsuna, a mighty warrior is able to destroy monsters. One monster, Ibaraki Dôji, came to Tsuna’s house disguised as Tsuna’s aunt in order to get back his arm, which had been cut off by Tsuna.

– Dr. Naoko Terauchi © 2010