Japanese Music, traditional music of Japan, performed by small ensembles of instruments and voices. Compositions often follow a three-part pattern called jo-ha-kyu, which consists of an introduction, a scattering effect in the central section, and a rushing effect near the end of the piece. This pattern has permeated much of Japanese music and applies to individual musical phrases as well as to entire compositions.
II. Music for Worship
The music of Shinto, the ancient Japanese religion, is called kagura ("god music"). It is used on formal occasions at shrines or imperial functions and at Shinto folk festivals. The songs and dances are meant to praise the gods and to entertain them. Music at seasonal festivals is performed on drums, rattles, and flutes. Dancers at these festivals perform inside and outside the shrines; their performances are interspersed with chants to the gods.
Music at a Buddhist temple in Japan is chanted in one of three languages: Sanskrit, Chinese, or Japanese. The music is marked by highly ornamental singing and free rhythm, and bells and chimes are sounded intermittently. The bon-odori dances of the o-bon festival are mainly restrained in motion. They are accompanied by singers and sometimes by flute, drum, and shamisen, a three-stringed lute.
III. Court Music
The ancient court music of Japan (gagaku) has its origins as far back as the 8th century; it is derived mainly from China and Korea. Gagaku orchestras may consist of as many as 17 musicians playing woodwinds, plucked-string, and percussion instruments. The winds include a flute, usually of the type known as ryuteki; a short double-reed pipe called hichiriki; and a sho, a free-reed mouth organ consisting of 17 bamboo pipes inserted in a globular wind chest with a mouth hole. The flute and the double-reed pipe play the melody while the mouth organ provides a cluster of background tones. Phrases of music are marked off by the sounds of a small horizontal two-headed drum (kakko), a large hanging drum (taiko), and a small gong (shoko), as well as by short melodies and arpeggios played on a four-stringed lute (biwa) and a thirteen-stringed zither ( koto). Gagaku music utilizes six modes, or scales, of Chinese origin, all derived from two basic pentatonic (five-note) scales: ryo, D E F-sharp A B (D), plus G and C-sharp as auxiliary notes; and ritsu, G A C D E (G), plus auxiliary B and F. The meters in gagaku music are basically duple (in twos).
IV. Dramatic Music
Theatrical music during the early Middle Ages was influenced by earlier Buddhist music and consisted of lute accompaniments to narrations called heikebiwa and of music for no dramas. The lute accompaniments consist of set melodic and rhythmic patterns often representing specific emotions or situations. The no music contains parts for voices as well as for instruments. The actors or a chorus sing while instrumentalists accompany them on the shoulder drum (ko tsuzumi) and hip drum (o tsuzumi). The entire instrumental ensemble (called hayashi) also includes a flute (nokan), which signals formal divisions within the drama, adds color to lyric moments, and accompanies dances, for which the taiko drum is also used. No music makes use of set melodic and rhythmic patterns within prescribed forms, but it is played in flexible tempos. Variations in tempo in no music are signaled by the drummers.
The most popular form of traditional Japanese theater is kabuki, which began in the early 17th century and was well established by the mid-17th century. Kabuki music makes use of instrumentalists and singers, most of whom sit at the back of the stage; others remain offstage to provide sound effects and special incidental music. The main form of dance music in kabuki is nagauta, performed by the no instrumental group and the shamisen. The most famous form of music used in puppet plays is called gidayu.
V. Chamber Music
After 1500 music for the solo instruments, the shamisen and the koto, became popular. Originally the music for both instruments consisted of suites of short, unrelated songs (kumiuta). Koto music, however, developed some forms that are wholly instrumental and others that were partly instrumental and partly vocal. An example of the wholly instrumental form is danmono, which consists of a theme and variations. An example of the combined instrumental and vocal form is the jiuta, in which vocal and instrumental interludes appear alternately. One to three kotos are used in the instrumental interludes, often supplemented by a shamisen and a shakuhachi, an end-blown flute. Shamisen music is of two types: utaimono, lyric pieces for home entertainment and theatrical music for kabuki drama and puppet plays. The koto is usually tuned in one of two pentatonic scales of indigenous origin: the in, D E-flat G A B-flat (D), auxiliary notes, F and C; and the yo, D F G A C (D), auxiliary E and B-flat.
VI. The Modern Period
When Mutsuhito became emperor of Japan, as Meiji, in 1867, Western influences began to be accepted, and composers developed new forms based on Western models. Japan now has many excellent orchestras and opera companies, and the music taught in public schools is primarily Western. Nevertheless, ancient traditional music remains popular. One teacher responsible for the introduction of European modes was Suzuki Shin'ichi, who was trained in Berlin. He also devised a highly acclaimed method of teaching music (especially the violin) to young children, which has been adopted by several United States music schools. Takemitsu Toru, one of Japan's foremost modern composers, has sought to produce a new music using Japanese instruments in a Western manner. Requiem for Strings (1957) is one of his most frequently performed works. His November Steps (1967), a double concerto for orchestra and Japanese instruments, was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and he also composed several pieces for American pianist Peter Serkin.
VII. Folk Music
Japanese folk music, which is of ancient origin, exists primarily in the form of religious festival music, work songs, and dance accompaniments. Folk entertainments, such as masked dances, folk theatricals, and community dancing, all include musical parts or accompaniments. The non-Japanese tribes of northern Japan, the Ainu, have a separate musical tradition that suggests ancient links to northern Asia.