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folk songs - Minyo




okinawa history

OKINAWA- History






The precise origins of the Japanese people are not known although since ancient times waves of migrating cultures have added their influence to what was already there. Even today, the Japanese absorb foreign culture in a unique way, but maintain a strong independence. As well as Chinese, Mongolian, Korean and Southeast Asian influences, there appears to be something that is indigenously Japanese. It is generally believed that the Yamato people were the first to develop the concept of an imperial clan, the Yamato clan originating in Kyushu the southernmost of Japan's main islands, from there gradually spreading throughout the islands. Any music during this period was largely primitive, essentially working and 'folk' songs. More complex music is believed to have come from China or Korea, and indeed it is from China that ancient Japanese music originated. The first documented evidence of Chinese music entering Japan relates back to the third century. The Nara period, (710-794) is the first major historic period in Japan, and the first international period in Japanese music history. Court music came from China, Korea and India, and was mostly played by foreign musicians. Folk music had continued to develop in it's relation to dance and festivals in villages throughout Japan, while Buddhist ritual music became well known during this period.

Chinese influences were beginning to be assimilated and modified during the Heian period (794-1185). Instruments were still essentially Chinese, but the musicians were Japanese, and the music gradually developed Japanese characteristics. The Kamakura period (1185-1333) was the era of the Shogun. The international characteristics had largely disappeared, and court music was declining. Instead there was an emphasis on Buddhist chants, vocal and dramatic music. Dramatic and theatrical music continued to flourish during the Muromachi period (1333-1568), preparing the way for noh drama. At the same time, shakuhachi bamboo flute began to be heard, played by wandering priests. Noh continued to flourish during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600), also noted as the era during which the sanshin (lute) was introduced to Okinawa, soon to arrive on the Japanese mainland and transformed into the shamisen. The Edo period (1600-1868) marks a period of status quo, and the development of a bourgeois art and the development of the pleasure quarters of the bigger cities. Shamisen, koto and shakuhachi all flourished during this period.

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There are three important and representative Japanese traditional instruments. The 3 stringed shamisen is thought to have derived from the middle east and arrived in Japan in the 16th century. It's predecessor was the Okinawan sanshin, which itself arrived from China. The shamisen is the backbone of kabuki music, is played by geishas, and is the main instrument of most folk music. The body (do) is made of four pieces of wood, covered in catskin or in cheaper models dogskin or plastic. The neck is also made of wood, it's thickness varying with the type of music performed. The shamisen has a unique tone with a drum like snap.

The shakuhachi is an end blown bamboo flute, with it's origins also in ancient China. The modern shakuhachi is a product of the Edo period, (early 17th to mid-19th centrury) it's development largely due to komuso, a kind of wandering priest. Even today, these basket hatted men can occasionally be seen on the streets of Japan, their ranks filled by ronin, masterless samurai who had lost their orignal rank during the violent struggles of the sixteenth century. These ex-samurai even enlarged the instrument to make it double up as a weapon. In the late Edo period the shakuhachi was used in koto ensemble music. This perhaps saved the shakuhachi during the early Meiji period, when Japanese music was considered uncivilised. As a fairly western sounding instrument, the shakuhachi has been involved in many new experiments in new music. Shakuhachi ensembles have developed, shakuhachi has been used in jazz music, many foreigners have learnt to perform it. Ironically, the foriegn players have increased interest, but the real aesthetic center of shakuhachi music is in personal and private performances. The instrument and music are best designed for introspection.

In contrast to the theater tradition of the shamisen, the koto developed out of a court tradition for daughters of the rising classes and nobility. The koto has origins in China as well, specifically the seven stringed zither, the qin. One of the biggest developments in koto music occured at the end of the 17th century, with the founding of a new style of koto music, based on existing shamisen forms. Koto was combined with shamisen to emphasize the instrumental part more than the vocal. Up until this time, the koto had largely been a vocal accompanying instrument. In the twentieth century, koto music has largely been based on western compositions. Michiyo Miyagi's compositions satisfied those who were yearning for a new Japanese music, his pieces often compared to likes of Debussy.

