150 Years of Modern Japanese Music



I. Bakumatsu to Meiji

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the path of Japanese music took a major turn as a result of contact with Western music when Japan came out of isolation and opened up to outside influences. The Tokugawa Shogunate lost power in the Bakumatsu (end-of-Edo) period and the 1868 Meiji Restoration brought in new ideas. At this time, the military music resounding from the bands of foreign forces and the hymns sung by Christian missionaries such as James Curtis Hepburn opened people’s ears and minds to the potential of the new music.
The new Meiji government adopted a policy of Europeanisation as a way of building a modern nation. The policy extended to every corner of politics, society, and culture, and music was no exception. Western music became a part of Japan’s modern education system. Teachers had to be trained to teach the new subject of music, and songs had to be written and propagated nationwide so that singing could be taught. A comprehensive arts approach involved literary people, raising interest in operatic performances and composing operas. Performers were trained, music venues were constructed, audiences emerged, and attention turned to the study of Japanese music and ways to “improve” it. Translations into Japanese by Udagawa Yoan, a “Dutch scholar”—a Japanese scholar studying Western sciences, arts, and techniques, primarily from Dutch texts—towards the end of the Edo Period provided a starting point on the path towards the acceptance and indigenisation of Western music.

  1. 1. Foreword: Dutch studies and Western music
  2. 2. The arrival of Commander Perry: Black ships and military bands
  3. 3. Dr. Hepburn and hymns
  4. 4. The formation of Japanese military bands
  5. 5. Gagaku court musicians and Western music
  6. 6. Izawa Shuji’s Institute for Musical Investigation: Manifesto for national music
  7. 7. Singing: Uta no Furusato
  8. 8. Rokumeikan and Meiji concerts
  9. 9. The Meiji literary world and music
  10. 10. Composers Koda Nobu and Taki Rentaro
  11. 11. Introduction to Opera: Orpheus and Miura Tamaki
  12. 12. Meiji musical instruments
  13. 13. Tanaka Shohei's “Just Intonation” reed organs and Japanese music

Shinsen Sanbika 1891
Meiji Gakuin University Library

Chuto Shokashu (ed. Tokyo Ongaku Gakko) 1889
TOYAMA Kazuyuki Memorial Archives of Modern Japanese Music

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