Traditional Japanese music

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Musicians and dancer, Muromachi period

Traditional Japanese music is the folk or traditional music of Japan.

Types of traditional Japanese music[edit]

There are three types of traditional music in Japan: instrumental, theatrical and court music.


Kabuki (歌舞伎?) is a type of Japanese theatre. The music of kabuki can be divided into three parts:

  • Gidayubushi – largely identical to jōruri.
  • Shimoza ongaku – music is played in kuromisu, the lower seats below the stage.
  • Debayashi – incidental music, played on the Kabuki stage; also known as degatari.


Noh (?) or nōgaku (能楽?) is another type of theatrical music. Noh music is played by the hayashi-kata (囃子方?). The instruments used are the taiko (太鼓?), ōtsuzumi (大鼓?), kotsuzumi (小鼓?), and fue (?).


Main article: Gagaku

Gagaku (雅楽?) is court music, and is the oldest traditional music in Japan. Gagaku music includes songs, dances, and a mixture of other Asian music. Gagaku has two styles; these are instrumental music kigaku (器楽?) and vocal music seigaku (声楽?).

  • Instrumental Music
    • Kangen (管弦?) - basically, a Chinese form of music.
    • Bugaku (舞楽?) - influenced by Tang Dynasty China and Balhae.[1]
  • Vocal Music
    • Kumeuta (久米歌?)
    • Kagurauta (神楽歌?)
    • Azumaasobi (東遊び?)
    • Saibara (催馬楽?)
    • Rōei (朗詠?)


Shōmyō (声明?) is kind of Buddhist song which is an added melody for a sutra. Shōmyō came from India, and it began in Japan in the Nara period. Shōmyō is sung a capella by one or more Buddhist monks.


Jōruri (浄瑠璃?) is narrative music using the shamisen (三味線?). There are four main jōruri styles. These are centuries-old traditions which continue today.

  • Gidayubushi (義太夫節?)- During the Edo period, Takemoto Gidayu (竹本義太夫?) began to play joruri in Osaka. This type of jōruri is for bunraku, (puppet plays).
  • Tokiwazubushi (常磐津節?) - During the Edo period, Tokiwazu Mojidayu (常磐津文字太夫?) began to play this style of joruri in Edo. This type of jōruri is for kabuki dances called Shosagoto.
  • Kiyomotobushi (清元節?) - Kiyomoto Enjyudayu (清元延寿太夫?) began to play this for kabuki dances in Edo during the late Edo period. He began to play this style in 1814. He played Tomimotobushi style at first. He spun off from Tomimotobushi style. He started Kiyomotobushi style. This style is light. This style is refreshingly unrestrained. This style is chic.
  • Shinnaibushi (新内節?) - In the middle of the Edo period, Tsuruga Shinnai (鶴賀新内?) began to play this for kabuki. This style of jōruri is typically lively and upbeat.

There are other four jōruri styles which have largely died out. Katōbushi, Icchuubushi and Miyazonobushi are old style. Katōbushi, Icchuubushi and Miyazonobushi are called Kokyoku (古曲?). Kokyoku means old music. Kokyoku consists of Icchuubushi, Katōbushi, Miyazonobushi and Ogiebushi(荻江節?). Ogiebushi is not jōruri. Ogiebushi is like Nagauta.

  • Katōbushi (河東節?) - During the Edo period, Masumi Katō (十寸見河東?) (1684–1725) began to play in an original style in 1717. It is heavy.
  • Icchuubushi or Itchubushi (一中節?) - During the Edo period, Miyako Icchuu (都一中?) or Miyakodayuu Icchuu (都太夫一中?)(1650–1724) began to play this style.
  • Miyazonobushi (宮薗節?) or Sonohachibushi (薗八節?) - During the Edo period, Miyakoji Sonohachi (宮古路薗八?) began to play this style in Kyoto. Miyazonobushi is modest style.
  • Tomimotobushi (富本節?) - During the Edo period, Tomimoto Buzennojō (富本豊前掾?) (1716–1764) began to play this style. Tomimoto Buzennojō played Tokiwazubushi style at first. He spun off from Tokiwazubushi style. He started Tomimotobushi style.


