Category Archives: Japaneese Music

Takemitsu: Ma (間) in Music

Tōru Takemitsu was born in Tokyo 1930, being drafted into military service in 1944 as a teenager.

Post war Takemitsu started taking interest in Western classical music, at this point in life he rejected Japanese traditional music as it reminded him of Japanese nationalism and war.

Ma used in painting

At 16 Takemitsu started to compose. In the 1951s he was a founding member of Jikken Kōbō (実験工房) literally experimental workshop, a group of artists, musicians, choreographers and poets who were inspired by European and American avant-garde, during the 1950’s he was composing in a very modern western style.

ピアニストのためのコロナ – Corona for Pianist(s) 

for 1 or more pianos – 1962

In 1958 Igor Stravinsky during his visit to Japan, heard one of his compositions and invited him to lunch, this was a breakthrough and he soon got his first overseas commission, he wrote “Dorian Horizon”. Premièred by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Aaron Copland.

In his own words: “my mild protest against inorganic serialism.”….”no melodic thinking, only harmonic pitches. There is no thinking of rhythm, only pulse. It is a first sketch in my search for a new kind of polyphony.”

地平線のドーリア – Dorian Horizon – for 17 strings – 1966

During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Takemitsu took interest in John Cage’s music and philosophies, Cage’s interest in Zen woke his own interests in the qualities of Japanese traditional music, from this point he started studying traditional music and compose with hints of traditional Japan.

ノヴェンバー・ステップス – November Steps – 1967

for biwa, shakuhachi and orchestra

Ma (間) is a Japanese word, literally meaning (the) space (between ), the kanji is a combination of “door” and “sun” which can be interpreted as the space allowing the sunshine in. The use of Ma is very evident in Tōru Takemitsu compositions as periods of silence to strengthen the music.

そして、それが風であることを知った                                                          

And Then I Knew ‘Twas Wind  – for flute, viola and harp – 1992

Tōru Takemitsu died in 1996 as one of, if not the most influential Japanese composers of the century.

Leaving behind more than 400 works, amongst them 26 Orchestral works, 58 pieces of Chamber music, 35 works for the stage and 108 film scores, most famous the music for Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran”.

ブライス – Bryce – for flute, 2 harps and 2 percussion players – 1976

 

 

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Sukiyaki

The original version of ”Ue wo Muite Arukō” was included in the film and on the soundtrack album ”From Up On Poppy Hill” or “Kokuriko-zaka Kara” (2011) an Anime film by Gorō Miyazaki son of world famous Anime film maker Hayao Miyazaki.

 From Up On Poppy Hill” set in 1963 Yokohama

 

Rokusuke Ei wrote the original lyrics for ”Ue wo Muite Arukō” known as ”Sukiyaki”, there is two different versions to explain the lyrics, A: the political and B: the romantic.
A: Rokusuke was walking home from a protest over U.S. military presence in Japan, tears expressing his frustration with the situation.
B: Rokusuke had his heart broken by a Japanese actress by the name of Meiko Nakamura.

The original with translation:

The song was released 1961 in Japan by Kyu Sakamoto, Louis Benjamin of “Pye Records” heard the song in Japan and back in UK, an instrumental version was recorded by Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen making it to 10th at UK charts.

With the success of this recording, HMV released the original version on the British marked in 1963 more or less simultaneously DJ Richard Osborne’s from Pasco, Washington. Knew about the Kenny Ball version and got hold of the original Japanese which he put at frequent rotation in his radio show.

Capitol Records got the rights and released it on the US marked also as ”Sukiyaki” in 1963, notably ”Sukiyaki” is the name of a Japanese dish and the word is not mentioned in the song.

Danish Otto Brandenburg perform “Sukiyaki” with Swedish Lyrics (1963)

The song made it to no.1 on Billboard Hot 100, and with total sales figures at 13 million, it is by far the best selling single ever with lyrics not in English, to put it in perspective it has outsold any single by The Beatles.

American rhythm and blues group “A Taste of Honey”, known from their “Boogie Oogie Oogie” hitting in 1978, also had a hit with ”Sukiyaki” in 1981. Janice–Marie Johnson of “A Taste of Honey” made the English version of the lyrics, later used by many others artists.

The song has been used in many film and TV series, notably M*A*S*H uses it even though it was recorded long after the Korean War was over. It has also been recorded by lots of different artists in many languages.

Just under a month ago (13. April 2018) another version was released, as  producer, remixer, composer, and performer G.H. Hat released a ten-track remix album featuring dance remakes of “Sukiyaki”,on this video with vocals by Alina Renae and based on Janice–Marie Johnson’s lyrics.

 

Toshiko – Bebop with a Japanese twist

Toshiko Akiyoshi was born in 1929 in what is today know as Dalian, (formerly known as Darien or Port Arthur) Manchuria, at the time ruled by the Japanese after the victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.
Born from upper class parents, her father was a textile and steel mill owner, she and her sisters was brought up studying traditional Japanese dance, classic piano and ballet. Toshiko was addicted to the piano and soon focused of that.