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THE MEIJI PERIOD (1862-1912)

During the Meiji period the floodgates opened and Western culture inundated the previously closed country. The samurai was crushed, the shogun displaced by the emperors rise to power. The first Western music in the Meiji era was brass band military music, as Japanese music was drowned out. Japan changed into an industrial country. Nationalism flourished, as did patriotic songs and marches. The sense of national pride eventually began to have a positive effect on traditional music. Court music opened to the public for the first time, and traditional music showed some resurgence of strength. Throughout history musicians have adapted foreign influences to eventually make something uniquely Japanese. Today is no different. Much so called Japanese 'roots' music is a mix of Japanese traditions with all kinds of extraneous influences, not only from the West, but from throughout the world.
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Before Westernization, popular songs in Japan were known as zokuyo. These songs had no western influences. The most popular songs were known as hauta (small song) Iyobushi (song of Iyo region) and Otsu-e bushi (songs on the picture of Otsu) Until around 1850,popular music was regional, hauta being one of the first national musics.

The term for regional music, or folk songs is min'yo. Farmers planting their rice crops, fishermen pulling in their nets and lullabies are constant themes. Modern folk songs often refer to nostalgic references to these ways of life. Songs of one district can be very different to those of an adjoining district. Urban popular music with traditional elements has mostly been kept alive in Okinawa, while the Ainu, the indigenous Japanese who now live in the northern most island of Hokkaido also have their own unique songs and music. Min'yo was originally sung by non-professionals, just ordinary people, but developed through the performance of professional female singers, (geisha), with a shamisen accompaniment. The social status of folk songs was raised with the introduction of the shakuhachi at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Although mass communication is thought to be generally harmful to traditions, it had some positive effect on min'yo. Japanese radio broadcasts of folk singers began in the 1920s. Radio singers could reach a much wider audience, and traditions only previously only known in a particular area were now broadcast nationwide. Some of the singers became some of Japan's first national 'stars'. New songs or shin min'yo have been composed since this time to attract tourism and greater national awareness of a particular area.

However, the real meaning and spirit of min'yo, is believed to have somehow gotten lost during the Meiji period of modernization in Japan in the second half of the 19th century. The government strove hard to root out traditional culture, deemed not suitable for a western style nation. Many min'yo songs were re-written and only government approved min'yo came to be recorded or played on the radio. Pockets of true min'yo survived however in rural regions.

One of the most fertile areas is the Tsugaru region in the north east of Honshu. In the past songs were sung by blind people as a means to earn a living. Singers would visit farms and houses, wandering the villages to sing and play the shamisen. When the Meiji government was established many musicians moved to Hokkaido, or traveled around as seasonal labourers. Tsugaru shamisen, and it's most representative song, Jonkara was one of the first instances of a folk song and music becoming well known throughout the country. The exciting style of playing Tsugaru shamisen has a long tradition, although it was only in 1925 that a solo part was introduced into Jonkara. The most important and virtuosic performer was Chikuzan Takahashi, the last of the blind artists. He died in 1998 aged 88.

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BON ODORI AND ONDO - Festival Music

Ondo is a generic term for folk songs that are often used to accompany the dances of the obon festival. During obon, it is said that the souls of ancestors return from the dead. Traditionally obon falls in the middle of July, but according to the modern calendar it falls in the middle of August. People return to their hometowns to visit their ancestors graves. At night they dance in a circle to comfort the souls. Today it is more of a form of entertainment during the summer evenings. Older dances used no instrumental accompaniment, instead a chorus of singers. Pieces from the Edo period use flute, drums, shamisen or cassette recordings. Dancers hold fans and with hand gestures, leg and arm movements in unison move in a circle around the musicians, who are often on a tower covered in a red and white cloth. One of most spectacular types of Ondo, is Kawachi Ondo from Kawachi in the south east of Osaka, formerly a farming district. The lyrics often describe current events and stories, and has been sung in this style since the Edo period. In the early Meiji period, a new song from Shiga prefecture 50km north of Kawachi became popular, it becoming necessary to distinguish between the older and newer songs. The later songs became known as Goshu ondo. Generally there is one similar song used for Kawachi ondo, as the younger dancers prefer faster rhythms and electric instruments, the sound has developed in recent years to include reggae and other rhythms, with the most famous singer of the genre being Kawachiya Kikusuimaru.

