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Reviewed by:
  • An Anthology of Nagauta
  • Howard K. Asao
An Anthology of Nagauta. Edited by William P. Malm. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2010. $35.00.

This is a well-organized and well-researched work on nagauta and serves as a resource on the topic in English: it will be of use to both those who learn the art itself and scholars. It is an excellent follow-up to the author's early volume (Nagauta: The Heart of Kabuki [Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1963]) and his other works on Japanese music. Those in Japanese music, literature, and theatre will want to use it. The book is notable for its excellent English translations of selected nagauta compositions and will be a fine tool for anyone who is actively studying the art or been exposed via listening or reading. The historical and cultural information pertinent to each of the nagauta compositions in the text shares important factual information. This will be of special use to musicians and nihon buyo dancers. The inclusion of the Japanese text lyrics for each of the nagauta is appreciated, and both vocalists and instrumentalists will find much of value. The inclusion of selective well-known nagauta sound recordings on two CDs is an extra benefit. In the future, it would be wonderful to have the remaining compositions, which are already well explained and translated in the text, be recorded and made available as well, to add to the educational benefit of the overall project. I would also recommend this text for a reading supplement in courses pertaining to Japanese theatre or culture, world music, or Asian studies.

That said, if a second edition is forthcoming some changes can be recommended. For example, in chapter 1, "An Introduction to Shamisen Music History, Theory, and Practice," which gives a strong overall introduction, more attention could be devoted to the development of the various schools of nagauta and their unique styles in performance. This addition would be conducive to fuller understanding of the art. The listings under recordings can be elaborated with more inventory: These could include listings that are available under the Victor, Toshiba, Crown, Columbia, Teichiku, Polydor, King, and other recording companies in Japan. There are minor typos. For example, on page 76 kiahimaki-baori should be koshimaki baori, "Tansen" should be "Tanzen," meshiru should be meshitaru, and on page 169 "Aki no Irogusa," should be "Aki no Kusa." There is an error of fact where the text discussing a dance song says: "The dancer holds the staff with a tassel on the end (keyari) that appears at the beginning of this piece" (p. 74): This shows some confusion regarding the dance to that text. The dancer here, in fact, holds a large paper lantern (choochin), not a staff with a tassel. In another dance titled Oharame (kuroki uri), the footman character dances with a staff with a tassel (keyari), and perhaps these two dances have been conflated. Despite such minor errors, this is a work that I recommend. The author is to be congratulated for creating something that will be of use to all who are interested in nagauta. [End Page 324]

Howard K. Asao
University of Hawai'i at Manoa