Religious Music Cultures In Japan Cultural Studies Essay

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There are many different ways in which people connect to their spirituality through the medium of music. Religious is one in particular that is broadly used around the world. The music culture that will be discovered is in Japan. Religious beliefs are generally not considered as mutually exclusive in Japan; an immense variety of religions, sub-schools and sects coincide and overlaps.(Kishibe, & Tarocco) Accordingly, there are many distinctive genres of religious music, and some performance traditions are of great antiquity and complexity.(Kishibe, & Tarocco) The two most dominant genres will be discussed in this essay, which are Shinto and Buddhism. In Japan, these two dominant religious music cultures are considered rich in ethical and spiritual. Within these two music cultures, the rituals practiced to connect with one's spirituality and their intended aspiration will be studied to analyze which one is more eminent music culture in the means of connecting to the spirits. In order to encounter closer understanding of one's culture, cultural context including socio-cultural, historical, and geographic contexts will be researched and analyzed, as well as the musical contexts and elements to particular.

Japan is a country in northeastern Asia that principally comprises four main islands (Honshū, Kyūshū, Hokkaidō and Shikoku) surrounded by more than 4,000 smaller islands. Early cultural influences derived from Japan's proximity to China and Korea to the west. Although Japan is generally considered to be ethnically homogeneous, Japan is culturally diverse. Before the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the main religions in Japan were the indigenous cults of Shintō and various forms of Buddhism. (Kishibe, & Tarocco)

The first religious music we will study is called Shintō. It is considered as the religion of the Japanese people from the very beginning down to the present time. Shintō, ('the way of the kami (God)') which is considered highly ethical and spiritual is comprised with a wide range of animistic or nature cults and purification and fertility ceremonies play a major part, along with shamanistic rituals of divination, faith healing and others.(Kishibe, & Tarocco) Historically, Shintō was systematized into a state religion with the basic shamanism of early antiquity. The music and dance of Shintō ceremonies was the main body of court music in belief of it would strengthen the political power of the imperial court.

Japanese culture has very deep and continuous sense of his direct relationship with his ancestors, human and divine, and attaches to it paramount importance. To keep that connection alive, practicing ritualism and worship are essential.(Herbert, 1967) Although the individual worship is practiced in everyday life, collective worship, solemn celebration, called matsuri(festival)(Herbert, 1967) embraces music elements more heavily. The matsuri take place periodically in every Shintō temple. One of the main purpose of most matsuri is protection against evil, in whatever form it may come. The most important matsuri which are specifically intended for purification is one celebrated in early February, called Setsubun (change of seasons).(Herbert, 1967) The music elements in the matsuri plays an important role in the ceremony. The successive phases of the matsuri include Koshin, begging the Kami 'to bestow his spirit on the spot' accompanied by beating the drum (taiko), or ringing the bells(suzu) and calling the Kami in various mystical words.(Herbert, 1967) The Norito- sojo, chanting of norito and Bugaku, offering of songs and dances to the Kami follows to Ura-goto (divination) with Kami and inviting the 'presiding spirit of the matsuri to withdraw'. And at the end of matsuri, the priest can tell whether tha Kami was satisfied or not.(Herbert, 1967)

In Shintō temples particularly, classical religious and ceremonial music and dancing are designated collectively by the name of kagura.(Herbert, 1967) The complete repertory of Kagura-Uta (the cycle of songs) contains over 40 songs, but today only 12 are performed.(Kishibe, & Tarocco) The kagura-uta is mostly in free rhythm and have a simple melodic structure, subtle in interpretation; only a single mode is used, based on the tone ichikotsu. In comparison to other Japanese singing, voice production is straight-toned and open. The notation is a system of neumes known as hakase, dating from the later 12th century. (Kishibe, & Tarocco) The ritual core of the cycle is Torimono noh-bu, the later songs being regarded as lighter in character, relics of the old banquet tradition. Two (sometimes three) of the pieces have a separate section appended for a solo dancer (the ninjō-mai).(Kishibe, & Tarocco) The first verse in each song is sung solo and the later verses in unison chorus. The lead singer controls the pace of the performance with shakubyōshi (wooden clappers). (Kishibe, & Tarocco) The musical instruments used during matsuri are naturally very old traditional types. The percussion instruments used are collectively called sanko (three drums) or uchi-mono (striking instruments).(Herbert, 1967) They include the taiko, kakko, and the shoko. The kakko, is beaten with two sticks, which marks the time, leads the other instruments.(Herbert, 1967) Another percussion instrument, the sasara, consists of two blocks of wood, which are beaten one against another. The wind-instruments are called sankan which includes the fue ( a short flute with six holes), the sho (an instrument with seventeen bamboo tubes of various lengths placed upright in a circle) and the hichiriki (a nine-holed flageolet). As string-instruments, a special kind of koto, the wagon,(Herbert, 1967) mostly playing simple arpeggio figures on open strings(Kishibe, & Tarocco) or yamatokoto is made of a piece of board about six strings resting upon a bridge. It is played with a long plectrum held in the right hand.(Herbert, 1967) Variety of dance performances is accompanied on the occasion of matsuri. The ninjo-mai, otome-mai, shihi-mai, tatsy-gashira-mai, and yamato-mai offers sacred choreography to the Kami.(Herbert, 1967) The variety of costumes and masks are unlimited and dramas, pantomime, comedy, sumo, pageants and many other types of performances are played at the matsuri.(Herbert, 1967)