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The Okinawan version of Obon is the Eisa festival. It is one of Japans' most colourful festivities, when hundreds of people parade down the street and dance the katcharsee, a wild dance to the sound of big booming taiko drums, echoed by the rattle of the hand held parlanque drum and the incessant cry of Eisa". While Japan's musical traditions have been largely forgotten or 'preserved' by societies, Okinawa is the country's only surviving enclave with a thriving and living local music rooted in a tradition. The 73 sub-tropical islands of Okinawa Prefecture stretch for over 700 km from Kagoshima (mainland Japan's southernmost Prefecture) almost to Taiwan. Situated at roughly mid-point is the largest island of Okinawa, a name sometimes used to encompass the whole archipelago, which is otherwise known under it's original kingdom name, the Ryukyu islands. The sub-tropical Ryukyu islands are some of the most beautiful to be found anywhere in the world; a paradise of white sand beaches, coral reefs and luscious tropical vegetation. Music is in the heart and blood of Okinawans. Their traditional music shima uta meaning 'island songs' can be heard everywhere; on the beaches, in shops, restaurants and bars. It seems all Okinawans love to sing and dance.

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OKINAWA- History

The early history of Okinawa is shrouded in mystery and it's not known for sure where the Okinawan people came from. It's believed some came through Japan from northern Asia, some through the Korean peninsula from Mongolia, and others from Southeast Asia through The Phillipines. The Ryukyu Islands have always been an important trading link between Southeast Asian countries and Japan, China and Korea. This strategic position has resulted in a history of dominance from Okinawa's neighbours and feuding for it's control.

After an initial period of battling warlords and tiny kingdoms, in the 13th century the first Okinawan dynasty was established, after which the Ryukyu islands remained essentially independent, although at various times split into separate kingdoms. By the late 14th century a unified Ryukyu Kingdom emerged, and in the 15th century the capital was moved to Shuri, near to today's largest city and port of Naha on the main island. Throughout this time, the country traded with China, Japan, Korea, and southeast Asia, and developed in language and culture in relative isolation. The kingdom later expanded to include the four island groups, of Amami in the north, through to the centrally located Okinawa main island, to Miyako in the west and Yaeyama to the south, each combining it's local culture with those of the many they came into contact with.

The reign of Sho Shin between 1477 and 1525 is considered especially important for the development of Okinawan culture and craft, remembered as 'the golden age of Chuzan'. (Chuzan being the name given to Okinawa in the 15th century). The sanshin, the three stringed snake skinned lute at the heart of all modern Okinawan folk music, is derived from the Chinese sanxien, and arrived in Okinawa during this time. Originally, it was an instrument of the Ryukyu nobility who would play it as a court music for visiting Chinese envoys.

The islands were later invaded by the Satsuma province in southern Japan in 1609, and effectively became a colony of Japan until 1879. During this period however, local culture and music thrived. After Commodore Perry arrived in Naha in 1853, Britain, the US, France and Russia all tried to establish trading links with Okinawa. Japan, not wishing to lose it's share of the cut, sent a force to invade the islands in 1879, afterwhich Okinawa was made a prefecture of Japan proper.

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With the disbandment of the Okinawan government, the nobility were forced to pay their own way, and as many had become competent musicians, some moved to different areas of the islands to teach the local communities. Folk traditions were given a new lease of life and the songs a sanshin accompaniment. On the outer islands, such as Yaeyama, formerly vocal only working songs, Yunta and Jiraba were set to sanshin, or the oldest of all, sacred songs called Aoyo. In this way too, original songs were composed, which gave rise to what's known today as shima uta -island songs.

Regarded as the first major figure of folk music, Choki Fukuhara was born in 1903 and composed many, now classic, songs and established Marafuku Records, the most important local label. It's a position which Marafuku still holds today, run by his son Tsuneo Fukuhara, himself a top composer and producer. Another influential figure of 'shima uta' was Rinsho Kadekaru born in 1920 in Goeku, central Okinawa. He learnt to play at his village's all night revelries known as mo-ashibi. Here, young people would sing, dance and drink, usually on the beach, often until dawn, do a full day's hard labour in the fields, then party again the next night. In the pre-war years there are stories of parents encouraging their children to take part in the mo-ashibi every night, in the hope they would fail the medical for military conscription due to exhaustion!

Despite attempts to ban them, mo-ashibi flourished until just before the second world war, although following the war and the US occupation, they were outlawed for good. In the wake of the second world war, when up to a third of the population had died, musicians such as Rinsho Kadekaru, who had been in exile in Saipan during the war, and Shouei Kina (father of Shokichi Kina) were a source of inspiration in restoring the pride of the people. Kadekaru went on to record over 250 songs for local labels, more than any other musician, before his death last year. The greatest living musician is now Seijin Noborikawa, who was featured in the hit film 'Nabbie no Koi' in 1999, and has recently enjoyed his highest ever profile in Japan.

