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The label kouta (which roughly translates as, “little song”) has been applied to any number of popular Japanese music forms over the centuries. But these days, the word usually refers to a specific genre of shamisen music that evolved in 19th-century Edo (present-day Tokyo) from existing popular styles, particularly hauta (roughly, “short songs”). The first kouta is traditionally said to have been “Chiru wa Uki” (“Those that fall float”), composed in 1855 by “Joruri” puppet theater singer Kiyomoto Oyo (1840-1901), and by the early 20th century kouta was a lively and varied form — and a vital part of a geisha’s repertoire of light entertainment.

Liza Dalby’s “Little Songs of the Geisha” is a collection of 25 kouta translated with commentary.

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