In many schools in Japan, students attend music trips once or twice a year so as to know more about the country’s culture and arts. The trips are often held in different regions so that children can know how the traditional arts and music can reflect the characteristics of local people. Japan is one of the best countries in traditional art as well as types of music. Japanese people appreciate their ancestors’ simplicity and closeness to nature and the beauty of their arts.
Though the arts of Chinese culture can be seen very clearly in the majority of arts, music, and literature of this country, we can see that Japanese culture is unmistakable and unique. The school music trips can also help students to realize these differences between the cultural features between the two countries, especially trips to Beijing and Tokyo. The differences between musical instruments are one the most significant points that have to be introduced for the youth.
The Special Rhythm in Japan
There are many forms of traditional music, and each one of them has unique features that can’t be seen anywhere else. Some of them don’t have vocals or the instruments. Mentioning to Japanese music culture, we shouldn’t forget to mention the uniqueness of the rhythm – which is famous for its importance to the pieces of music. One of the most common factors that we can see affects heavily to the rhythm of Japanese traditional music is the philosophies of religious ideas from Tao, Shinto, and Buddist.
There is a major difference between Western and Japanese rhythm that you can notice from the first song. Western rhythms are series of sounds played continuously while in Japanese, the rhythms are formed with something special called “ma”. It is the silent chords played inside music pieces that emphasize other melodies and notes. Many people think that the “ma” or the silent sounds can’t be included as the main feature in a song, but in Japan, everything is possible with the power of nature and human creativity.
A basic piece of traditional music consists of the slow tempo in the beginning, then raised in the middle till the end. These rhythms are created based on the rhythms of nature.
Types of Traditional Music in Japan
Basically, traditional music in Japan consists of 4 main types:
- Instrumental: music composed mainly of a particular type of musical instrument or for a performance of a large number of instruments. Instrumental music sometimes has the assistance of vocals so as to emphasize the sound of a human in the nature world.
- Narrative: a kind of traditional music which include a story that is told to audiences by music and vocals.
- Theatrical: a form of traditional art combining performing and singing which is very rare today.
- Court music: a form of music from Korea, which include both instrumental and voice. This is one of the most common traditional music which is often performed for school music trips.
Each type of traditional music has its own unique features and specialties, below are some experiences as well as researchers that I want to show you through my trips to Japan.
What to See in School Music Trips?
The school music trip is one of the most exciting and meaningful activities in Japan that helps encourage the spirit of Japanese youth to protect and develop the culture of this country as well as reserve the beauty of ancient arts in Japan. With traditional music, school music trips often focus on attending performances of theatrical music, court music, and instrumental music. Though students can’t understand fully, they can at least know the beauty of the creation of their ancestors as well as broaden their horizons in music.
- Theatrical music: Japanese people often know this type of art through Kabuki and Noh. They are considered the most beautiful and meaningful arts of Japan by people and artists all over the world. That’s the reason why you don’t need to go on a school music trips to see it. They are quite familiar to Japanese people, even with young generations. There are some Japanese groups that even bring Kabuki and Noh to the world by performing on world tours. This is definitely a must – try experience for you when traveling to Japan.
- Court music: In Japan, court music is called “Gagaku” which is the combination between instrumental (Kagaku) and Vocal (Seigaku). The court music is performed especially at the Imperial Court of Tokyo for centuries, that’s why the music is very gentle and elegant. Gagaku is played by musicians who are guided from their ancestors in Kyoto and Osaka.
- Instrumental music: There are 3 main forms of this types of traditional music. They are called Shamisen, Taiko, and Shakuhachi. The music is based on the movements and changing of sounds in nature, which is then stimulated by instruments from centuries ago. This type of traditional music is still used widely in the modern music world of Japan because it is the base of many styles in Japanese music.
Discovering Japanese traditional music is an amazing method to know more about the culture of a local place or even a region is this beautiful country. That’s why children in Japan are encouraged to take part in these school music trips regularly. In the future, I believe that traditional music of Japan will be protected and improved well by the young generations because of their awareness and love with this form of ancient art. In fact, this is just a small part of the world of traditional art all over the world. Next time, I will introduce to you the music culture of a country that is very good at making money – the United States of America. You might have a different look about the culture and the beauty of this land after that post. If you have any questions about traditional art and music in Japan, please take a look at my website to have more information. Good luck and have fun with music!