New Year’s in Japan is a period when Japanese suddenly seem to “rediscover” their traditional music. Radio and television stations, which, except for NHK, practically ignore traditional music for most of the year, get into the seasonal spirit and air programs of the classical performing and theatrical arts. Old koto recordings are taken out of the closet, dusted off and played on the ubiquitous speakers along the city’s shopping streets, and the well-known koto-shakuhachi duet “Haru no Umi (Spring Sea)” by Michio Miyagi is heard an endless number of times.

This sudden interest in the traditional performing arts is quite temporary, as the usual pop, enka or Western music programs gradually return to the airways and it is business as usual. One realizes that for many Japanese, like the seasonal kadomatsu pine and bamboo settings adorning doorways, the traditional performing arts are mere stage effects which create an atmosphere and introduce an important cultural reference point appropriate for the occasion. The sounds of traditional Japanese instruments issuing from the television and speakers become a kind of aural symbol which reinforces the sense of ethnic and cultural identity.

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