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DICIEMBRE 11

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Min'yo - folk music



The term for regional music or folk songs is min'yo. Farmers planting their rice crops, fishermen pulling in their nets and lullabies are constant themes. Modern folk songs often refer to nostalgic references to these ways of life. Songs of one district can be very different to those of an adjoining district. Urban popular music with traditional elements has mostly been kept alive in Okinawa, while the Ainu, the indigenous Japanese who now live in the northern most island of Hokkaido also have their own unique songs and music. Min'yo was originally sung by non-professionals, just ordinary people, but developed through the performance of professional female singers, (geisha), with a shamisen accompaniment. The social status of folk songs was raised with the introduction of the shakuhachi at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Although mass communication is thought to be generally harmful to traditions, it had some positive effect on min'yo. Japanese radio broadcasts of folk singers began in the 1920s. Radio singers could reach a much wider audience, and traditions only previously only known in a particular area were now broadcast nationwide. Some of the singers became some of Japan's first national 'stars'. New songs or shin min'yo have been composed since this time to attract tourism and greater national awareness of a particular area.

However, the real meaning and spirit of min'yo, is believed to have somehow gotten lost during the Meiji period of modernization in Japan in the second half of the 19th century. The government strove hard to root out traditional culture, deemed not suitable for a western style nation. Many min'yo songs were re-written and only government approved min'yo came to be recorded or played on the radio. Pockets of true min'yo survived however in rural regions.

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