Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo


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In sharp contrast to the constant constraint of affiliation present within the traditional world of nagauta, was the relative freedom from those constraints outside that world, especially in the liminal world occupied by the foreigner staying in Japan who is either treated graciously as a guest in spite of their obvious lack of social etiquette or is ignored completely. When not engaged with people in the music world or directly involved in research, I spent a great deal of time traveling around Tokyo teaching English conversation.

Not only did this provide a quick and convenient source of funding to subsidize my research, but it was also a method of informal data collection outside the world of traditional music. In some cases, students felt free to express opinions to an anonymous foreigner that they perhaps would not express to friends or family. We must maintain a musical instrument, keep the best condition shamisen and achieve the proper tuning. After this is taken care of, then people can start playing, otherwise nothing will be properly tuned. Before playing we need so many years.

Without mastering basic technique people will not learn the best way and are not able to play. The method is to maintain the shamisen and play it.

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The student learns this method from the teacher little by little. A composer has an imagination or creativity and using this creativity the composer makes music. Kikuoka sees himself as such a carrier of tradition and stated that, whether performing classic nagauta pieces or composing new works for the genre, he must capture the spirit of those that came before him. Kikuoka did not, however, think of his role as one in which he must imitate a past form of music, but described that his main duty was to translate this music of the past into present day Japanese life.

The life story and career of Kikuoka in chapter one demonstrates how nagauta developed from a musical accompaniment for kabuki and Japanese classical dance into a concert form in which musicians sought to gain respect for the music independent of theater. This process involves shaping the individual in such a way that the student becomes a suitable carrier of the tradition by learning the necessary appropriate behavior.

While the teacher-student relationship is at the center of nagauta practice, this relationship is linked to a much broader network of social relations in Japanese society which is examined in chapter three, demonstrating how individuals are shaped through a variety of forces of social coercion present in Japanese society.

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Chapter four examines how these Introduction: the human life in the music 11 shaping forces are evident in the structure of nagauta composition and performance, depicted lyrically in the music, and reproduced in pre-determined, stereotyped musical phrases. An analysis of two of his compositions reveals his strategies for creating works that have a modern musical perspective, yet remain firmly within the boundaries of the tradition. Following the way of my teacher, I have taken a person-centered approach to nagauta in the belief that what matters most is not a repertoire of musical compositions or a series of performances, but the individual human being who is the living embodiment of the music.

Shinobu was not happy about being forced by his father into hours of daily practice and memorization of through-composed musical compositions that could last up to 30 minutes or even longer. In fact, his father would rage at young Shinobu whenever he forgot a passage and occasionally threw things in anger. The worst incident was when the adolescent Shinobu was too slow in memorizing a lengthy piece of music and his father threw the weighted shamisen plectrum of ivory across the room at his son.

His father had actually thrown it to one side, intending only to frighten his son, but Shinobu tried to dodge the projectile, only to move his head directly into the line of fire. The sharp pointed tip of the plectrum struck Shinobu squarely in the forehead, leaving a scar that was visible for the rest of his life. Nagauta lessons were certainly a burden in his childhood, but he felt that being born at a bad time was what gave him the most hardship. He also felt the social A career in nagauta: kikuoka hiroaki 13 Figure 1. The music of nagauta that captured the spirit of Edo in his imagination, and his teachers who embodied that spirit as living carriers of tradition, formed a path that Shinobu would follow throughout his career.

But as he embarked on that path as a professional-bound student, he discovered something that he felt compromised the purity and beauty of the music he loved—the iemoto system. Since the Edo era, this social institution had dominated the world of nagauta, valuing blood relationship over talent, compelling musicians to purchase expensive licenses that did not accurately reflect musical skills, and making rich a few high-ranking musicians who financially exploited the many lower-ranking musicians, such as his own father.