The second religious music culture is Buddhism, which was officially introduced in 538. In Japan, it has always been understood as a Chinese rather than an Indian religion which has led to base the main branches of Japanese Buddhism (Tendai, Shingon, Pure Land and Zen) on Chinese models.(Kishibe, & Tarocco) However, Japanese Buddhism developed a highly distinctive character, each school or sub-school having its own doctrines and often elaborate liturgy, as well as its own types of music. Buddhism suffered after 1868 but revived strongly in the later 20th century.(Kishibe, & Tarocco)

Buddhist music imparts both regional and sectarian characteristics, and the repertories have developed in constant interaction with local musical traditions and performing arts. Although it is developed in different characteristics,(Tarocco) the one distinctive belief that implicated art and music in Buddhism has been shared from the beginning and in all major schools, the idea of impermanence (Sanskrit Nnitya, Pali anicca).(Mabbett, 1994) Nothing in the physical world lasts. Life does not last. All that is permanent is the unconditioned, the transcendent the ultimately real and self-existent solvent of all fleeting transient natures, and that reality is Nirvana.(Mabbett, 1994)

The traditional music of Japanese Buddhism comprises primarily chant called shomyo, for the various liturgies called hōyō.(Kishibe, & Tarocco) The phrase shomyo translates the Chinese sheng-ming(sound of music).(Mabbett, 1994) Shōmyō pieces may be classified according to the doctrinal affiliation and rituals they represent; the nature (and language) of the text; modal and tonal structure; and rhythmic type.(Kishibe, & Tarocco) Japanese Buddhist liturgical chant is traditionally divided according to the characteristics of the text chanted. There are three distinct categories. Bonsan are hymns in which Chinese characters stand for transliterated Sanskrit sounds, Kansan are hymns with a Chinese text and Wasan are hymns written in Japanese which are usually described as the most melodious in style. Shōmyō can be made of a combination of up to 50 codified melodic formulas. (Tarocco) The performances range from the syllabic invocation of the Buddha Amida (nembutsu) to the very complex and melismatic settings of the pieces transmitted esoterically within the priesthood. Recently, the more esoteric pieces were left out from published recordings. (Tarocco) The vocal quality of Buddhist liturgical music is often natural. (Tarocco) The important in the tonal structures of shōmyō, are the senritsukei, short melodic units that are strung together in chains and are identified with individual names. Rhythmically, mostshōmyō pieces are in free time (jokyoku), but a few have fixed metre (teikyoku) or combine both (gukyoku).(Kishibe, & Tarocco)

The shomyo, is accompanied with instruments. From the 7th to the 9th centuries, Indian Buddhists introduced typical ensemble which usually includes two types of cymbals, double-headed frame drums, handbells with internal clappers, small hourglass drums, conch-shell trumpets, long metal trumpets, low-pitched oboes (rgya-gling) and bronze gongs. (Tarocco) The use of drums and trumpets' tone colour indicated in the notation by vowels sub-vocalized by the trumpeter.(Mabbett, 1994) Instrumental music is required on every occasion, whether or not instruments are played or 'mentally produced' through meditation and visualization techniques. In some rituals, no instruments are physically present. The full ensemble is present on special occasions such as the healing and propitiation rituals. (Tarocco)

Buddhist musical notation systems, both instrumental and vocal, are known primarily through Japanese. The examples of Buddhist notation is meyasu-hakase contour notations. (Tarocco) The shomyo notation is by modern western standards, relatively precise.(Mabbett, 1994) Musical instruments are divided into five classes (pañcā-tÅ«rya-nāda). Buddhist philosophers hold that sound is subject to 'creation and destruction', with inevitable musical and aesthetic consequences. (Tarocco)

These music elements plays a substantial role in the private meditation Zen adept who seeks to empty his mind of all the clutter of ordinary selfhood and to rise above his consciousness of the profane phenomenal world.(Mabbett, 1994) The individual obtains a sense of transcending his petty selfhood in a concourse that is swept along by religious emotion. This sensibility is usually enhanced by the impetuous energy of a percussive drum rhythm or the spectral wailing of massed flutes and horns.(Mabbett, 1994) Monotonously repeated sounds often form in the repertoire, and it is here that we need to notice the incessant repetition of chanted mantras, as an important tantric technique. In a ritual practice, a distinction is being made between those religious elements whose power can be explained by reference to their imitation of the occult structure of the cosmos and those that are integral to the practice of a ritual.(Mabbett, 1994) For example, the clear ringing sound of the kin, a small bowl which is struck at intervals ritual, can easily be thought of as a symbol of Buddhist purity, but it is also a punctuation mark in the ritual and as such is a structural element. The ringing of the big hammered bell, the densho, and beating a wooden board, a han, is played to summons to meditation.(Mabbett, 1994)

In the question of one being more eminent than the other, one cannot answer such a question since it is deeply linked with the matter of religion. However, by looking at the rituals practiced in each culture, we can make an assumption that Shinto, is adopted more broadly by Japanese, since it is a tradition that has been engraved in their lives as it has been the national religion since the beginning. Their beliefs of close connection with their ancestors, allows them to keep the connection alive in everyday routine and in large festivals celebrated nationally. On the other hand, it could carefully state that Buddhist music is dealt highly with religious belief. As means of connecting with spirituals, music Shinto ritual is focused on worshiping Kami, where as Buddhist music is often used in accompanying one's meditation to reach a state of mind. Although these two music cultures are practiced in two separate religions, they both recognize music as pure and sacred elements.