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  • Japanese Traditional Music: Songs of People at Work and Play by Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai
  • Justin R. Hunter (bio)
Japanese Traditional Music: Songs of People at Work and Play. Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai [sic], 1941. Text and translation by Naoko Terauchi. World Arbiter, 2016. One CD (77 minutes). 19 pages of notes (English), 16 pages of notes (Japanese). $15.95.

Japanese Traditional Music: Songs of People at Work and Play is a compilation of music not likely heard outside of academic archives for more than seventy years. The amount of scholarly work done on Japanese music is seemingly endless. From courtly traditions to theater forms, Japanese and foreign scholars have worked in earnest to document the island nation's performing arts for centuries. In the pre– and post–World War II era, many Japanese musicologists documented musics from around Japan to capture sounds thought to be in decline due to changing times. But equally important, these documentations were crafted to present the unique qualities of Japanese traditional genres to the outside world. Much of this recorded material was lost or now rests in archives, however, and is largely inaccessible to most people. This CD compilation by Naoko Terauchi is a restoration project of recordings from the mid-twentieth century, focusing on regional folk songs. "Each song conveys a rich musical and lyrical expression closely related to local livelihoods and life styles" (7) from people all over Japan.

This is an extensive project, for which information and audio from archival research and two sets of recordings was compiled to release the album in its complete form of twenty-four tracks. These recordings allow listeners to hear music of "unique historical importance, [and they are] culturally valuable as a document of musical practices in traditional Japanese genres during wartime" (5). Indeed, Terauchi's album highlights the music of Japanese commoners and not the elite musics or high art forms of city centers, which arguably were not at risk of loss. The folk tunes of the countryside speak to the people of Japan in a time in which the world had particular views of the militaristic nation gearing up in aggression and solidifying its homogeneous and lofty presentation.

Terauchi's projects are a compilation of the work done by the Kokusai Bunka Shinkō-kai (KBS; International Organization for the Promotion of Culture), started in the late 1930s. The KBS was created by what is now the [End Page 165] Japan Foundation to promote cultural exchange between Japan and foreign countries. The KBS created an extensive anthology of Japanese music that was recorded between 1941 and 1942. As Terauchi notes, it is remarkable that this project was completed in such a turbulent time in Japan's history. Nihon Ongaku-shu (Album of Japanese Music) was compiled to demonstrate the richness of Japanese cultural practices by accounting for the various performing art forms. Ethnomusicologists Tanabe Hisao and Machida Kashō were connected to the original project. Terauchi notes that it is likely that Hisao and Kashō played a large role in selecting the music highlighted in Nihon Ongaku-shu, which was released as a sixty-disc (120 sides) collection arranged into five volumes. These original volumes included music from the gagaku, koto, shamisen, and other traditional Japanese forms. The compilation album by Terauchi highlights the folk songs collected in the Nihon Ongaku-shu.

Japanese Traditional Music includes music from nearly every region in Japan. I suppose appropriately, albeit unjustly, the original collection included only Japanese music and excluded music from Okinawan people, the Ainu, or any other minority groups living in Japan at that time. Each track is accompanied by a detailed description in the liner notes—published by World Arbiter in English but available in Japanese on The use of both English and Japanese is a nod to the original intent of the KBS's mission to bring Japan's culture to the world in accessible ways. The source material for these descriptions is, as Terauchi explains, a compilation in itself. She uses references from the KBS project and a few of the follow-up collections, including the large work done by Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai (NHK) and separate work done by...


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