Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Composing Japanese Musical Modernity

Composing Japanese Musical Modernity

by Bonnie C. Wade

See All Formats & Editions

When we think of composers, we usually envision an isolated artist separate from the orchestra—someone alone in a study, surround by staff paper—and in Europe and America this image generally has been accurate. For most of Japan’s musical history, however, no such role existed—composition and performance were deeply intertwined.  Only when


When we think of composers, we usually envision an isolated artist separate from the orchestra—someone alone in a study, surround by staff paper—and in Europe and America this image generally has been accurate. For most of Japan’s musical history, however, no such role existed—composition and performance were deeply intertwined.  Only when Japan began to embrace Western culture in the late nineteenth century did the role of the composer emerge. In Composing Japanese Musical Modernity, Bonnie Wade uses an investigation of this new musical role to offer new insights not just into Japanese music but Japanese modernity at large and global cosmopolitan culture.

Wade examines the short history of the composer in Japanese society, looking at the creative and economic opportunities that have sprung up around them—or that they forged—during Japan’s astonishingly fast modernization. She shows that modernist Japanese composers have not bought into the high modernist concept of the autonomous artist, instead remaining connected to the people. Articulating Japanese modernism in this way, Wade tells a larger story of international musical life, of the spaces in which tradition and modernity are able to meet and, ultimately, where modernity itself has been made. 

Editorial Reviews

Frederick Lau

“In this highly original book, Bonnie Wade skillfully presents a complicated story by weaving together the connections between political conditions, cultural environments, and social expectations. By focusing on these connections between social domains, she establishes a dynamic scene that cannot easily be captured by single concepts such as modernization, westernization, or globalization. She provides a study that is as much about composers, music organizations, and social history as it is about the making of Japanese musical modernity—a process that is still ongoing.” 
Keith Howard

“The concept of ‘composer’ was once alien in much of East Asia; it is, largely, a part of modernity, and of the adoption of Western art music and its systems, part of something that in Japan can be charted from the Meiji restoration onwards. In Composing Japanese Musical Modernity, Bonnie Wade takes us on what is essentially an ethnographic journey. Her account is heavily informed by interviews and discussions with composers and their audiences and is theoretically grounded by affordance theory—how music is used and received—rather than analyses of music structures. This is a welcome change to the approach adopted by other scholars. Although she situates her account within ethnomusicology, she brilliantly challenges the otherness embedded in much that is associated with this discipline. And so it must be, since the Japanese music culture she describes is heavily enculturated by the precepts of Western art music. That does not make Japanese composers Western, and Wade finds distinction in the continuance of the age-old tradition of performer-composers and with an identity of place. The latter means that Japanese composers today still connect to the people, creating music for social good rather than maintaining the outdated Eurocentric ‘art for art’s sake’ mantra. Where other accounts have concentrated on either the traditional music of Japan (and those who create music relating to it) or on those who compose using systems associated with European orchestral and ensemble forms, Wade usefully brings both sides together. In doing so, she charts elements of distinction, teasing them out  in three broad sectional sweeps, each framed by a distinct environment—the environment of modernization (where composers and musicians create for government, education, industry, and commerce), the environment of a shared cultural space (in which Japan has adopted Western music systems and in which Japanese composers travel abroad), and the environment of specific instrumental and choral groups (and of music composed for these groups). In sum, this is a welcome—and overdue—correction to the literature on Japanese contemporary music.”
Fred Lerdahl

“In Composing Japanese Musical Modernity, the distinguished ethnomusicologist Bonnie C. Wade provides a systematic historical and institutional study of contemporary Japanese art music, thereby illuminating its social development and intricate connections with Western music. This book is a model for future explorations of this kind. Composers of other cultures should be so lucky!”
Andrew Barshay

“Bonnie C. Wade’s new work is significant and enjoyable, supple and deft in its use of cultural theory, and attentive to historical specificity. As an author she is generous to the composers and performer-composers who are her subjects, allowing them to speak for themselves at length. And this they do, intelligently and sometimes poignantly. Wade skillfully shows that, for Japan’s musical world, the dark decades before 1945 represent not just something ‘bad’ to be renounced but something institutionally and organizationally significant. And by the same token, she also delineates the political stakes of cultural work in the postwar era. In the broadest sense, she illuminates the vectors of modern cultural choice across the globe.”

