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Japan Ancient Roots Music

The first significant development in the history of Japanese music took place in the Heian Period (794-1192 A.D), While Japanese music which had been popular among common people was being sophisticated, all kinds of music from various Asian countries In the previous two centuries were being assimilated and modified, acquiring distinct Japanese characteristics. Gagaku is the music which was performed mainly at Court among the powerful nobility and upper classes.

Gagaku is classified into three categories: original foreign music, pure Japanese music, and music composed in Japan using influences from other countries. The representative genre of Gagaku has its origin in China, Korea, and other countries in Southeast Asia or South Asia, and is divided into two types such as To-gaku or music of Chinese origin, and Komagaku or music of Korean origin. It is orchestral music without any vocal part. The music is known as Kangen and when accompanied by dancing is called Bugaku.

Pure Japanese music, called Kokufu kabu or Japanese Song Dance, is vocal music with instrumental accompaniment. It is based on very ancient music performed at shrine rites as well as Court ceremonies. The last category includes Saibara with its origin in folk songs and Roei for chanting Chinese poems. They are accompanied with instrumental music.

Instruments used in Gagaku are mouth organs, flageolite-type instruments, flutes, drums, and zither. Arrangements of these instruments differ depending on the genre of music. Gagaku is performed at Court, shrines, and some temples. Recently it has attracted young people's attention and is sometimes used in contemporary music. (For additional information, refer to Facts about Japan: GAGAKU).

In addition to Gagaku, another important music style, Shomyo, was formed during the Heian Period. It is vocal music used in Buddhist services and became a very significant source of Japanese vocal music which developed later.

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