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Archive for the 'Traditional' Category


Chitose Hajime


Chitose Hajime (元ちとせ, Hajime Chitose?, born January 5, 1979) is a singer from Japan. She is from Amami Ōshima and sings in a style particular to that region, with distinctive falsetto effects. Because of this, it is said that her voice has a relaxing effect that has been observed in electroencephalograms taken from the brains of people listening to her singing.

Chitose Hajime was recognized as a gifted folk singer at a young age. She won many folk song competitions, released two traditional folk albums on an indie label, and was approached by numerous record labels. She decided to study to become a beautician instead of pursuing music. However, Hajime had severe allergic reactions to many of the chemicals used by beauticians. She withdrew from school, and seriously considered a music career.

In 2001, she released a self titled mini-album on the indie label Office Augusta. The album was covers of older songs, but was so well received that Hajime was pushed to release another mini-album. In August 2001, Chitose released her second mini-album with Augusta Records entitled Kotonoha (コトノハ, Kotonoha?). This release featured 5 original tracks.

In 2002 she released her first major label single on Epic Records – “Wadatsumi no Ki” (ワダツミの木, “Wadatsumi no Ki”?). It was the third highest selling single of the year behind only Hikaru Utada’s “traveling”, and Ayumi Hamasaki’s “H”. Three months later, she released a brand new single, “Kimi wo Omō” (君ヲ想フ, “Kimi wo Omō”?). While also very popular, it was not nearly the success that her first single was, although it did help to cement her as a permanent artist.

Her first major album, Hainumikaze (ハイヌミカゼ, Hainumikaze?), followed later in the year. It sold 800,000 copies, charted for 57 weeks, and was the 16th highest selling album of the year.

She released 3 more singles before her second major album, Nomad Soul (ノマド・ソウル, nomado souru?), was released in 2003. Shortly after a concert tour, and the release of a live album and DVD in 2004, Hajime announced that she would be taking time away from the music scene to get married, and have a child. Her first child miscarried, but she successfully gave birth to a girl on January 20, 2005.

She returned to the music industry in November 2005 with the single “Kataritsugu Koto” (語り継ぐこと, “Kataritsugu Koto”?), the ending theme for the anime BLOOD+. The single was a hit, reaching #12 on the Oricon charts. She followed this success with her next come-back single, “Haru no Katami” (春のかたみ, “Haru no Katami”?), the ending theme for the anime AYAKASHI – Japanese Classic Horror. This single sold 6050 copies in its first week, and remained on the charts for 7 weeks total. A third single was released before her next album. The single, “Ao no Requiem” (青のレクイエム, “Ao no Requiem”?), was the theme song for the Studio GAGA film Hatsukoi. It featured 1 extra track, and charted for 3 weeks. The following week, Hajime released her third original major album, Hanadairo (ハナダイロ, Hanadairo?). The album was available in both a regular edition, and a limited edition. The limited edition featured a 13th track, “Shinda Onna no Ko” (死んだ女の子, “Shinda Onna no Ko”?) with Ryuichi Sakamoto), as well as a DVD containing the music videos for “Kataritsugu Koto”, and “Haru no Katami”.

Song: Megumi No Ame

Song: Miyori no Mori

Song: kono Machi

Posted by The Expedited Writer in General, J-Pop, Traditional | No Comments »


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OHanami Music

This is not the usual J-Pop stuff you might be use to listening to but a tradition while viewing sakura blossoms no less.

Posted by The Expedited Writer in Traditional | No Comments »


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Traditional Instruments: Biwa

The biwa (琵琶) is a Japanese short-necked fretted lute, and a close variant of the Chinese pipa. The biwa is the chosen instrument of Benten, Goddess of music, eloquence, poetry, and education in Japanese Buddhism.

