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  • mykoto220

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

Dr. Marlene Mayo, emeritus history professor of University of Maryland, sent me an old photograph of little girls playing the koto. My initial reaction was,”Oh, how cute,” but upon close scrutiny, I found they were of the Yamada school of koto music. I could tell because of their oval plectrum. Plus, they are seated perpendicular to the koto, and they were playing on very beautiful kotos with wavy designs on the wood. Plus, the ivory bridges meant it was a special occasion. And it was. Elenor Roosevelt had visited Japan after the war and the little girls were posing for her.

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  • mykoto220

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

I wrote a book for the general public called, Japan’s Musical Tradition: Hogaku from Prehistory to the Present. The title may sound daunting but really, the less you know about Western music, the easier it is to understand Japanese music. This is because without any preconceived notion about music, you will be able to approach it with an open mind.

Basically the book illustrates how Japanese music developed from a different musical tree. The roots were anchored on different soil and nurtured by remote people with their own needs and logic for music. As a consequence, the resulting fruit is different but just as beautiful, tempting, and nutritious to the human soul.

To follow the development of Japanese music, I start with Japan’s pre-prehistoric people’s beliefs and aesthetics, particularly the Shinto norito (religious incantation) that are relevant today. Musical elements gleaned from the incantations carry a certain Japanese-ness, like mitochondria, that have been passed onto new genres by every generation of composers. Recently, the late NHK conductor, Hiroyuki Iwaki, said that the works of today’s composers contain the embedded Japanese philosophy. This book helps discover the Japanese musical mitochondria persistent in Japanese music.

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  • Writer's pictureMiyuki Yoshikami

1. Hi. A dear friend read my book Japan’s Musical Tradition and wrote: “I confess that I truly am not able to follow much of the discussion about music per se, though I certainly get the basic points.”

I wrote my book with the idea that both readers who generally enjoy books about music and readers who want to dig into the blood, bones, and sinews of music could find something to like. I think if you're more in the former category and want to get the gist of Japanese music, you could try reading the Introduction, chapters 1, 2, and 3 and then chapter 8 to the end. The in-between chapters (so, chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7) are more technical. You may find it helpful to read the first few paragraphs and then skip to the summary of the in-between chapters.

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