As you can easily imagine the family luck changes dramatically in 1946 after the war. They were relocated to Beppu on the island of Kyushu in southern japan, with little money and only the belongings they could carry. Resulting in the fact that Toshiko Akiyoshi now 7 years old no longer had a piano.

From “The Subject is Jazz” 1958

Japan was full of American soldiers after the war, and entertainment establishments opened offering dance music. Toshiko Akiyoshi got a job playing in a dance band getting access to a piano and could practise classic piano outside working hours. One day a Japanese record collector heard her play and introduced her to Jazz playing a recording of Afro-American jazz pianist Teddy Wilson.

From “Her Trio, Her Quartet” – “Thou Swell” 1956

This was a revolution to the young Toshiko Akiyoshi, she started listening to and practice Jazz, in 1950 she moved to Tokyo to start up her own band. In 1952 pianist Oscar Peterson saw Akiyoshi playing in a club and soon Toshiko was recording her first album “Toshiko’s Piano” with members of Oscar Peterson’s band in Radio Tokyo Studio. The first two albums was dominate by covers of American Jazz, but on the third “The Toshiko Trio” (1956) it was mainly her own compositions. Recorded in New York City after she moved to US to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston

From “The Toshiko Trio” – “Kyoshu” 1956

In the 1960’s she was living in both Tokyo and New York, when not turing.

In 1964 her daughter Michiru Mariano was born, but she was divorced in 1967 from the father, two years later she married saxophonist Lew Tabackin.

Inspired by an interview with Duke Ellington expressing how proud he was of his race, Toshiko Akiyoshi gained interest in how to incorporate Japanese culture and music in her writing.

This was first attempted on Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin Big Band’s album “Kogun” (1974), and came to its full on their album “Insights” (1976), on the brilliant sidelong Jazz suite “Minamata”.

Nowhere near Japanese traditional music, but complex Jazz with a slight Japanese twist.

From “Insights” – “Minamata” 1976

To be continued

For additional reading on the subject I can recommend this great article by Susan Fleet,  generally a rich source of information on pioneering women in music.

 

 

Yume no Fusion

Japanese Kenso was originally formed in 1974, but founding and the only consistent member to this date, Yoshihisa Shimizu departed for Kanagawa Dental College and the band went on hiatus, but reformed in 1979 to released their first self-titled vinyl in 1981.

Yoshihisa Shimizu often comes to stage in a lab coat, to reflect his daytime trade.

The style on the debut was instrumental and very inspired by early 70’s British Progressive Rock.

 

Over the next few albums Kenso’s music changed towards a more Jazz Rock inspired style, British acts like Brand X or Bruford comes to mind, but also Return to Forever and many others.

That said Kenso is far from copying anyone, they have their own sound and style and I believe you can also sense something very Japanese in their music.

 

Besides the wonderful Hiromi Uehara  (a very different story altogether). Kenso is as far as I know the most well-known Jazz Rock artist coming from Japan and for very good reason, their music is very varied and complex, touching many subgenres of (prog) Rock and Jazz fussion, mostly instrumental but never boring or one-sided.

Current lineup:

清水義央  (Yoshihisa Shimizu) Guitars

小口健一 (Kenichi Oguchi) Keyboards

光田健一 (Kenichi Mitsuda) Keyboads

三枝俊治 (Shunji Saegusa) Bass

小森啓資 (Keisuke Komori)Drums

 

 

Kenso have made 10 studio albums, the latest in 2014, and a serie of live albums. They are also featured with 5 tracks on “Live at Progfest-2000” DVD released by Musea.

Kenso played NEARfest 2005

 

 

Akuma Kogure – Evil spirit of japanese glam metal

Demon Kakka (デーモン閣下) previously known as Demon Kogure (デーモン小暮閣)Is an Akuma, an evil kami (spirit) masquerading in the human realm. Born 98,038 years before Western civilizations calendar began, in Downtown Jigoku, a realm reserved for humans who are brought here and punished for disobeying the rules of Makai, a place of terror and suffering for humans, a place of merrymaking and joviality for Akuma’s.

As Demon Kogure

In the Human world he is Japanese musician, singer, songwriter, actor, author, television/radio personality, music and stage producer, motion picture and music video director, critic, etc.

As Demon Kogure

He was the frontman of the heavy metal band Seikima-II from 1982–1999, his solo music is very varied, ranging from pop to metal, often with a clear japanese flavor. He is known to always work entirely in character.

With Seikima-II

Demon has released 12 albums with Seikima-II, 9 solo albums under various names, 5 VHS/DVD’s, appeared in video games, made game music, was the voiceover for The Joker (Jack Nicholson) in Japanese version of Batman, and have made guest performances on a series of albums. In 1994 Demon appeared on Larry King Live, becoming the first Japanese musician to do so.

As “His Excellency Demon Kakka” performing King Crimson’s “The Court of the Crimson King” from 1969

Rin’

Rin’ was a Japanese female trio, created by three graduated from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 2003. They performed a groundbreaking combination of J-pop style songs, with the use of traditional Japanese instruments.