Traditional shima uta or island songs are accompanied by the sanshin, a three stringed lute with a resonance box covered in snake skin. The sanshin, at the heart of traditional music, came from China some 500 years ago. These days Okinawan instrument makers commonly use a synthetic snake skin, although skins are still imported from Indonesia. The Okinawan pentatonic scale (do-mi-fa-so-ti) is identical to that used in some areas of Indonesia and related to scales used in Polynesia and Micronesia. The song texts are based on the ryuka metrical structure comprised of four lines of 8-8-8-6 syllables, as opposed to the Japanese 26 syllable structure.

The upbeat dance songs are known as katcharsee. Taiko drums, the big shima daiko and the hand held parlanque accompany the sanshin. Singers and dancers add to the rhythm with their castanets called sanbas. It's to the katcharsee numbers that Okinawans love to sing and dance. Arms are raised and hands waved wildly to the infectious rhythm.

Shima Uta is very much alive on Okinawa today, a part of everyday life. Unique within modern day Japan.

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During the first half of the 20th century, rokyoku, a form of narrative song became popular throughout Japan. Featuring the shamisen, it was a kind of street music that emerged in the Kansai region. During the jubilations that followed the Russo-Japanese war, Kumoemon Tochuken and Naramaru Tochuken became Japan's first recording stars. Rokyoku was seen as a means of spreading nationalistic ideology until the , but after the war gradually faded into obscurity. In the 1960s, two other singers, Hideo Murata and Haruo Minami came out of the rokyoku scene to gain great popularity. At the end of the 1980s, the beginning of the world music scene in Japan, Takeharu Kunimoto, the son of two rokyoku singers mixed rokyoku with African, rock and other genres, gaining success in Japan and attracting attention overseas.

Before the second world war, Japan embraced music from around the world. In the 1920s and 30s, French chansons were first sung in Japan, and French influenced composers such as Kunihako Hashimoto enjoyed great success. An arty image of chanson was combined with a Japanese worship of Western culture around this time. Especially Paris was considered a centre of chicness and fashion.

Jazz was imported into Japan from the end of the 1920s, mainly in the form of dances such as the foxtrot and rumba. Dance halls opened in the big cities, and American contemporary dances replaced European waltzes. As an increasingly xenophobic atmosphere developed, most of the dance halls had closed down by 1940. After the war the dance halls reopened, with jazz popular among the occupying American forces

A tango boom hit Japan around 1937 that started in the dancehalls. Japanese musicians composed new tango tunes, beginning with ‘Tango wo Odoroyo’ (Let’s Dance Tango). From 1940 Tango was outlawed, but following the war continued it’s popularity. Ranko Fujisawa recorded in Buenos Aires with her husband Shimpei Hayakawa, as tango reached it’s peak of popularity in the 1950s and 60s. Today a young bandoneon player, Ryota Komatsu continues this trend by performing Piazzola and other Tango classics once again making tango a trendy music for the young.

Hawaiian music too has always been popular in Japan. Japanese emigration to Hawaii began in 1885, and by 1922 Japanese (Nisei) Hawaiians, the Haida Brothers returned to Japan as the country’s first Hawaiian band. During the 1920s and 30s Hawaiian music reached a peak in popularity, with first generation Hawaiians regular visitors. In 1944 the steel guitar and banjo was outlawed and Hawaiian music was banned along with all other ‘western’ music. In recent years, Japanese 'Nisei' Herb Ohta, ukulele player and a disciple of Hawaiian legend Eddie Kamae has become popular in Japan, and indeed ukulele as an instrument is enjoying unprecedented popularity. Meanwhile the slack key guitar style has been championed by Yuki 'Alani' Yamauchi.

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AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR - the birth of Kayokyoku

After the war the general term for popular songs that came into usage was kayokyoku. In general, kayokyoku is the music somewhere between western pop and enka, which features strong Japanese and Asian characteristics. At the beginning, these two elements were struggling for supremacy, with the American side winning out on "Tokyo Boogie Woogie", honours shared on "Shamisen Boogie Woogie", while the Japanese elements winning out on "Tonko Bushi" in 1949, which still retained a feeling of the Edo period. In the late 1960s, 'group sounds' initiated the use of rock rhythms in kayokyoku. Throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, any new western trend was assimilated into kayokyoku songs, the boundaries becoming ever more blurred. These days, pop idols, boy and girl bands, who although for the most part are singing western music can still be classified as 'kayokyoku'.