The young nagauta musician in this story was born Kikuoka Shinobu on December 12, , and changed his name as an adult from Shinobu to Hiroaki. Throughout his professional career, Kikuoka had witnessed, and played a major role in, the changing currents of the traditional Japanese music scene. Although the modest, unassuming Kikuoka often downplayed his own importance, his lifelong career in music had a direct effect on the social and artistic trends in nagauta during the period of his career.


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This first chapter of my subject-centered ethnography of Kikuoka focuses on his experiences as a nagauta musician in order to introduce traditional Japanese music as part of a shaping process—a process by which the individual musician shapes, and is shaped by, the world into which he is thrown. The shamisen lit. The earliest use of the instrument was probably by blind priests who previously used the biwa wooden, pear-shaped, four-string lute and found the new instrument equally suitable for their narrative storytelling Malm Genres of shamisen music created during Edo are classified into two broad categories according to their vocal style and lyric content.

Genres based on narrative storytelling are classified as katarimono narrative songs and those with more lyrical content are classified as utamono lyric songs , although elements of both storytelling and lyrical poetry are present in most genres. The growth of shamisen music during the Edo period is directly linked to the development of kabuki, the main theatrical form that dominated during this time.

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A product of the kabuki theater, nagauta is closely linked to kabuki in terms of its historical development and its formal structure. In spite of its origins in religious dance, kabuki quickly evolved into a bawdy collection of dances performed by prostitutes advertising their services until women were banned completely by the Tokugawa government in Shively Eventually kabuki became the most popular theater form of the Edo era and had absorbed many other forms of Japanese performing arts.

The popular appeal and growing sophistication of kabuki cut across class divisions, drawing audiences from all four ranks of the government-enforced social hierarchy—from the top-ranking samurai warrior class to the secondand third-ranked farmers and artisans, to the lowest-ranking merchant class Gerstle — By the mid-seventeeth century shamisen music had been adopted into kabuki, where its primary theatrical function was to provide musical accompaniment to the dance portions of kabuki performances.

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Initially short lyric songs kouta were used, but as kabuki grew in popularity and productions became more elaborate, longer dances Shaped by Japanese music 16 were created, for which longer shamisen works were needed Malm In this way, nagauta developed as the main supporting music for the dances of kabuki. Like kabuki, nagauta itself became a musical melting pot as it absorbed other music genres. Although classified as a lyric genre, nagauta absorbed several narrative genres of shamisen music which have since become either defunct or extremely rare in Japan today.

During the nineteenth century the various art forms contained in kabuki began to expand beyond the professional concert stage through the popularity of lessons and amateur performances. As these compositions without dance were meant to allow the music to stand on its own, they tended to feature more displays of virtuosity in both the vocal and shamisen parts with more extended instrumental interludes.

A few of the early compositions of this music have become durable nagauta standards that are still performed today, such as Azuma Hakkei , Oimatsu and Aki no Irokusa , a piece originally without drum accompaniment which may have been a reaction against kabuki dance music Malm Although nagauta never lost its prominent role as dance accompaniment in kabuki, many musicians continued to perform and compose purely concert pieces, some of the more successful pieces resulting in dances being choreographed for them after the fact.

It is this concert style of nagauta that Kikuoka promoted throughout his professional career.

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Apart from a few important compositions at the beginning of the twentieth century, very few compositions since the nineteenth century have had any significant impact on the currently active repertoire of about nagauta compositions. The development of two different nagauta notation systems in the early part of the twentieth century have expanded teaching possibilities and helped preserved the works of what is essentially an oral tradition ibid.

Kikuoka himself was at the center of a significant major development in twentieth-century nagauta—the founding of a new nagauta society that sought to modernize the social structure of nagauta performance and pedagogy. But what initially set this new group apart from other nagauta societies was its fundamental rejection of the dominant social system of the Japanese arts known as iemoto.

Although the word ryu is commonly used to refer to such organizations in the arts, the concept of iemoto is rooted in the traditional organization of the Japanese family. Although continuity traditionally is intended to be maintained through primogeniture inheritance by the eldest son , this type of succession is not always the case.