With their music and expression they connect the traditions and aesthetic of the old Japan, with the Modern Japanese pop culture. Rin’ was :
Chie – 新井智恵 (Chie Arai) and Mana – 吉永真奈 (Mana Yoshinaga) koto, sangen, and jushichi-gen, Tomoca – 長須与佳 (Tomoca Nagasu) biwa and shakuhachi.

They have released four singles and several albums.Most notably Inland Sea released in both the U.S. and in Europe 2006. Their songs have been used as themes for anime and movies. According to the band’s website in 2009 Rin’ put an end to their activities and decided to disband.

Koenji hyakkei – Hundred Sights of Koenji

Koenji hyakkei (高円寺百景), was a Japanese avant-garde band, debuting in 1994. Koenji hyakkei translates into “Hundred Sights of Koenji”, what is also the title on the debut album. Koenji being an area in Tokyo, with a young population and a lot of small “live music house” hosting a crowded live music scene. Koenji is known to be the birthplace of Japanese Punk.

Im not sure, but I can’t help thinking that the title is a reference to the popular series of woodblock prints, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (名所江戸百景 Meisho Edo Hyakkei ), published in 1856–59. The album cover also features (what seems to be ?) a woodblock print. Edo ( 江戸) was until 1868 the name for Tokyo.

One of the sights of Edo
100_views_edo_044

Headed by the super talented drummer Tatsuya Yoshida, Koenji hyakkei is an offshoot of Japanese cult duo RUINS.

“Hundred Sights of Koenji” is a really dense blast, complex and extremely intense, if you are ready for some totally insane, high speed avant-garde, this is what you have been waiting for. If you prefer relative easy going melodic music, you should skip this one, and move to another post !
Koenji hyakkei clearly has inspiration from French “zeuhl” pioneers “Magma”, but even more extreme, sort of Jazz/heavy rock fusion, on amphetamine, topped by vocals, shouted and chanted in a fictive language, another reference to Magma. This is the direct opposite of easy listening, hard to cope the first 3-4 time you give it a go, but in there somewhere, is hidden moments of true brilliance, and the whole pack of madness is wrapped in wonderful musicality and technical virtuosity.

 

Koenji Hyakkei was part of the “2rd” Rock in Opposition movement or rather “reunion”, taking part in the 2009 festival in Carmaux, France and the 2014 Japanese edition in Tokyo.

RiO_Brochure_1

 

 

Kitaro – Ku-Kai – Japan Part 3

Kitaro – part 2
Kitaro started his solo career in 1977 and became a pioneer in what was to become known as, the New Age movement. Kitaro’s music for “The Silk Road”, an NHK documentary series from the 80’s, was sold in millions and created huge international attention.
Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai is a series of albums inspired by the classic Buddhist pilgrimage “The Shikoku Pilgrimage” (四国遍路) of 88 temples on the island of Shikoku – associated with Kūkai (空海), 774 – 835, a Japanese monk, kalligrapher and engineer. Among the many achievements attributed to him is the invention of the kana, with which in combination with Chinese characters (kanji), the Japanese language is written to this day.

Temple bell

Every track on the 4 volumes of Sacred Journey Of Ku-Kai contains samples from ancient Japanese temple bells (Peace Bells) from the 88 sacred temples.

Japan part 2
Japan part 4

Far East Family Band – Japan Part 2.

Kitaro – part 1
Far East Family Band (jap.: ファー・イースト・ファミリー・バンド, pronounced : Fā Īsuto Famirī Bando )

Kitaro (喜多郎) was born February 4, 1953 in Toyohashi (豊橋市) Aichi Prefecture, Japan, as Masanori Takahashi. His nickname Kitaro was given to him by friends.
In the early ’70s he joined the legendary Psychedelic/Space Rock band “Far East Family Band”, playing keyboards. On the Debut “the Cave Down To Earth” they play a wonderful space rock not unlike Pink Floyd, with ethnic Asian/Japanese elements, creating a very unique sound, an overlooked pearl of very high standarts. “Far easy family band” is highly regarded in the progressive rock community, but is basically unknown to the rest of the music world. Even in Japan, I could not get their records in normal record shops, and I have tried in a few.

Japan Part 1
Japan part 3

Hibari – Japan Part I.

Now I would like to take a look at some Japanese artists, from different styles of music .

Hibari Misora (美空 ひばりMay 29, 1937 – June 24, 1989, was an Iconic Japanese, singer and actress from Yokohama. Massively productive, she had her recording debut at the age of 12 and recorded more than 1,200 songs, and sold more than 80 million records, on top of that she appeared in 166 films.
Posthumously the first woman to receive the People’s Honour Award , for giving the public hope and encouragement. Her stage name literally means “lark of the beautiful sky”—fitting for a woman who was able to lift the collective spirits of the nation, after the horrors of world war II.

Futari_no_hitomi_poster
Japaneese Movie poster

She recorded in different styles, but in her later years, focused on the traditional Japanese enka. Enka (演歌?) is a popular Japanese music genre considered to resemble traditional Japanese music stylistically. Could say it is the Japanese form of traditional ballad.

“Kawa no nagare no yo ni” (above) was in a 1997 NHK poll (the public service media in Japan), voted greatest Japanese song of all time, with 17 million respondents.

Japan Part 2