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The term 'enka' came into use from the early 1970s. It was a slow type of kayokyoku, heavily influenced by Japanese elements. Enka is sometimes called 'the Heart of Japan'. It's sentimental lyrics concentrate on themes such as the separation of lovers, memories, despair and hope. Singers still usually wear kimono, it's most characteristic vocal style being the warbling crescendo at the end of sentences. The most important enka singers are Saburo Kitajima, Harumi Miyako, Shinichi Mori and Keiko Fuji and most of all Hibari Misora. Enka usually includes saxophones, trumpets, electric guitar and bass, piano and strings. Enka is still an extremely popular form of music today, the only national music to rival Japanese pop in the charts. It is often sung at karaoke, and although it's listeners are mainly from the older generation, recently some young singers have attracted a younger audience too.

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While Japan is the only eastern country to have so readily absorbed western music, street performances of wind and percussion instruments can be found all over the world. As an 'unmilitarized' street music, chindon is related to Jewish klezmer music, New Orleans brass bands and wind and percussion ensembles from China and south east Asia.

Chindon bands date back to the 1910s, whereby groups were employed by advertising companies to open stores and entertainment halls. However, commercial brass bands can be traced back to the beginning of the Meiji period, when the government, keen to demonstrate their 'westernization' used military bands at ceremonies to open railroads and banks.

Brass bands were the first western music formally imported into Japan. Military brass bands not only played marches but western classics, to demonstrate a 'civilized' music, because to import and teach western music, and ignore and forget domestic music was the national policy at the time.

Private companies soon followed suit, and by 1910 street bands employed by big companies were a common sight throughout Japan. When the government instituted public nuisance laws, and these companies switched their advertising revenue to newspapers and magazines, street music became more localized for smaller businesses.

At first it the brass bands were a high culture, but it didn't take long to find it's cheap imitators. Most of those commercial bands were thought of as vulgar, but some became popular in local areas. People called those bands jinta, one of the predecessors of chindon.

Military musicians were replaced by those who had played in silent movie theaters, who found themselves out of work since the arrival of 'talkies' and variety hall performers. Only those street bands with the loudest and most original repertoire survived, and some, who had used only traditional Japanese instruments, combined western instruments, originating the chindon sound.

Chindon had no original repertoire of it's own. The musicians played the popular music of the day, even today's 'traditional' tunes being mostly pre-war popular songs and variety hall songs from the Edo period. They would dress in colorful, outlandish costumes as if they had come straight off a movie set, would gather an audience and make their advertising pitch, while carrying a large banner emblazoned with the name of their sponsor.

Chindon is an onomatopoeic word, relating to the characteristic high 'chin' and lower pitched 'don' of the chindon drum. In the 1910s or 1920s metal percussion and two wood and skin taiko drums were combined within a wooden frame, to enable a player to perform alone, even when marching. The chindon is almost exclusively played by women, sometimes with a colorful umbrella draped over the top.

Accompanying the chindon are western instruments, a big 'goros' drum (from the French 'gros') plus clarinet and saxophone, played usually by men, that gradually replaced the Japanese shamisen (lute) as the main instrument. Noticeably, there are no bass instruments, being melody and rhythm driven, resulting in a music that gives a sense of both Japanese popular tunes and festival music, with even the western instruments played in a distinctive Japanese vain.

During the second world war, chindon along with other street activities was banned, although in the post war reconstruction period, chindon bands reached their peak in demand. During the 1950s there were over 5000 active chindon players, but by the early 1960s, as a form of advertising, was virtually extinguished by the new medium of television.

Those who champion Japanese traditions have never considered chindon to be significant, and it has never been honored by national institutions or preservation societies. In instrumentation and repertoire it was considered too modern to be labeled as 'traditional'. To old and some middle aged people, chindon is still familiar, but it has been completely ignored in the official history of Japanese music.

Most of it's players today come from the older generation and struggle to keep chindon alive as a profession, mainly advertising the opening of pachinko parlors in Tokyo suburbs and small shops in Osaka. Nevertheless it remains one of Japan's most unique, colorful, exciting and accessible musical styles, only being kept alive by a few 'revivalists', during the 1980s. The most noticeable chindon bands, or groups influenced by chindon music are Compostella, Cicala Mvta and Soul Flower Mononoke Summit.