“Wade offers a new understanding of Japanese concert music from the Meiji era to the present. . . . Throughout, she shows how Japanese composers have remained connected with the people and artistically flexible. Flexibility, even among the most noted composers, translates to a variety of compositional styles (conservative tonal to highly experimental) and compositions for amateurs, children, film, television, and anime in addition to concert music for professionals. An unusual, interesting cultural-historical account.” 
Journal of Japanese Studies

“An important and overdue study of Western concert music’s naturalized presence in modern Japanese life. Wade generously allows many of her informants to speak at length for themselves; we see firsthand how intelligent, articulate, and broad-minded these composers, performers, entrepreneurs, and activists are. Wade’s critical attention to idiosyncrasies, discrepancies, and inconsistencies among their profiles and accounts never wavers, yet she also comes across as an empathic ethnographer who took clear delight in her fieldwork and its many opportunities to share and discuss experiences of music. I highly recommend this book to students and scholars of Japanese public culture. It does justice to the quotidian details and expressive magic that contribute to a musical performance. More significantly, I think, it is further proof of how much there is to be learned more generally about Japan when historians and social scientists include and incorporate music as an object of analysis.”

Product Details

University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
908 KB

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-08521-0


The Primary Connection: Music and Education


The new Ministry of Education in the Meiji governmental structure had very clear reasons for deciding to include music in the new educational system. The historian Ury Eppstein (1994) argues convincingly that the educational sector followed the example of the military—that the presence of military bands attached to the embassies of the Western nations that were pushing into Japan for trade in the 1850s and 1860s ultimately led to the official adoption of Western music for Japan's own purposes. Observing the utility of the bands not only for pomp but also for military discipline, the powerful Satsuma samurai clan formed Japan's first brass band in 1869—the year after the founding of the modern nation-state (the Meiji era, 1868–1912). Music could thus be deemed valuable for character formation and discipline, and also for the spiritual and physical health of its practitioners.

The selection of "apt music" for primary school children was not so clear as the choice for military bands, however. Shuji Izawa (1851–1917), a Japanese teacher who had studied in Massachusetts, was asked to submit a statement of options to the Ministry of Education on October 30, 1879. In it he summed up three prevailing opinions:

[First] that European music has almost reached perfection by means of the contemplations and experience of the last thousand years ... and it surpasses very greatly oriental music in perfection and beautify, it will, therefore, be far better to adopt European music in our schools than to undertake the awkward task of improving the imperfect oriental music...."

The second says ... we have never heard of any country in which the native music has been entirely supplanted by foreign music, and consequently to introduce European music into our country must, at least, be as useless an attempt as to adopt English as our language; therefore it will be a far wiser plan to take measures toward the cultivation and improvement of our own music.

The third says that the two former opinions are not entirely unreasonable, but they seem to run to the two opposite extremities on the matter and hence, taking a middle course, the proper measure would be to secure the best from both European and oriental music.... If, fearing the difficulties, we do not presently undertake the work, when shall we see musical progress in Japan? (Cited in May 1963: 52–53)

Very striking in the statement of the three options is the self-orientalized positioning of traditional Japanese music in the language of the reasoning and the prevailing theory of cultural evolution that it invoked.

The process of introducing Western music into the curriculum of the educational system was carried out in a series of several steps. In 1879 a circular from the Ministry of Education ratified the creation of Ongaku Denshusho (the Center for Musical Education), which was almost immediately renamed Ongaku Torishirabe Gakari (Music Investigation Committee), the name by which it is commonly known, with Shuji Izawa at its head. Ongaku Torishirabe Gakari had three fundamental objectives: the creation of a new corpus of music using both Western and Japanese elements; the training of musicians in preparation for the new developments to come; and the introduction of music into the national school curriculum at the primary level (Galliano 2002: 29–31). The bottom line was that teachers had to be trained in Western music in order to enculturate others—a tremendous undertaking that would necessarily begin small and gradually extend to every primary school in the nation. In 1889 a national conference on education agreed to introduce music education in secondary schools as well (Galliano 2002: 91), though that would take until well into the twentieth century to manage. Putting the infrastructure for Western music into place was a nearly fifty-year process.