The biwa derives from a Chinese lute called pipa, which itself derives from a Persian/Middle Eastern lute called barbat (whose modern descendant in Arabic regions is called oud). The biwa reached Japan from China during the Nara Period (710-759 AD), and five instruments from that time are kept in the Shōsōin, the national treasure house of Japan. One of them, a rare, five-stringed gogenbiwa (五玄琵琶), is decorated with Central Asian themes, including a camel. This instrument is literally one of its kind in Asia, being the only one preserved from the period, although similar instruments are manufactured in small numbers today. Wandering biwa players, similar to minstrels, were known as biwa hōshi (琵琶法師).

The playing of the biwa nearly became extinct during the Meiji period as Western music and instruments became popular.

Check out this instrument in play:

Posted by The Expedited Writer in Classical, Traditional | No Comments »


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Sakura Sakura – piano version

Taking one of the favorite oldies and transforming it into a beautiful piano piece.

Posted by The Expedited Writer in General, Traditional | No Comments »


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Tokyo Summer Festival

The Tokyo Summer festival is a month long event (July 5 – August 6), with stage performances, exhibitions and concerts in venues all over Tokyo. It was created 22 years ago by pianist Kyoko Edo, composer Maki Ishii and musicologist Takashi Funayama. Each year there is a different theme for the festival. This year, the theme is “Songs of the Earth/Music in the Streets”.

The focus of the concerts is on classical and symphonic music, but it doesn’t end there. There’s a large focus on world music, with performances from Sengalese singer Youssou N’Dour with his group Le Super Etoile de Daker, Iranian classical singer Shahram Nazeri and Japanese singer and shanshin player Kazuhira Takeshita.

There’s also a much anticipated performance from French breakdance outfit Black Blanc Beur who are on their first tour of Japan. So yes! While the Tokyo Summer Festival is a good idea for anyone feeling high-class and cultured, it’s also a great place to check out some great dance, hip hop and world music, plus all the other stage shows and exhibitions.


Tokyo Summer Festival

Posted by Chidade in Classical, Concerts, Traditional | No Comments »


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Kouhaku Uta Gassen

It’s Men versus Women! Red versus White in the ULTIMATE MUSICAL SHOWDOWN!

Well, actually it’s what you watch if you’re not cool/rich/healthy enough to go out on New Year’s Eve. I fell into the last category. I had a pretty bad case of the flu and couldn’t even stand up, let alone eat the traditional soba noodles that is supposed to ensure a long life. I didn’t feel like I had much longer to live that night anyway.

Anyway, Kouhaku Uta Gassen, or Kouhaku for short, is an annual music concert shown on NHK television on New Year’s Eve. It starts early in the evening and ends shortly before midnight so NHK can switch to a montage of Happy New Year greetings from around Japan.

It’s been over a month since it screened, but writing about ORANGE RANGE yesterday reminded me about it, so I thought I should write some more about it.

Literally, Kouhaku Uta Gassen means “Red and White Song Battle” and that’s what it is. Two teams: Red (made up of female performer or bands with female leads) and White (male performers or bands with male leads) perform all night and the audience votes at the end of the night for the team they liked best.

The artists are chosen by a committee and being invited to perform on Kouhaku is seen to be a huge honour. Most of the performers are highly successful pop/rock artists that have had hugre sales during the year, but there are also many traditional enka music performers.

There are also many guest appearances by celebrities and other characters. Notable guests in the 2005 edition were Kotooshu – the Bulgarian sumo wrestler who towered over everyone else by at least a foot and many Star Wars characters like C3PO and R2D2.

The White (male) team won the 2005 edition. Which must have been a disappointment for Gorie, the cross-dressing comedian. Gorie dresses like a cheerleader and has a gimmicky song which he performed on the night for the Red team. Oh well, maybe next time.


Wikipedia’s article on Kouhaku Uta Gassen

Posted by Chidade in General, Traditional | No Comments »


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The Koto is a traditional stringed musical instrument from Japan resembling a zither.

