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JAPANESE FOLK MUSIC
There are four main kinds
of Japanese folk songs (min'yō): work songs, religious songs (such as sato
kagura, a form of Shintoist music), songs used for gatherings such as
weddings, funerals, and festivals (matsuri, especially Obon), and children's
songs (warabe uta).
In min'yō, singers are typically accompanied by the 3 stringed lute known as
the shamisen, taiko drums, and a bamboo flute called shakuhachi. Other
instruments that could accompany are a transverse flute known as the
shinobue, a bell known as kane, a hand drum called the tsuzumi, and/or a 13
stringed zither known as the koto. In Okinawa, the main instrument is the
sanshin. These are traditional Japanese instruments, but modern
instrumentation, such as electric guitars and synthesizers is, also used in
this day and age, when enka singers cover traditional min'yō songs (Enka
being a Japanese music genre all its own...).
Terms often heard when speaking about min'yō are ondo, bushi, bon uta, and
komori uta. An ondo generally describes any folk song with a distinctive
swung 2/2 time rhythm. The typical folk song heard at Obon festival dances
will most likely be an ondo. A bushi is a song with a distinctive rhythm. In
fact, its very name means "rhythm" or "time," and describes the ostinato
pattern played throughout the song. Bon uta, as the name describes, are
songs for Obon, the lantern festival of the dead. Komori uta are children's
Many of these songs include extra stress on certain syllables, as well as
pitched shouts (kakegoe). Kakegoe are generally shouts of cheer, but in
min'yō they are often included as parts of choruses. There are many kakegoe,
though they vary from region to region. In Okinawa Min'yō, for example, one
will hear the common "ha iya sasa!" In mainland Japan, however, one will be
more likely to hear "a yoisho!," "sate!," or "a sore!" Others are "a donto
koi!," and "dokoisho!"
A guild-based system exists for min'yō; it is called iemoto. Education is
passed on in a family, and long apprenticeships are common.
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