Hogaku: An Introduction to Traditional Japanese Music
The word hogaku (邦楽) literally means “Japanese music” in the Japanese language. It is used to refer to traditional Japanese music, as opposed to Western music (yamato-gaku). Hogaku includes a wide range of genres, from court music (gagaku) and folk music (min’yō) to more modern forms such as enka and kayōkyoku.
2. What is Hogaku?
Hogaku encompasses a wide range of musical styles and traditions from different parts of Japan. The three main types of hogaku are gagaku (court music), min’yō (folk music), and shigin (a type of song recitation).
Gagaku is the oldest type of hogaku, dating back to the 7th century. It was originally performed at the imperial court by musicians from China and Korea. Gagaku instruments include the hichiriki (a double-reed wind instrument), the sho (a kind of mouth organ), and the taiko (a drum). The most famous gagaku piece is “Sakura,” which is often played at Japanese weddings.
Min’yō is folk music that originated in the countryside. It was traditionally sung by farmers and fishermen as they worked, or during festivals and other celebrations. Min’yō songs often deal with themes such as love, loss, and nature. The most popular min’yō instruments are the shamisen (a three-stringed lute) and the fue (a flute).
Shigin is a type of song recitation that was originally developed in China. It was introduced to Japan in the 8th century, and became popular among the Imperial Court and samurai class. Shigin uses a unique form of poetry called tanka, which consists of five lines of unequal length. The first three lines have five syllables each, while the fourth line has seven syllables, and the fifth line has five syllables again. Shigin performers use various techniques to bring out the meaning of the poem, such as changing their vocal inflection and using different types of breathing.
3. The History of Hogaku
The history of hogaku can be divided into three periods: the Heian period (794-1185), the Edo period (1603-1868), and the Meiji period (1868-1912).
During the Heian period, gagaku was introduced to Japan from China and Korea. The Japanese imperial court adapted many aspects of Chinese culture, including gagaku. This period also saw the development of shigin, which quickly became popular among the samurai class.
The Edo period was a time of peace and stability in Japan, after centuries of warring between rival clans. This allowed for a flourishing of arts and culture, including hogaku. Many new genres emerged during this time, such as noh theater and kabuki theater. Folk music also became more popular, as people had more leisure time to listen to it.
The Meiji period was a time of great change in Japan. The country opened its doors to Western civilization, and began to rapidly modernize itself. Hogaku underwent a major transformation during this time, as Western music became more popular. Many traditional instruments were replaced by Western ones, and Western musical forms such as the symphony began to be performed.
4. The Different Types of Hogaku
As mentioned before, there are three main types of hogaku: gagaku, min’yō, and shigin. Each type has its own unique history and characteristics.
Gagaku is the oldest form of hogaku, dating back to the 7th century. It is characterized by its use of traditional Chinese and Korean instruments, and by its stately and elegant style. Gagaku pieces are often very long, and can take hours to perform.
Min’yō is a type of folk music that originated in the countryside. It is characterized by its simple melodies and lyrics, which often deal with everyday life themes such as love, loss, and nature. Min’yō is typically performed with traditional Japanese instruments such as the shamisen and the fue.
Shigin is a type of song recitation that uses tanka poetry. It is characterized by its use of breath control and vocal inflection to bring out the meaning of the poem. Shigin was originally developed in China, but it quickly became popular in Japan during the Heian period.
5. Hogaku in the Modern World
Hogaku has undergone a number of changes in the modern world. The most significant change has been the increasing popularity of Western music, which has led to a decline in the popularity of hogaku. Many traditional instruments have been replaced by Western ones, and Western musical forms such as the symphony have become more popular.
Despite these changes, hogaku has remained an important part of Japanese culture. Traditional instruments such as the koto and shamisen are still played, and folk music continues to be popular. In recent years, there has even been a resurgence in interest in gagaku, with many young people learning to play traditional instruments such as the hichiriki and sho.
Hogaku is a wide-ranging term that covers a variety of traditional Japanese musical styles and genres. It includes court music (gagaku), folk music (min’yō), and song recitation (shigin). Hogaku has a long history, dating back to the 7th century, when gagaku was first introduced to Japan from China and Korea. In the modern world, hogaku has undergone a number of changes, with the most significant being the increasing popularity of Western music. Despite these changes, hogaku remains an important part of Japanese culture, with traditional instruments such as the koto and shamisen still being played, and folk music continuing to be popular.
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