Akihisa Kominato is a Shakuhachi player and the third successor to the head of Japanese folk music Kominato Style. He was born in 1978 in Fukushima and is the eldest son of the head family of the Kominato Style. His father is Mitsuru Kominato, a folk singer, and his elder sister is Miwa Kominato, also a singer. He started learning to sing age 5 with his father and soon began playing regularly on stage. In his teens, he studied the traditional shakuhachi playing style called Kinko and, in 1995, began studying under the late National Living Treasure, Goro Yamaguchi. Age 20, he became the third Kominato preserving the Traditional Folk Kominato Style. After graduating from Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music majoring in Shakuhachi, he began performing not only Japanese traditional music but also international music such as fusion and bossa nova.
In 2004, he formed a band called ZAN featuring Japanese traditional instruments and made his debut on the mainstream music scene. With the techniques he learned through his association with folk singing and shakuhachi performance, he is pursuing new avenues of expression for shakuhachi players. Also through his involvement with other bands such as AEKA, Priest and Hannya Teikoku he is further expanding his scope and activities. He also plays overseas regularly.
Gottan is a stringed instrument that has been passed down in the Miyazaki Prefecture.
It is very similar to shamisen, which is a more broadly used traditional instrument in Japan. While shamisen uses animal skin, gottan uses Japanese cedar wood and is smaller than shamisen. Gottan is generally perceived to be a cross between shamisen and sanshin, a traditional instrument in Okinawa.
In the past, when carpenters built a house, they would make a gottan out of the wood left over and present it to the owner of the house as a gift. This custom has been almost totally lost today although the instrument itself has been preserved.
During the rule of the Satsuma Clan, when the ban on some Buddhist sects (especially the True Pure Land sect) was imposed, people are said to have kept their religious faith by singing songs instead of chanting and the gottan, which was used to accompany these songs, became widely used as far as the Miyakonojyou region.
The gottan is often used to accompany a popular style of song known as Yassabushi. This is lively music performed with the shamisen, drums and other musical accompaniments. The gottan, also called Hako (box) shamisen or Ita (board) shamisen, produces a simple yet sharp and crisp sound that invokes the local mood.
Shirabeo, or formally called Shirabe, is a set of ropes used for Kotsuzumi (a small hand drum), Otsuzumi (a large hand drum) and Shime-daiko (a rope-tuned drum). Shirabeo does not only hold the drum heads in place but also tunes the pitch of drums. The pitch can be varied by squeezing the ropes with the left hand while striking the drum with the right. Shirabeo is an indispensable part of drums used in classical Japanese music such as Noh, Kabuki and Nagauta and folk music.
For a long time until around 1877, when a professional tuner came into existence, any durable strings on hand were used for tuning. Today, a code for Shirabeo is made of two Japanese linen ropes twisted each other, after which as many as 25 detailed processes are given. The rope used for Shirabeo must be elastic so that it comes back to its original place after being pulled by the player and at the same time it must be soft so that the player’s hand skins are not damaged after playing for a long time. Highly elaborate techniques and long experience are required to produce such ropes.
Owari Manzai, or also called Chita Manzai, is a traditional folk performing art handed down in Aichi Prefecture. It was nationally designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property in 1996.
It is said that Owari Manzai originates in the comical play contrived by Muju Kokushi, the chief priest of Choboji Temple in present Nagoya City, during the Kamakura period (1192-1333) to make the teaching of the Lotus Sutra understandable to villagers. This comical play came to be called “Hokkekyo Manzai (the Lotus Sutra Manzai).”
Owari manzaists organized touring troupes and had stage performances mainly in the entrance hall of houses in nearby provinces such as Ise, Kii, Totomi, and Kiso, affecting Manzai performances in those areas. In the Taisho period (1912-1926), it became so popular that professional manzai troupes were organized and Owari Manzai was performed at theaters.
Manzai goes basically by Tayu who delivers congratulatory addresses with a Japanese folding fan, and Saizo who follows tapping the tsuzumi (hand drum), while typical Sankyoku Manzai is performed by three players with three musical instruments, tsuzumi, shamisen, and kokyu. It has been passed down as a flamboyant theatrical performance by Owari Manzai Preservation Group.
Japanese elm is a deciduous tree belonging to Ulmaceae, which is generally called “elm.” This tree is the symbol of Toyokoro Town in Tokachi region. Its figure with the branches fully extending to either side is in good harmony with the surrounding landscapes. The tree in the picture is presumably 130 years old. Seen from a distance, it looks like one tree, but actually it is composed of the two trees tangled around each other and forming one united body. This beautiful tree was designated as a town’s cultural property in 1986. Elms are hermaphroditic, and before coming into leaf they have purplish light green flowers in March through April. As an elm tree grows as tall as up to 35 m, it is suitable for street trees or being planted in a park. Elm wood is used for all purposes including furniture, musical instruments, and fuelwood. The fibers gotten from the branches are made into a rope. Fully leaved out in the summer, the tree shows us its beautiful and dignified figure with its leaves blown in the breeze from the Tokachi River.
Porotokotan located on Lake Poroto in Shiraoi Town in the western part of Hokkaido is the restored ancient village of the Ainu people. “Porotokotan” means “a village on a large pond” in the Ainu language. There are four houses called chise with thatched roofs in the traditional Ainu architectural style. The village was restored in 1965 and was open to the public for the preservation of Ainu culture. Later the Ainu Museum was established in the village.
Inside a chise, explanations on Ainu history and culture are given. Also, the performance of the mukkuri, an Ainu musical instrument, and traditional Ainu dances, which are nationally designated Important Intangible Cultural Properties, are given all the time for the visitors. Why don’t you sit down for a while to enjoy their fascinating music and dancing? It will allow you to be a part of Ainu’s cultural history.
Yoshiaki Fujii is a craftsman in Fukuyama koto harp, a traditional handicraft in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Pref.
Fukuyama koto harp dates back to the early Edo period (the 17th C), when Mizuno Katsunari was enfeoffed the Fukuyama domain and built Fukuyama Castle in this town. Encouraged by the domain lord, artistic accomplishments came into boom among the wives and daughters of townspeople as well as the warrior class, from which the making of koto harps also developed in the town. The high-grade articles of Fukuyama koto harp are made of paulownia wood from Aizu area. The paulownia tree grown slowly in the cold weather has tight growth rings, which is indispensable for creating good tones.
Tough each part is made separately by different workmen using machines today, Mr. Fujii undertakes the whole processes by hand. He exerts delicate care and expert skills on each product. When he encounters a wood of beautiful grain, he is so much absorbed in the making that he feels 24 hours is too short a time, he says. As a craftsman, it is the happiest moment for him to see his harp is played with treasured care.
Koto, or a Japanese harp, was first played in Japan in the Heian period (794-1192). However, it was the Kamakura period that today's 13-string sou (a Japanese classic harp) came to be called koto. In Kanazawa, manufacturing koto began after the Edo period. As playing the koto was considered as one of the samurai class women's requirements, koto became a popular musical instrument. The one kept in the Yokoyama family, who was a powerful retainer of the Kaga clan, is decorated with elaborately elegant gold-leaf paintings on the whole surface, which indicates there was already an excellent craftsman making koto harps in Kanazawa.
Kanazawa koto harps are made of paulownia wood from Hakusan mountains. They are elegant art work, the surface of which are decorated with Makie (gold and silver leaf paintings) or Raden (mother-of-pearl inlay). Even today a lot of people play koto harps in Kanazawa, where many concerts are held by both famous and obscure koto-players.