The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Contemporary Rendition of Traditional Styles of Japanese Music (Hogaku) Kazumi Narabe (Journalist)
Hogaku in compulsory education and other major changes
Education has gone through changes to be consistent with the times. In 1998, the Ministry of Education (the present Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) revised its curriculum guidelines, making it compulsory to teach about traditional Japanese musical instruments in junior high school music classes starting in 2002. The ministry also included in its primary school guidelines a strong recommendation to use traditional instruments in music classes.
It is now mandatory for college students studying to be music teachers to take courses in traditional Japanese songs and drums. With this "big bang" in music education - 130 years after the previous reformation - teachers and schools that have been studying and teaching Western classical music are making a concerted attempt to change their focus.
The first to react to this shift was the music industry. Leading companies, including Yamaha Corporation, were also eager to develop new instruments. Traditional instruments are very expensive and made from natural materials that are difficult to repair. In addition, these instruments are made by ultra-small-scale enterprises and couldn’t produce the quantity required for schools. The educational changes developed a market for inexpensive, easy-to-manage, mass-produced instruments, and a new range of traditional instruments was created to meet this demand.
In order to reduce costs, drums were made by joining thinned wood together, and the body was coated with plastic, instead of hollowing out a tree trunk and stretching animal skin over the head - a process that costs several million yen. The koto was shortened to two-thirds its original length for easier handling, and manufacturers used high-density plywood for the body instead of expensive paulownia wood. The cheaper production methods were meant to give people easier access to the instruments and to win more advocates of hogaku, including those who have wanted to practice it but had second thoughts because of the cost. Meanwhile, development of instruments had been going on to satisfy the desire of musicians seeking a more sonorous sound. This is represented by the electric shamisen, "Mugen 21," developed in 1990. The emergence of this instrument allowed the shamisen to be played with high-volume drums and synthesizers, and this has further broadened the field for young musicians.

Barriers between music schools erode quickly
Hogaku had for a long time passed on its artistic tradition through ryuha, the branches of schools operated by disciples of the iemoto, the founding family of a school. This system effectively hands down intangible culture in a consistent fashion. At the same time, however, even with the same instrument being used, different schools employ their own method for music notation and there is constraint on playing with the musicians from other schools. Although Japanese classical music may be a single category, there is music that certain schools are prohibited from playing because of iemoto rules. This is a factor blocking the musical development of hogaku.
However, the rise of young musicians has created a spurt of activity that crosses traditional boundaries. There was recently an incident in the shakuhachi world that symbolizes this trend. In the past, a specific shakuhachi honkyoku (solo piece) of Kinkoryu (a particular school) had been passed on at a mendicant Zen temple (Komusodera). This piece was not to be performed by players of other schools, but any shakuhachi player would want to play this piece during the course of their career and there was an unending demand to learn it. Tozanryu (another school) finally succeeded in inviting a Kinkoryu player to hold a workshop.
The trend for people of the younger generation opening live houses dedicated to hogaku, and music competitions featuring traditional instruments and vocals at the National Theater of Japan held uninterruptedly, for instance. As you can see just from these examples, for the past five years the world of hogaku went through a transition that can be described as a period of storm-and-stress. Yet the interest of the media and the public has not reached the real world of classical Japanese music. The growing interest is still in a phase at which people are drawn to novelties like Beatles songs and other rock pieces played with the koto and shakuhachi. Meanwhile, both koto and shakuhachi advocates are falling in number and fewer people are playing. "Classics are the cream," says shakuhachi player Hozan Yamamoto, but there are players emerging who are good in contemporary music but unable to play the classics. The fact is that the new shift is toward a mixture of Japanese and Western music, and current musical expression based on the traditions of hogaku has significant scope to mature.
Lastly, what follows is a brief note on Japanese drums that have also bocome very popular overseas. Their popularity comes from the easy- to-learn technique and the wide age range of the drummers. The towns in some regions are taking the initiative in forming drum groups to revitalize the tradition. These steps have resulted in so many professional and amateur groups being formed that the actual figure is unknown. Since World War II, creative drumming developed from regional entertainment like festivals. This was referred to as "contemporary folk art," although a majority of the performances are fairly standard and there are few professionals who have actually developed the music into something worthy of admiration. Above all, HAYASHI Eitetsu is an outstanding asset and a trailblazer among soloists who pursue artistic quality in music and refined stage direction. Kodo, a school producing many drummers (Hayashi graduated from this school), is notable for drum groups. In the generation following Hayashi, the work of HIDANO Shuichi, ETO Leonard and Tokyo Dagekidan are drawing attention.
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