Japanese traditional music
Gagaku is the oldest music in Japan, and it is based on the music for
ceremony from old China, Korea or southern Asia. It is formed by the
Now Gagaku is played at all ceremonies of Emperor's family, and we can
sometimes hear the Gagaku at Shinto shrine.
Gagaku is the music played by an orchestra of Japanese oldest
instruments without a conductor. The sound has magical harmony and is
quite different from western music.
Sometimes a dance or a song is added.
About Gagaku : From the homepage
Instruments of Gagaku
The instruments used in Gagaku are three types like western orchestra.
They are wind instruments, string ones and percussion ones.
In western orchestra, string instruments like violin are main parts,
but wind instruments are main in Gagaku.
Commonly there are 3 players for each instrument.
: It's an instruments bundled 17 pipes of bamboo which
have different lengths. This plays the harmony of music.
: It's a small recorder. This plays the main
: It's a flute. There are 3 kinds of Outeki. These
support the sound of Hichiriki.
Commonly there are 2 players for each instrument.
: It has 4 strings, and resembles a guitar. Usually a
plectrum is use to play.
: It's a Japanese harp. Some strings are set on a
Commonly there are 1 player for each instrument.
: It's a small sideways drum. This player sets the
tempo of music.
: It's a large drum. It is hung in a frame.
: It is a metallic round board like bowl.
Hougaku means all kinds of Japanese traditional music.
Usually we use this word except Gagaku and modern Japanese pop songs.
So Hougaku contains very various musics. The music played in Kabuki,
Noh, Kyogen and Bunraku are also contained in it.
Many music have songs. Some songs are sung with chorus, but it is a
small-group. And they are mostly sung in unison.
Additionally the accompaniment is played only a few instruments.
Of course, there are the music for only instruments.
Usually when a song is sung, the voice takes the melody line of the
music, and the accompaniments only supports the voice.
Singers chant a words rather than sing a song. So the melody of Hougaku
The musical scale is basically considered D,F,G,A,C in major mode and
E,F,A,B,D in minor mode.
And in Okinawan music, it is C,E,F,G,B, so it has tropical mood.
Popular instruments of Hougaku
The popular instruments of Hougaku are the followings.
: It's a plucked string instruments. It
has a drum-like rounded rectangular body, and a thin and long neck
without frets. It has 3 strings and is played with a plectrum.
: It's a recorder made of bamboo. It has no
reed, so how to play it is like flute.
: It's a Japanese harp.
: It's a flute. We usually say it with an easy word
: It's a portable drum. Player can beat on the both
: It's an Okinawan shamisen. Snake skin is used on
the body. It is essencial to Okinawan music.
Japanese folk songs
There are many folk songs all over Japan. It is one category
Since a long time ago, people has been singing in each regions.
Japanese folk songs are mostly sung with only voice, but accompaniment
is sometimes added on a show.
Famous folk songs
The famous folk songs are as follows.
: Southern Hokkaido. It's a song of herring
"Yaaren sooran sooran..."
Jongara-bushi : Western Aomori prefecture. It has
virtuoso performance of playing shamisen.
: Miyagi prefecture. It's a song of great
catch of fish.
region in Fukushima prefecture. Bandaisan is a volcano, and it's a song
of promise of harvest.
"Aizu-Bandaisan wa takara no yama..."
in Niigata prefecture. It's a song of melancholiness as an outlying
"Sado e, Sado eto, kusaki mo nabikuyo..."
: Tochigi or Gunma prefecture. It's a most rhythmical and cheery folk
song in Japan.
"Choito demashita, sankaku-yarou ga..."
: For Bon-odori in Tokyo it is composed in 1932.
"Odori odoru nara
: Southern Nagano prefecture. It's a song for Bon-odori of the region
in the deep mountains.
"Kiso no naa, nakanori-san..."
: Shimane prefecture. It has much song, but it is famous as a song of
humorous dance for catching loachs in the mud of rice field.
: Kagawa prefecture. It's a song of the god of sea, and "fune" means
ship. It's a rhythmical song and endless.
"Konpira-funefune, ofune ni ho kakete..."
: Kochi prefecture. It's a song of a pleasure for adults.
"Tosa no Kochi no..."
: Fukuoka prefecture. It's a song of a heavy-drinker.
"Sake wa nome, nome. Nomunaraba, ..."
: Kumamoto prefecture. It's a song of a newly-married girl. She already
bosses her husband.
"Otemoyan! Anta konogoro..."
: Okinawa prefecture. It's a love song, but there are various songs
which have different words. The melody is beautiful.
"Saa, kimi wa nonaka no ibara no hana ka? ..."
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