Before the domestic manufacture of European musical instruments made them widely available, singing was the most affordable musical activity in schools (see frontispiece). The need was pressing for new didactic materials, including a suitable repertoire of songs. While the first books of school songs were made up largely of Western materials such as folk songs, the creation of new songs would soon become a working opportunity for Japanese musicians who needed to become composers in the Western sense. The first book of school songs was produced in 1889–91 by Izawa and Luther Whiting Mason, the music education inspector for Boston, who had come to Japan as an advisor; 90 percent of the songs used Western melodies to which a properly moral and purposefully patriotic Japanese text had been added. In the second collection, only 80 percent of the songs were Western in origin, with the remaining 20 percent contributed by Japanese composers using Japanese scales and melodies (Galliano 2002: 30). The use of borrowed songs would gradually decrease; with the help of Mason, Izawa produced what would become a model genre of shoka (children's school songs). While traditional Japanese musical sensibility would remain in some songs in subsequent collections, children learned to read five-line staff notation and to feel comfortable with tonal melodies and harmonizations as they sang together in a shared cultural space, a technology for the expression of the unity and identity of the nation. The school system encourages public-mindedness to this day.

The national government remains in charge of the public educational system under a ministry whose name was changed in January 2001 to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. Local boards of education hire teachers and make decisions regarding their conditions of employment, but only under the supervision of the ministry. The ministry establishes curricular guidelines and publishes textbooks—including those for music instruction during regular classroom time. It is also expected that students will participate in school events such as athletic meets, school trips, and outings. Most also participate in after-school clubs such as chorus and wind band, where affective participation in music takes place. Those too are highly structured, as I discuss in chapters 5 and 6.

The periodic revisions of the Monbushomusic textbooks have long afforded interested composers the opportunity to create new songs that, if adopted, will circulate widely through the schools. An early example of such a composer was Tsune Matsushima (1890–1985), credited by the musicologist Midori Kobayashi in her book The Lives of Women Composers as being the fi rst Japanese woman to primarily pursue a career as a composer (1999: 289). Matsushima convinced her father to allow her to go to music school to conduct musical research only (not performance) under the condition that she would never perform on stage; accordingly, in 1907 she entered the seat of music education, the Tokyo Music School. She would go on to publish a manual for piano technique; works for piano, violin, cello, wind ensemble; and doyo (children's songs that are more artistic than shoka; see chapter 6) and—most pertinent here—shoka. A recent example of a prominent composer who has taken full advantage of this opportunity afforded by the ministry is Akira Yuyama (b. 1932), who graduated from the Tokyo National University of the Arts (previously the Tokyo Music School).

For textbooks, however, music teachers at present have options. Goto, a teacher at the National Elementary School attached to Nara Women's University, explained to me why he did not use the ministry's textbooks:3 "Public schools use the Monbusho[ministry] textbooks of songs by Yuyama and others; they say 'in April do this, in May do this, etc.' In public schools students mostly sit still and sing from the books. Not in this school. We don't use them" (Goto, personal communication, June 13, 2000). Inspired by the philosophy of that school—founded over a century ago on the principles of the American education philosopher John Dewey, which stress freedom—he was not even using a textbook from among those that are commercially published but approved by the ministry. Goto explained to me what freedom in music instruction meant to him: "I think that moving while singing is important, using their imagination, doing it the way they want—even improvising. It takes a lot of effort to teach that way. Important to have assistance from mothers and other teachers" (personal communication, June 13, 2000). Indeed, I observed his second-grade class, in which a song was being heard for the first time: children had created the poem, mothers composed the melody, and Goto added choreography. Goto was even questioning whether or not students should have to learn to read notation—something that is usually taught to first- and second-graders in Japanese schools; indeed, the children were learning the melody by listening to him play it on the piano.


In the infrastructural environment of Japanese musical modernity, the matter of competence is central to the sphere of education. With regard to composers, it is important to consider the means by which a young person in Japan might gain the competence that will permit him or her to engage successfully in the action of composing.

Private instruction on an instrument or in voice is a huge industry in Japan that I will address later in this chapter, but it is not the only type of instruction that is usually assumed to be necessary for competence. Through several composers who began their systematic study of music at an early age, I learned of two programs in particular that give children a good start. Both are intended to complement, not replace, regular schooling. For Tokyo children whose parents could afford to send them to a school that, from its founding in 1948, has been associated with study of Western "concert music," the program to attend has been Toho Gakuen Music for Children. For more populist training throughout Japan, there is the Yamaha Music School (see below).

