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  • Writer's pictureMiyuki Yoshikami

Chihoko Nakashima, my koto teacher, introduced sushi at Kawafuku, an upscale Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, owned jointly with her husband, Tokijiro.

In the early 1960s, Mr. Nakatoshi Kanai of Mutual Trading Company approached them to open a sushi bar. Tokijiro was reluctant, concerned about keeping fish fresh but Chihoko said, “Why not? It will be wonderful.” She is credited for boldly introducing sushi when the thought of raw fish was unappealing to most Americans.

Today Kawafuku is listed as one of the 13 restaurants that changed Los Angeles’ cuisine forever ( (see gallery).

Mrs. Nakashima may not have known how one day sushi would change all of America's

palate. Walk through any deli section of any supermarket today and invariably, you will see sushi being sold. Here is a photo taken at Wegman’s in Washington, DC.

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Video of Zoom presentation on April 24, 2021

(Hogaku is Japanese music before Western influence.)

The Keisho Center, founded in 2003 for children to learn the Japanese language and culture without the pressure demanded in schools of Japan. Keisho now has over a hundred students. As part of their culture study, I was asked to talk about koto music. Mia Saidel, a former student of Keisho, and I, played the koto for the school but when Covid struck in 2020, I presented a solo Zoom lecture.

The lecture began with why I, an American, play the koto considered out-of-date by the Japanese. The irony is that koto composers such as Yatsuhashi Kengyo, are contemporaries of Western composers whose music is novel to the Japanese. As for koto music, I found that my Western audience prefer to hear real Japanese music on a Japanese instrument, which is fresh to them. I began by explaining the source of Japanese music from its pre-historic culture, their beliefs, Shinto rituals, poetic recitations, to the music of koto. For contrast, I used the lyrics of Kongo Seki (Diamond) adopted to both the Western and koto melodies.

Although the Japanese have embraced Western music as their own, of all the cultural exchanges, from Japanese food, literature, arts, etc., music is the most difficult to cross over the cultural divide because it is ephemeral in character and cannot be held, smelled, or tasted.

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  • Writer's pictureMiyuki Yoshikami

Go to Podcast: Making Musical Waves: The Legacy of Yatsuhashi

(Image by Sotatsu Tawaraya from Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution)

I performed on November 14, 2015, at the National Museum of Asian Art, Freer auditorium "Rokudan" and "Chidori no Kyoku" with Kurahashi Yodo and his wife, Ayako, and the Cantate Chamber Singers. Also from Japan, Tominaga Seijo and Tomio Seiritsu performed an ancient kumi-uta, the shamisen hit,"Sarashi," and sankyoku,"Hagi no Kyoku."

Yatsuhashi Kengyo (1614-1685) was chosen for this concert to show the musical

changes that paralleled the works of the painter, Tawaraya Sotatsu’s (1570-1640) “Making

Waves” (Oct 20, 2015-January 31, 2016).

Sotatsu’s novel, daring, lavish colors, use of gold, and stylized designs of abstract waves

have been reproduced by artists who later followed him. Similarly, blind Yatsuhashi defied

the ban on playing the Tsukushi koto--a style prohibited to women and blind musicians—and

surreptitiously learned to play it. His daring opened the koto for merchants, women, or

everyone to enjoy, and even play it in an ensemble with the commoner’s shamisen (3-

stringed) and shakuhachi (bamboo flute).

The concert began with Yatsuhashi’s kumi-uta (collections of songs) and dan-mono (sectioned instrumental) music. This program includes the shamisen’s new style piece that followed, a frolicsome duet called “Sarashi” (Dying Fabrics). The concept of the kumi-uta was extended in the next piece, "Chidori no Kyoku (Plovers)", with the expressions of birds in flight over dancing waves in the tegoto (instrumental interlude). An ethereal dimension is added to "Chidori" with Gary Davison’s chorale work in the vocal section. The final piece, "Hagi no Kyoku (Bush clover)," epitomizes the music that evolved from Yatsuhashi. This is an example of the refinement and sophistication associated with Japan’s high art music of sankyoku (three instruments).

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