Male or female inheritance as well as adoptions may occur. Thus the use of the word ie house over the word kazoku family provides insight into the nature of this type of family organization. The ie is best understood not as a kinshipbased group but as a corporate group holding some kind of property such as a plot of land, a business or an artistic practice Kondo Ie in the arts is characterized by the existence of a household head or iemoto and a real or virtual family made up of practitioners and teachers of the art.

Although there may be differences in structure that vary from group to group, what has come to be known as the iemoto system in the arts is characterized by three main characteristics as outlined by Ortolani: 1 a head of the house, or iemoto, who holds the exclusive rights of preserving and transmitting the artistic tradition; 2 hierarchical teacher-disciple relationships, such as the relationship Shaped by Japanese music 18 between the iemoto and the most senior, highest-ranking players, and the relationships between those high-ranking players and their students; 3 a teaching method that entails a private, one-on-one experience of direct, imitative learning from teacher to student.

This last point is of central importance in Japanese art in that intellectual or abstract knowledge of the art in the form of a text is considered to be of little use if a student has no access to personal guidance from a teacher ibid. The iemoto system is so deeply embedded in Japanese society that, in spite of the legal abolishment of the ie as a legal unit in the Civil Code drawn up during the Allied Occupation following World War II, the system is still pervasive in the arts Hendry Because of its negative connotations of feudalism in modern Japan, it is not uncommon for artists to explain that their school is not an iemoto system.

However, the identifying characteristics of iemoto as outlined above are still found in many schools of Japanese music today. Regarding the first characteristic listed above, traditional music organizations are invariably led by a single master musician who sets the artistic standard to be imitated by all members and grants licenses to perform and teach the music. Licensing is typically done by granting stage names natori and licenses shihan to individuals who have achieved the appropriate level of skill, giving the bearer the necessary level of status to participate in professional concert activity or teach the art to others.

Stage names in nagauta are typically created by combining the last name of the founder of the school with a first name which often includes at least one Chinese character taken from the name of the students actual teacher. The family name Kineya has been, and continues to be, the most common name in nagauta shamisen music with about 30 branches, all claiming a connection to the supposed originator of nagauta music, Kineya Kangoro, who performed during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries Malm Regarding the second characteristic of teacher-disciple hierarchy, iemoto schools of music are structured hierarchically with the iemoto at the top, followed by the highestranking players taught directly by the iemoto.


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  6. The continuance of an iemoto organization is made possible only by obtaining a significant number of amateur students who will support the iemoto through the payment of lesson fees and an accompanying loyalty Ortolani The third general characteristic of iemoto systems, direct one-on-one teaching, is the only method in which Japanese music can be learned if a student wishes to learn the music of a particular school.

    Notated scores in Japanese music, for example, tend to provide only a minimal amount of information and function mainly as a mnemonic device for remembering the work as learned by rote during the lesson. Direct transmission of the music through private lessons with a teacher is at the core of Japanese music and is the preferred method of teachers such as Kikuoka who, although vehe mently opposed to an iemoto system, maintained this traditional method of teaching.

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    Under American occupation and ideological influence, ideas of modernity and democracy were becoming increasingly influential in Japan. In the late s plans were being made for the existing Tokyo Music Academy to be absorbed into one single fine arts university to constitute what is now known as Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku Tokyo University of the Fine Arts , commonly referred to by the abbreviation Geidai.

    Concerning traditional Japanese music, there was disagreement as to how to forge the musical future of Japan. The founders of Geidai believed that traditional Japanese music had no place in a modern fine arts university and planned a music program that only included Western classical music composition and performance. When traditional musicians banded together to protest this omission, they were told that Japanese music had several inherent weaknesses that prevented it from being on an equal level with Western music. The project administrator cited as evidence that Japanese music had no single music theory, could not be taught by a single methodology, was divided into too many competing guilds, and was not capable of raising moral and spiritual character as was Western classical music.

    Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo
    Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo
    Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo
    Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo
    Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo
    Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo
    Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo
    Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo

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