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Developing modern styles in japanese music



As Japan began the process of modernization under the Meiji Reformation of 1868, there was already a large pool of traditional music - classical, folk and urban - available for development or incorporation into newer styles. Another influence came into the mix in the mid-nineteenth century, with the arrival of Western military bands. These laid the foundations for the Western music that followed, from classical to popular genres like jazz and chanson.

Two short song forms - shoka and gunka - developed during the Meiji period. Shoka are songs composed to introduce Western music and singing to schools. Gunka are military songs with strong Japanese elements, acting as a prototype for later Japanese-Western syntheses like enka. Popular from the Sino-Japanese war to World War II - when Western forms like jazz were banned - you can still hear these patriotic songs blaring from the trucks of right-wing activists in Tokyo.

At the turn of the century, another immensely popular song form was ryukoka ("songs that are popular") which developed from street entertainers in the Osaka region, and was set to a shamisen backing. Japan's first recording stars, Kumoemon Tochuken and Naramuru Yoshida, were ryukoka performers and their throbbing vocal styles prefigured important popular forms to come.

With Western culture - movies and music - now flooding Japan, local musicians started to catch on. The Hatano Jazz Band was the first Japanese to play jazz, following a trip to the USA in 1912. Tango, foxtrot, rumba, Tin Pan Alley, blues and Hawaiian all followed. The potential for a fusion between Japanese and Western music was most fully realized by two composers, Nakayama Shimpei and Koga Masao, both of whom were major figures in the development of Japanese popular songs. Sometimes using the Japanese yonanuki pentatonic scale with Western arrangements, Shimpei hit the bigtime with Kachusha no uta (Katherine's Song), while Koga pioneered the use of single-line guitar accompaniment (standard for many enka songs) in the 1931 hit Sake wa Namida ka Tameiki ka (Sake is a tear or a sigh). Koga also used the yuri ornamentation from traditional music in this song.

The resultant style became known as kayokyoku, a catch-all term for Japanese popular songs that originated in the 1930s but only came into use after World War II. Roots bands like Shang Shang Typhoon that emerged in the late 1980s use a similar approach to create songs from a mixture of Japanese pop and traditional, Latin, reggae and Asian styles.

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