Koto are about 180cm long and have 13 strings that are strung tautly across 13 movable bridges along the length of the instrument. Players make base pitches by moving these bridges before playing, and three finger picks (on thumb, forefinger, and middle finger) are used to pluck the strings.

The koto was introduced to Japan in the 7th to 8th century from China (the Chinese inspiration was probably the gŭzhēng). It was initially played in the royal court only, but this situation changed in the 17th century — primarily because of the influence of one man: Yatsuhashi Kengyo (1614-1684).

Yatsuhashi Kengyo was a blind shamisen player who learnt koto from an “official” court player named Hosui, in defiance of the rules which then stated that koto could not be taught to blind people (or women, incidentally). Possibly because of his personal experience with these restrictions, Yatsuhashi spent the rest of his life making the koto more accessible.

He invented a new “plain tuning” (hira joushi in Japanese) to play the common peoples’ songs more naturally. He composed (or is credited with composing) songs that are still irreplaceable staples of the koto repertoire today, including Rokudan and Midare. (These compositions were partly responsible for the koto becoming respected as a solo instrument in its own right.) Perhaps most importantly, his example led other non-elite, including women, to learn the koto too.

Since the Japanese music scene was made over in Western pop music’s image, the koto has become less prominent (although many well-to-do young women learn the instrument to help develop an aura of “refinement” that will theoretically attract a better class of husband). However, it is still developing as an instrument; works are written for and performed on 20-stringed and bass kotos, and a new generation of young players like Yagi Michiyo are finding places for the koto in today’s jazz, pop and even experimental music

(Source: Wikipedia)

Posted by Yves in Instruments, Traditional | 1 Comment »


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Shakuhachi (尺八) is a Japanese flute which is end-blown and held vertically like a recorder instead of being held transversely like the familiar Western transverse flute. A recorder player blows into a duct, also called “fipple,” and thus has little or no control over the tuned pitch. The shakuhachi player blows as one would blow across the top of an empty bottle, but the opposite edge of the shakuhachi has a sharp edge, allowing the player substantial pitch control. The five finger holes are tuned to a pentatonic scale with no half-tones, but the player can bend each pitch as much as a whole tone or more. It was used by Zen Buddhist Monks in the practice of Suizen (blowing meditation). It is usually made from the root end of a bamboo shoot and is an extremely versatile instrument. Holes can be covered partially (1/3 covered, 1/2, 2/3, etc.) and pitch varied subtly or substantially by changing the blowing angle. Professional players can produce virtually any note they wish from the instrument, and play a wide repertoire of original Zen music, ensemble music with koto and samisen, folk music, jazz, modern music.

The name shakuhachi is derived from “shaku”, which is an archaic measure of length roughly equal to 30 centimeters, and “hachi”, which means “eight” (tenths of a “shaku”). Thus the standard shakuhachi is 1.8 shaku in length, or 54 centimeters. Other shakuhachi vary in length from about 1.3 shaku up to 3.3 shaku. (The longer the shakuhachi, the lower its tuning.) Although the lengths differ, they are all still referred to generically as “shakuhachi”.

The bamboo flute first came to Japan from China via Korea. The shakuhachi proper, however, is quite distinct from its continental ancestors, the result of centuries of isolated evolution in Japan.

During the medieval period, shakuhachi were most notable for their role in the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhist monks, known as komuso, who used the shakuhachi as a spiritual tool. Their songs (called “honkyoku”) were paced according to the players’ breathing and were considered meditation as much as music.

Travel around Japan was restricted by the shogunate at this time, but the Fuke sect managed to wrangle an exemption from the Shogun, since their spiritual practice required them to move from place to place playing the shakuhachi and begging for alms. They persuaded the Shogun to give them “exclusive rights” to play the instrument! In return, some were required to spy for the shogunate, and the Shogun sent several of his own spies out in the guise of Fuke monks as well. (This was made easier by the baskets that the Fuke wore over their heads, a symbol of their detachment from the world.)

