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Christopher Y. Blasdel
For Christopher Y. Blasdel's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Oct 20, 2002
Orchestrating exchanges for peace
"The Japanese society of the eighth century was extremely internationalized and integrated with the rest of Asia. Foreigners comprised much of the skilled labor force and, like England in the 16th and 17th centuries, there was an active exchange of artists, musicians and statesmen with the mainland. It is one of my dreams to re-create an active musical exchange with the rest of Asia."
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Sep 15, 2002
Pro Music Nipponia gives new life to contemporary hogaku
For the past 40 years, Pro Musica Nipponia has taken an active role in the contemporary hogaku music scene by commissioning and performing new works for traditional instruments. The highly professional and talented ensemble has premiered dozens of works by both Japanese and foreign composers and has built up an impressive repertoire of new pieces. This fall, they will present two concerts that will resurrect some of this previously performed repertory.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Aug 18, 2002
Do you have an attitude problem?
This April, a Ministry of Science and Education directive took effect requiring that Japanese musical instruments be taught in all public junior high schools. This is revolutionary in Japan, as the education system has basically ignored Japanese music for more than a hundred years. Suddenly schoolteachers who have not necessarily been trained in hogaku must teach it to their students.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Jul 21, 2002
They're out there, they're really out there
When I was a student in the United States during the 1970s, a classmate of mine went to a record shop in a large city and asked if they had any Japanese music. The shopkeeper excitedly pulled out a brand-new album titled "Koto and Shakuhachi" and talked about how wonderful and exotic the music was. Since my friend was somewhat familiar with the genre, he asked the names of the musicians. The clerk looked at the liner notes. Not finding any artists' names there, he hesitated just a moment before announcing: "Why, they are the famous Japanese artists Mr. Koto and Mr. Shakuhachi, of course."
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Jun 16, 2002
We're talking the real thing
I recently received an e-mail from a foreign journalist in Japan asking me to comment on "the ongoing boom in Japan of traditional music." The request both puzzled me and made me think. Traditional Japanese music, hogaku, is not exactly booming. Attendance at traditional concerts and enrollment in university hogaku courses remain at about the same (or lower) levels, major record companies rarely release CDs of traditional music unless the artist agrees to purchase outright a certain number of the product, and most young hogaku musicians rely on supplementary means of income to make ends meet. I wondered exactly where this putative boom might be?
Japan Times
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
May 19, 2002
When musical blood is backed by the heart
There are generally two types of professional hogaku musicians: those who are born into a musical family and learn from an early age and those who encounter the music later in life and apply themselves to its study.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Apr 21, 2002
The rewards of spring
Next month offers a wide selection of concerts, ranging from contemporary hogaku, Okinawan folk and protest songs to the finest of the classics. All are performed by veteran musicians. The following is a sample of what's on.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Mar 17, 2002
A music man with a mission
Imagine, after years of immersion and study in Western music, discovering the rarefied beauty of Japanese music. Simple aspects of music, previously taken for granted, suddenly take on significant roles. Silence extends between notes and enlivens the idea of pause. An errant breath blows through bamboo, exploding with an emotion-filled charge. Vibrating silk strings lightly graze wood to create a delicious twang. And a single vowel is sustained in song, undulating high and low like the mountainous horizon. The perishing tones seems to last forever, even after they dissolve into silence.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Dec 16, 2001
A voice echoing years of history
Imagine yourself in Edo (old Tokyo) during the mid-18th century. The streets bustle with activity -- almost all of which is accompanied by song: carpenters sing while working wood; mothers lull their babies to slumber; farmers till their paddies to rice-planting songs; and the boatmen's rhythmic melodies echo through the city's many canals and rivers. In the evening, rich merchants gather to hear courtesans quietly intone tunes of love and yearning accompanied by the plaintive melodies of the three-stringed shamisen. The next room may host a rowdy group singing drinking songs. Itinerant shamisen players roam the city's many warrens and alleys entertaining passersby.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Nov 18, 2001
