Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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4. Minzoku geinō.

Most minzoku geinō, also called kyōdo geinō, are performed by local villagers at the festivals of Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples (fig.37). The most commonly used scholarly classification of minzoku geinō is that of Honda Yasuji (see Thornbury, 1997; Hoff, 1978). While far from watertight, it does capture most folk performing arts within four major categories, of which the last is a catch-all: kagura (more specifically satok-agura, as distinct from the mi-kagura of the imperial palace), which is performed by Shintō priests as well as villagers and townsfolk with a variety of entertainments, including a dance-drama based on Shintō mythology for the consolation of ancestors’ spirits and the long life of the people; dengaku, which is performed by farmers wishing for a good harvest and is associated with a variety of dances and mimes; furyū, group dances with various origins, including exorcist and Buddhist invocations; and miscellaneous theatrical forms, dance-dramas and pageants that originated from the arts of the upper class of earlier society, such as gagaku, bugaku and sangaku, but which are now arranged into local styles and performed by local people.

The music of these folk performances may be either instrumental or vocal and accompanied by various folk instruments. The most commonly used idiophones are: dōbyōshi (a pair of cymbals), kane (gong), sōban (a pair of gongs), suri-zasara (scraper), bin-zasara (set of concussion plaques strung together) and yotsudake (bamboo castanets). Membranophones include the okedō (cylindrical drum), two sizes of tsuzumi (hourglass drum), shimedaiko (barrel drum with two laced heads), ōdaiko (nailed barrel drum) and uchiwa-daiko (frame drum). String instruments used are the shamisen and kokyū (fiddle), while aerophones include the shinobue (transverse flute), nōkan (transverse flute used in theatre and some folk ritual music), shakuhachi (end-blown flute) and horagai (conch-shell trumpet). The shinobue is by far the most common melodic instrument, indeed the only one in most minzoku geinō, partly due to its ease of manufacture. Many of these instruments have multiple names.

Melodies of most minzoku geinō use the ritsu or modes, with the in being rarer except near urban centres (hence the in mode’s alternative name: miyako-bushi, ‘urban tune’). However, the tunings of locally-made shinobue are highly diverse in pitch and intervallic pattern.

Minzoku geinō, like min’yō, have often moved from traditional contexts to the concert stage, hotel lobbies and so forth. Various folkloric festivals are now held throughout Japan, which feature groups from several regions. Preservationism is encouraged by national and local government systems of designating certain traditions as Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties or the like; outside of the original context, however, significant innovation may occur. A major new phenomenon is the popularity of large ensembles centred on stick-drums, creating since the 1960s a new tradition called Kumi-daiko or wadaiko. Communities throughout Japan are forming such ensembles, competing for members with traditional minzoku geinō. The worldwide popularity of groups such as Kodō risks misleading non-Japanese as to the nature of village performing arts.

Japan, §VII: Folk music

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