In response to these developments, several particularly difficult honkyoku pieces became well-known as “tests”: if you could play them, you were a real Fuke. If you couldn’t, you were probably a spy and might very well be killed if you were in unfriendly territory. This no doubt helped drive the Fuke sect to the technical excellence they were renowned for.

In any case, when the Meiji Restoration occurred in 1868, the shogunate was abolished and so was the Fuke sect, in order to help identify and eliminate the shogun’s holdouts. The very playing of the shakuhachi was officially forbidden for a few years. Non-Fuke folk traditions did not suffer greatly from this, since the tunes could be played just as easily on another pentatonic instrument. However, the honkyoku repertoire was known exclusively to the Fuke sect and transmitted by repetition and practice, and much of it was lost, along with many important documents.

When the Meiji government did permit the playing of shakuhachi again, it was only as an accompanying instrument to the koto, shamisen, etc. It was not until later that honkyoku were allowed to be played publicly again as solo pieces.

(Source: Wikipedia)


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The word taiko (太鼓) means simply “big drum” in Japanese. Outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums (和太鼓, ‘wa-daiko’, “Japanese drum”, in Japanese) and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming (sometimes called more specifically, “kumi-daiko”).

Types of taiko

The nagado-daiko (長胴太鼓, long-body taiko) consists of two cow-skin heads stretched over a single-piece wooden body and tacked to high tension. The heads of the tsukeshime-daiko (付締め太鼓, often shortened to simply, “shime-daiko”) are stretched over iron rings and sandwich a smaller body. The tsukeshime-daiko’s rope is pulled tight before each use. Other Japanese taiko include the okedo-daiko (桶胴太鼓, barrel-body taiko), uchiwa-daiko (内輪太鼓、fan taiko), hira-daiko (平太鼓, flat taiko), o-daiko (大太鼓, big taiko), and a host of percussion instruments used in Japan’s traditional noh, gagaku, and kabuki ensembles.

(Source: Wikipedia)


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A shamisen or samisen (三味線 lit: 3 taste strings) is a 3-stringed musical instrument played with a plectrum. It came from the sanshin (a close ancestor from the southernmost Japanese prefecture of Okinawa and often the main instrument in contemporary music from that area) which in turn evolved from the Chinese sanxian, and ultimately from Central Asian instruments.

The pronunciation is usually “shamisen” (never “sa”) but sometimes “jamisen” when used as a suffix (e.g. Tsugaru-jamisen – for the style played in the Aomori region).

It is similar in length to a guitar, but its neck is much slimmer and it is played with a larger plectrum, called a “bachi”.

The shamisen can be played solo or with other shamisen, in ensembles with other Japanese instruments, with singing such as nagauta, or as an accompaniment to drama, notably kabuki and bunraku. Both men and women traditionally played the shamisen.

In the early part of the 20th Century, a blind musician named Chikuzan Takahashi evolved a new style of playing, based on traditional folk songs (”min’you”) but involving much improvisation and flashy fingerwork. This style – now known as Tsugaru-jamisen, after Chikuzan’s home region in the north of Honshu – is very popular in Japan. The Tsugaru-jamisen style is sometimes compared to bluegrass banjo.

The sound of a shamisen is created in a similar way to that of a banjo, using a drum, known as a “dou”, to amplify the sound of the strings. The skin is usually from a dog or cat. On the skin of some of the best shamisens, the position of the cat’s nipples can be seen.

The three strings are traditionally made of silk. The lowest passes over a small hump at the “nut” end so that it buzzes, creating a characteristic sound known as “sawari”. (This is a little like the “buzzing” of a sitar.)

The upper part of the dou is often protected by a cover known as a “dou kake”, and players often wear a little glove on their left hand, to facilitate sliding up and down the neck. This glove is known as a “yubi kake”. There may also be a cover on the “head” of the instrument.

(Source: Wikipedia)


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