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Jazz, blues, country and folk have all been and remain popular to a section of Japanese society. All these genres have Japanese musicians popularizing the music, and adding a touch of Japanese elements to them. In the 1960s popular music was greatly influenced by groups such as the Ventures, the Beatles and the Animals. In particular the Ventures spawned a whole new movement of similar sounding groups, such as the Tigers and the Jaguars. Even today the Ventures enjoy an iconic status in Japan. The 'group sounds' boom had subsided by 1969, as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and others became the main influences. 'Folk' singers and groups drew their inspiration from Bob Dylan. Japanese group Happy End became one of the most influential groups, successfully singing rock music in Japanese, featuring Haruomi Hosono, who would later be at the forefront of several other music movements. Another influential group was the Rolling Stones influenced RC Succession, while every rock development in the UK and USA, such as progressive rock was mirrored in Japan. Kitaro and his group Cosmos Factory originally emulated synthesizer groups such as Tangerine Dream. Southern All Stars have been Japan's most durable rock groups, singing Japanese with an English like pronunciation. Kraftwerk and electronic music spawned another influential group, Yellow Magic Orchestra, featuring Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto who in turn influenced a wave of techno pop in the 1980s. The emergence of punk, especially the Clash changed the rock scene again, with groups such as the Blue Hearts following a similar course to their UK counterparts. The live scene in the cities boomed, while in a street in Harajuku in Tokyo on a Sunday, hundreds of groups would gather every Sunday to entertain pedestrians becoming one of Tokyo's best known tourist spots until the street was opened up to traffic again at the end of the 1990s.

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The independent rock scene is thriving, and challenging a music industry traditionally dominated by the majors and their marketing powers. Indeed majors are these days creating 'indie' labels within their organisations to compete. It's these, often quirky rock acts that have enjoyed some success oversees. Following in the wake of Shonen Knife and The Boredoms are other all girl bands Buffalo Daughter, (signed outside Japan to Grande Royal) and Chibo Mato (signed to Warners in the US). More bands in the 'indie' genre making waves oversees include The Pugs, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, and Zoobombs who play hard rock with a funky edge.

The other genre to gain some exposure oversees is the 'modern club pop' of Pizzicato Five, Cornelius, Towa Tei, all known as the 'Shibuya Sound', after an area in Tokyo and disciples of Hosono and the YMO. Cornelius is currently garnering the biggest amount of press, particularly in the US.

Aside to Okinawa, another area that comes up with more than it's quota of successful artists is Osaka. Blues inspired outfit, Ulfuls, after several years suddenly became massive sellers. The best however is UA, plucked from a jazz club her first album 11 was a spectacular success. Her soulful voice, set to some of the catchiest tunes, over a cool backing, being the winning formula.

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In the mid 1980s, when 'world music' became a generally accepted term, some Japanese started to look at themselves and wonder what their own country had to offer. There was traditional music, but this had mostly been preserved and held little connection to most Japanese people. Pop music on the other hand, had lost virtually any trace of anything inherently Japanese. Japanese musicians found themselves attracted to the music of Okinawa, even though to many Japanese, Okinawa can seem quite distant and even foreign.

Japanese groups began to be influenced by the groups emanating from Okinawa, such as Shokichi Kina and Champloose and Rinken Band. One of the first groups to look to Okinawa, but create an original Japanese 'roots' music with other world influences were Shang Shang Typhoon. Shang Shang Typhoon didn't just update traditional music, or add Japanese instruments to pop music. Instead, they created their own sound, probably closest in style and attitude to post-war kayokyoku, the Japanese version of pop music, that mixed elements of Western, Hawaiian or Latin music with Japanese traditions and humorous words. In their music was fragments of ondo ( festival music), min'yo (folk) and rokyoku (storytelling). These were combined in varying degrees with an eclectic array of music from Okinawa, Korea, China and Latin America, to pop, rock and reggae. Later Hawaiian, Irish, African and Indian music were added to an already blazingly vivid palette of sounds.

