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.
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.
Eisa is a Bon odori dance held in Okinawa during the Bon festival according to the lunar calendar.
Eisa appears in mentions of Naha (Okinawa) in the 'Records of the Joseon Dynasty' in 1479. It is believed that Eisa had started somewhere around this period. One idea suggests that the word 'eisa' derives from one of the Ryukyu 'omorosaushi' songs; another suggests that it comes from from the call 'eisaa, eisaaa'. Neither suggestion is certain, however.
During Eisa, people walk to each house within their own 'shima' (area). This is called 'michi-jyunae' and happens especially after the 15th, after the 'miokuri'. However, there are places where they do 'michi-jyunae' during the three days of Bon festival, according to the lunar calendar.
Eisa mainly consists of taiko drums and dances. Strenuous dances are performed to the beat of the drums, alongside singing from the 'jiutai' chorus. The dozens of dancers moving in step to the taiko drums and the dynamism of the whole, is part of the great attraction of Eisa.
The Owara-Wind Bon festival is a traditional event that began 300 years ago in Yatsuo town, Toyama Prefecture. Men and women wearing straw hats, happi coats and summer cotton kimonos ('yukata') dance to emotional, lilting folk songs known as 'Occhuu owara bushi'. Instruments such as shamisen and Chinese fiddle are used.
There are various stories about the derivation of this festival. Of all of these, the 'Citizen Parade Theory' from 1702 is the most likely. It seems that some important documents were returned by landowners to the townspeople, who then joyfully paraded through the town for three days. This became part of the annual Bon ancestor rituals held around that time, merging with harvest festivals to become the Owara-Wind Bon Festival. It also corresponds to a time of year when typhoons are said to strike.
Every year during September 1-3, the town becomes alive with more than 300,000 visitors.
Every year in the middle of September, a folk song event called Mugiyamatsuri (Mugiya Festival) takes place over two days in Nanto, Toyama Prefecture. The melody played during the festival is called 'mugiyafushi' and was composed by farmers working in fields of wheat ('mugi'). The melody emanates sadness and sorrow, but with the linear, brisk dancing, the result is a serene and meticulous collaboration of sound and movement.
About 800 years ago, the once-powerful Heike clan fell after their defeat at the battle of Dannoura. The Heike clan sought refuge in a secluded area called Echugokayama. The Heiki people became farmers, and sang the mugiyafushi as they harvested the land.
It is said that the 'mugiyafushi' originated from a song from Wajima on the Noto Peninsula, that was sung while making noodles. The merchants who sold noodles and wheat would travel from Noto to Echu, spreading songs such as the 'notomugiyafushi' and 'madara'. These songs eventually made their way to Gokayama, where they became known as the 'echumugiyafushi'.
Today, events such as performance competitions between citizens, as well as the 'mugiya odori' dance, take place on a special stage placed within the Johanabetsuin Zentokuji.