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  • Writer's pictureMiyuki Yoshikami

Lecture on Hogaku at Keisho Center, the Washington Japanese Heritage Center

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The lecture began with why I, an American, play the koto considered out-of-date by the Japanese.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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