Background: Japanese Traditional Music and Instruments

     Japan has one of the richest musical traditions in the world. Japanese indigenous sensitivity toward sound has been continually augmented by the importation of highly advanced foreign music and instruments from the Korean Peninsula as early as the fifth century and from China between the seventh and the ninth centuries. In 701, Japan established its first official government music agency, the Gagakuryō, for the gagaku performance at court rituals and festivals. Many of the traditional Japanese musical instruments in use today, such as the biwa and koto, were imported as part of the gagaku ensemble and later filtered down into the common culture where they developed their own extensive repertories.
     Song has always been the mainstay of Japanese music, both for the elite and for the commoners. The sanshin was introduced into mainland Japan from Okinawa in the mid-16th century and became the shamisen. Its instant popularity allowed an increasing number of people to sing while accompanying themselves. During the Edo Period, popular theater traditions of kabuki and bunraku along with exciting new compositions were created. They enabled a renaissance in the koto, song, and shamisen repertoire, and subsequently, the sankyoku ensemble repertory consisting of song, koto, shamisen and shakuhachi, also prospered.
     Meiji restoration saw the importation of Western music to Japan, including military marching music, brass bands and choral works. In the 1880’s, as part of government policy to Westernize the nation, European music was introduced into the schools, and in 1887, Tokyo Academy of Music was established. Later, symphony orchestras were formed and Western music became an integral part of the cultural life of Japan.
     In the early part of the twentieth century, legendary composer and performer Michio Miyagi (1894-1956) greatly changed the world of Japanese traditional music with the introduction of Western inspired musical forms and innovations in technique for the koto. He also invented the 17-stringed bass koto. Miyagi’s work in modernizing Japanese music was furthered by a number of influential composers and performers including Utashito Nakashima, Kin’ichi Nakanoshima, Shin’ichi Yuize and Tadao Sawai, who were active in the latter part of the 20th century.
     Today, Japanese music (hōgaku) continues to be taught in various private venues, music institutions and universities. Unfortunately, there are presently no professional hōgaku training programs taught at the conservatory level in English in Japan. Aware for the need of such a program, Seiha Hōgaku-kai has established an international summer school in English for the study of Japanese traditional musical instruments.
     The third International Summer Session will be a one-week intensive program in shakuhachi, kokyu, 13-string koto and the shamisen, with a focus on sankyoku ensemble practice.