Ironically, the Okinawan roots music boom in the 90s, probably owes more to a Japanese band than to any Okinawan group. In 1993, the biggest selling single (1.5 million) was The Boom's 'Shima Uta', an Okinawan melody and sanshin combined with rock guitar and drums. The Boom captured the Japanese version of a Grammy for best song, and now is considered one of the classic Japanese songs of the decade. Japanese musicians such as Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto had already covered Okinawan traditional tunes as early as 1978, but the impact of the Boom was far greater on the general and young population of Japan. The Boom subsequently did much the same with Indonesian music, and then Brazilian music with the albums Far East Samba and Tropicalism, the latter a mix of all the elements in the Boom's music thus far. In 1998 the group's singer Miyazawa released two solo albums. 'Sixteenth Moon' recorded in London and 'Afrosick' recorded in Brazil.

In 2002, he has released his third self titled album, Miyazawa, released in Brazil and Europe.

If there is a song to rival the Boom's 'Shima Uta' as the best Japanese song of the decade, perhaps that would be Mangetsu no Yube ( A Full Moon Evening), composed by Takashi Nakagawa of the rock group Soul Flower Union and Hiroshi Yamaguchi of Heat Wave, for the victims of the Kobe earthquake. The Soul Flower Union version, with Okinawan sanshin, and an acoustic 'chindon' accompaniment even spurred a new acoustic unit of Soul Flower called Soul Flower Mononoke Summit. The group played tunes popular in Japan before and after the second world war, with Okinawan Tetsuhiro Daiku's albums a big influence. Soul Flower Union's output also seemed to improve, with Mononoke Summit acoustic sound, combined with a rockier approach, especially with the superb 'Electro Asyl- Bop'.

Min'yo singer Takio Ito expanded the realms of min'yo and was one of the most successful of the early attempts to update a tradition. He incorporated jazz and rock plus other Asian and Japanese traditional elements, while bass, guitar, violin, piano and drums were combined with shamisen, shakuhachi and taiko.

During the 1990s, producer Makoto Kubota and singer Sandii attempted to create a kind of pan-Asian music by recording Indonesian and Malaysian songs, as well working with musicians from south east Asian countries. They then turned their attention to the music of Sandii's birthplace Hawaii, releasing three superb Hawaiian albums. All feature Kubota's trademark mixture of sounds, including an Asian feel, and have done a lot to restore an interest in Hawaiian music in Japan.

Ainu music has also made a comeback as a living tradition in recent years, largely due to the efforts of singer and tonkori player Oki. Oki updates traditional Ainu tunes, composes his own songs and has also recorded an elder Ainu singer, Umeko Ando.

The taiko drum is one of the most primitive instruments which can provide straightforward emotions such as joy, hate, anger and harmony. To this end, Ondekoza were formed in 1969 on Sado Island, to lead a communal life, aiming for harmony and physical fitness. Through their sound they hoped to evoke these emotions within the listener. Young men and women, until then unassociated with Japanese traditional performing arts, underwent vigorous physical training of marathon and technical training of the Japanese Giant drums in communal life on the island.

The group later split into two, with one half, the Taiko drummers group Kodo, continuing to hold the ' Earth Celebration' event every year on Sado, and invite a number of foreign artists. Today, Kodo have become one of Japan's most famous musical exports and collaborate with musicians from around the world on record and in concert.

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Okinawa remained governed by the US until 1972, during which time a new music scene developed around the military bases, especially the wild years of the Vietnam war. Most Okinawan groups played western music in the nightclubs, until Shokichi Kina and his family group, Champloose, mixed Okinawan local songs with rock, and electric guitar and drums with sanshin in the mid-70s. After hearing Kina, Japanese musicians such as Haruomi Hosono and Makoto Kubota started to play Okinawan influenced music at this time. At the end of the 1980s the Okinawan 'boom' started throughout Japan, as their answer to the wealth of music being produced elsewhere in the world with it's root in a tradition. From the same generation as Kina, Teruya Rinken formed Rinken Band, and made several excellent albums. Sadao China formed the female quartet, Nenes, whose first album Ikawu in 1991 was a seminal album of Okinawan folk and pop. Nenes recorded the exceptional Koza Dabasa in Los Angeles in 1994 with guests including David Lindley, David Hidalgo and Ry Cooder. At the end of the decade, the four current singers departed to be replaced by four new singers.

The influential Shokichi Kina's career meanwhile has been littered with long periods of musical inactivity, during which time his albums have consisted of mostly re-recordings and re-mixes of older material. Probably, his former guitarist Takashi Hirayasu, blooming after leaving Champloose, is making the more interesting music these days, his collaborations with American Bob Brozman becoming the best selling Okinawan music outside of Japan.