Nagauta (長唄?) is music using the shamisen. There are three styles of nagauta: one for kabuki dance, one for kabuki dialogue, and one of music unconnected with kabuki.

Ogiebushi (荻江節?) is similar to nagauta. Ogie Royuu I(荻江露友?) (?-1787) began to play this style, having played nagauta style at first. He spun off from Nagauta style. He started Ogiebushi style. Original was a sect of Nagauta. Ogie Royuu I(?-1787) became famous in about 1767. His rival was Fujita Kichiji(富士田吉治?)(Fujita Kichiji was Nagauta singer in Edo). Ogie Royuu I(?-1787) had beautiful voice, but the volume of his voice was small. In theater voice of big volume was important. The voice of small volume does not carry voice to audience in theater. So, Ogie Royuu I(?-1787) stopped to sing in theater. Another theory says that Ogie Royuu I(?-1787) lost. Fujita Kichiji won. So, Ogie Royuu I(?-1787) stopped to sing in theater. Ogie Royuu I(?-1787) began to play in Yoshiwara. This style of music was mainly sung at Yoshiwara. Ogie Royuu II and Ogie Royuu III is unknown. Ogiebushi declined after 1818. Tamaya Yamazaburou(玉屋山三郎?) composed new Ogiebushi pieces in end of Edo Period. Tamaya Yamazaburou was an owner of parlor house in Yoshiwara. Tamaya Yamazaburou knew music very well. Tamaya Yamazaburou's pieces are affected by Jiuta (地歌?) music. Iijima Kizaemon(飯島喜左衛門?) re-established Ogiebushi. Iijima Kizaemon renamed his name. He is Ogie Royuu IV. He became Ogie Royuu IV in 1876. Another theory says that He became Ogie Royuu IV in 1879. Ogiebushi is classified as Kokyoku (古曲?, old music). (Kyoku usually means music piece or music number in modern Japanese. "music" is old sense.) Now Kokyoku is Katohbushi(河東節?), Icchuubushi(一中節?), Miyazonobushi(宮薗節?) and Ogiebushi(荻江節?). Kokyoku is old music. In addition, Few play Kokyoku. Limited players perform Kokyoku. Kokyoku players are old. Young players are few. The knower and the persons who perform Kokyoku are little. Kokyoku is comparatively old music in Edo Period(New music is Nagauta, Gidayuubushi, Tokiwazubushi, Kiyomotobushi, Shinnaibushi etc... in Edo Period). Kokyoku is an expedient name. Kokyoku was named by Machida Kashou(町田佳聲?) in 1919. Machida Kashou(1888–1981) was Japanese music researcher and composer. Exactly, Ogiebushi is newer than Nagauta. But Ogiebushi is classified as Kokyoku. Kokyoku is an expedient name. After 1919 the word Kokyoku has used in Japan. The word Kokyoku had popular usage in Taisho Period. In 1962 Kokyokukai(古曲会?, Old music group) was established. Kokyokukai has trained the successor. Kokyokukai has held the concert. In modern Japanese, "hurui ongaku" refers to old music. Kokyoku is idiom.

Shakuhachi music[edit]

Shakuhachi (尺八?) music began in the Edo period. Buddhist monks played the shakuhachi as a substitute for a sutra. Sometimes the shakuhachi is played along with other instruments.


Sōkyoku (筝曲?) uses the "Chinese koto" (guzheng), which differs from the Japanese koto (琴?). There are two schools of sōkyoku.

  • Ikuta ryu - Originated in Eastern Japan. It is played with shamisen.
  • Yamada ryu - Originated in Western Japan. It is focused on songs.

Traditional music in modern culture[edit]

Traditional Japanese musicians sometimes collaborate with modern Western musicians. Also, musicians create new styles of Japanese music influenced by the West but still using traditional musical instruments.

Traditional musical instruments[edit]

Traditional cultural events[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ 舞楽 (in Japanese). The Asahi Shimbun Company. Retrieved 2012-02-18. 

External links[edit]