The rich legacy of the biwa
The pear-shaped biwa lute has enchanted listeners in Japan for centuries. Played with a large wooden plectrum, the instrument has four or five strings of twisted silk stretched over four or more deep frets positioned on the neck. Along with the rich, percussive sounds of the wood striking these silk strings, the biwa is known for its distinctive buzz (sawari), which is produced when the string comes into contact with the hard wood of the neck.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Oct 21, 2001
Autumn brings a treasury of traditional music
The fall months are ideal for hearing the best of hogaku. This is partly owing to the natural increase in musical activity after the slow, sultry summer months, but also because of an annual arts contest, sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, from Oct. 12 to Nov. 10. Winning this contest can ensure a successful career for hogaku performers.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Sep 16, 2001
Good things come in simpler packages
A Ministry of Education and Science directive that takes effect next spring will require public schools to teach a Japanese instrument in junior-high-school music classes; up to now the focus has been entirely on Western music.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Aug 12, 2001
Rich experience on a poor man's budget
Although hogaku is an important part of Japan's cultural identity, concerts and other opportunities for exposure are often difficult to track down. Meanwhile, the range of hogaku genres, instruments and performance styles is vast, and concerts expensive. So to experience hogaku in its totality involves not only a significant outlay of time but money as well.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Jul 29, 2001
Crossover ups and downs
Experiments in combining Western and Japanese instruments have been made since the Meiji Period, from the tentative early attempts to mix Japanese instruments in Western-style compositions to the recent bold, anything-goes usage of electronic, jazz and popular musical styles with hogaku. Some of the mixes of musical styles have proved successful, while others have faded with fashion. In general, though, hogaku has proved to be a fertile base for experimentation.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
May 20, 2001
Now that's what I call internationalism
Beginning in the 1970s and continuing into the "bubble" years of the 1980s, one of the buzzwords heard often in the media and from the mouths of politicians was "internationalization." Internationalization supposedly meant that the Japanese would become confident world citizens, fluent in English and cognizant of world trends and events, and this newfound worldly sophistication would match the nations' economic prowess.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Apr 15, 2001
Music of the gods on 20 koto strings
There is a wealth of contemporary compositions for the koto. Since the war, various Japanese composers have expanded the repertoire of this ancient string instrument and provided new contexts for its traditional sonorities while encouraging the development of new and experimental techniques.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Mar 17, 2001
The sonic richness of the nightingale's song
One of the simplest yet most profound pleasures of spring in Japan is hearing the nightingale's song. Even in the urban sprawl of Tokyo, these sonorous creatures find patches of greenery and manage to make their melodies heard in spite of the cacophony of traffic, trains and ubiquitous loudspeakers. Just hearing a single phrase warbled from these birds on a warm spring morning refreshes the spirit and reminds one that nature is never too far away.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Mar 3, 2001
New frontiers for hogaku
Music in Japan tends to be highly categorized. Ongaku is the Japanese generic term for music, but most Japanese understand it to refer to Western music (the word yogaku is more specific). Hogaku (Japanese music) indicates both Japanese music in general or, more specifically, the music of the Edo Period. These terms contribute to the tendency to categorize, and musical audiences in Japan usually follow a strict division of taste according to category: Western, classical, hogaku, jazz, rock, popular music, etc.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Feb 17, 2001
Everything you need to know to make a sound investment
Learning Japanese music in a traditional setting is one of the most interesting and culturally enriching experiences to be had in Japan.
CULTURE / Music / HOGAKU TODAY
Feb 3, 2001
A shakuhachi innovator who continues to inspire
Shakuhachi master Hozan Yamamoto is one of the most respected and innovative shakuhachi masters of modern times. He has pioneered new music for the instrument and extended its repertory, while remaining grounded in traditional music.

Longform

Yayoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin,” once the victim of high waves that dragged it into the sea, sits at the end of a pier on the south side of Naoshima.
Why is the most exciting art in Japan so hard to get to?