Music from the Yaeyama islands, much nearer to Taiwan is fundamentally different to that of the main Okinawan island. The music, originally only vocal, developed in the fields, as workers would sing eachother songs with call-and- response phrases. After the feudal period, the sanshin became freely available on Yaeyama and local music developed at speed, still out on the fields, while back on the main island of Okinawa, the sanshin remained the privilege of the Samurai. The working songs called Yunta and Jiraba, give the music an earthy quality. Tetsuhiro Daiku is today one of Okinawa's most respected musicians and one of Okinawa's world ambassadors, having travelled to Europe, Asia, South America and Africa. Daiku is a disciple of Yukichi Yamazato, an elder Yaeyama musician who has recently himself benefited from the success of Daiku. The master stroke for Daiku came in his mixing of Yaeyama Yunta with Japanese chindon (street music). Some of the other songs were old Japanese ones, popular just after the second world war, that had sunk into the consciousness of many Japanese, but at the same time were almost forgotten. Tetsuhiro Daiku's albums proved to be a big influence on the acoustic unit of Osaka rock band Soul Flower Union, Soul Flower Mononoke Summit.

A student of Daiku, Isamu Asato, a fisherman now living on Taketomi island, but originally from Yaeyama, recorded his first album at the age of 51. A traditional album of Nasake Uta, the slow tragic songs of Yaeyama in contrast to the more usual working songs.

Japanese, but Okinawan resident musician Kenji Yano was a member in the 80s of Rokunin Gumi who built up a cult following in Okinawa but never released an album. In the 90s Yano released three innovative albums with singer Sachiko Shima, under the pseudonyms of Sons of Ailana, the Surf Champlers and Sarabandge, which mixed Okinawan with Hawaiian, Surf and Trance music respectively. In 2002 he released the equally excellent Sanshin Cafe Orchestra, acoustic chill music.

Two other groups from the mainland who are taking Okinawan music in new directions are An-Chang Project and 'sister' group Shisars. They mostly perform traditional songs, but sing them in harmony, whereas traditionally the vocals are sung in unison. Underpinning those vocals is some searing, psychedelic guitar parts, and different types of percussion. Both An-Chang Project and Shisars are kind of 'underground' classics of Okinawan and Japanese roots music.

It's within the twenty-something bracket that there arguably there seems to be a lack of musicians interested in Okinawan music enough to either play the traditional or take 'shima uta' in new directions. Yukito Ara and his group Parsha Club were once called leaders of the 'new wave' of Okinawan music but rather declined in popularity by the end of the 1990s.

From the same small town as Yukito Ara, Shiraho on Ishigaki island, Yasukatsu Ohshima, now in his early 30s, has a voice that drips with the tradition of Okinawa, and is perhaps the best of the young musicians. Probably the island where the tradition is kept most alive is these days not part of Okinawa at all, Amami, which has it's own style of shima uta with falsetto vocals, it's music reflecting it's geographical location, half way between Okinawa and Japan. Female singer Rikki has been championed by Makoto Kubota, who produced her first album, while teenagers Mizuki Nakamura and Kousuke Atari have both released promising albums

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Through the 1980s and 1990s the holy grail for Japanese pop and rock musicians was success in the US or Europe. Despite attempts and heavy marketing by major record companies nobody however has broken into a western foreign market. Roots musicians from Okinawa, such as Nenes, Shokichi Kina and Takashi Hirayasu have enjoyed success within the larger 'world music' market, with album releases and tours. From Japan, Miyazawa and The Boom have toured and had albums released in Brazil and Europe. Instrumental musicians, Kitaro and Ryuichi Sakamoto have had most impact, while some 'indie' rock groups have achieved some cult following. However, the biggest selling pop music has remained largely for the domestic market, until Japan's Asian neighbours also discovered Japanese pop culture. in Taiwan, TV channels broadcast Japanese dramas and Japanese music videos. In Hong Kong, despite some anti-Japanese sentiment it's much the same story, as it is in Thailand. Even in Korea as restrictions on Japanese culture are lifted, and the past history between the two countries is forgotten, young Koreans are discovering Japanese music.

The entertainment industry in Japan is the most developed in the region, and Asians have increasingly more strongly identified with Japanese pop culture. The young are looking towards Japan for the latest trends, not America, where songs and stars have a common Asian appeal. Perhaps in the future, Japan will take the leading role in establishing an Asian musical identity. Influenced by the west, but reshaped as uniquely Japanese.

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