As one section of an august private institution for music study, the Toho Gakuen Music for Children program caters to students between the ages of five and fifteen. The general rubric for the instruction they receive is "solfège," and, because composers not only train in it but also are likely to teach it early in their careers, it was important for me to understand what the term encompasses. Introduced and escorted by Kimiko Shimbo, an emeritus instructor, I made a point of observing the instruction there in 2008. The Toho facilities are full of activity in this program, which the children attend for three to four hours on Saturdays; they might also come one other time during the week for private instrumental lessons. Part of Shimbo's response to my question about why parents would involve their child in such an intensive experience reminded me of the rationale for adopting music in the schools in early Meiji: "The children are there because their parents think music education is a good thing. Good training for concentration. Also, if they can play an instrument, they will have an enjoyable life" (Kimiko Shimbo, personal communication, May 31, 2008).

I attended six different classes nonstop from 12:30 P.M. to 6:30 P.M. and recorded the following observations in my field notes:

First class: Rhythm practice. Five children, three of them five years old. Two teachers: held hands with children, circling and singing an eight-bar melody with syncopation, stopping to demonstrate where not to take a breath so as not to break a word in the song's lyrics. Now all clapped the rhythm while singing—turning over the palm at the rests. Second song: each sang along, hitting arm/hands to keep beat. Third exercise: children matched the pitch sounded on a small xylophone. Circled, singing and stepping the changing rhythm; teacher down in middle of circle to watch the feet. Next time children sang the melody and teachers sang harmony. Not a problem!

Rhythm notation practice, with a set of cards used in the Kodály training system, each showing a rhythm of a total of two beats. One teacher kept a regular beat, while the other put cards on a stick board in quick succession while the children read/articulated them together. Then all cards were mounted along the bottom of the board and the activity returned to the first song; each child had to put up a card to "notate" the rhythm of the song as the teacher sang.

Second class: Dictation. Eleven students, ten years old (fourth grade in primary school). Notation of an eighteen-bar melody. They were told "E major," and all wrote the key signature (which they knew without being told). Teacher played a melody two times, then worked with them to sing it in pieces, then whole. Then they were told to notate it. Teacher circulated through the class to check on progress. When finished, the teacher went over the chords that underpinned the melody.

Next work: Make a four-part score. Teacher played a long phrase just once. Then they worked with each other to notate it all. Next they were told to turn it into polyphony. It turned out to be Bach.

Third class: Singing class for younger children—third- and fourth-graders in primary school (thirty-five, of whom twenty-five were girls). Started with stretches, then a very few vocalises, then songs—sung in unison—to teach techniques (one with text of "ha ha ha" for diaphragm control, another designed to teach how to control descending melody). They went from one to another in a sheaf of notations; Saburo Iwakama was the composer of several of the songs.

Fourth class: Chorus class for first-, second-, and third-year middle-school students. Most were pianists, one violinist (there was another class simultaneously to which most of the violinists go.) They did Steve Reich's "Clapping Music," then Schubert's "Heidenröslein" in two parts in two languages. The song in German is almost syllabic, so it transfers well for singing in Japanese translation with the usual syllabic setting. The teacher went through the text, trying to make it interesting to the children.

Fifth class: Harmony and polyphony (and dictation). Some of the same eleven- and twelve-year-olds in this class that I had seen in the fourth class. They were turning a melody into a polyphonic score (having captured the melody from dictation, I presume) when we entered, and then sang it—two or three on a part (eleven students, eight girls). They sang beautifully, without problem, in at least four parts.

Then they did harmonic dictation, hearing chords only, not in triadic form. Students got this quickly. Then five children went to the board to write the chords in triadic form and identify them as I, V, etc. They all got it right, except for ii/V, which was a mystery and the new material for the day. Then they sang the chords, in parts. Discussion of resolution: to what pitches does V7 lead?

Teacher told students to make a score of four measures each on two lines. Gave time signature. Introduced the composer, Bach. Played a theme once through, looked at their notation two more times. She sang it too. This is a tough melody, with chromatics and syncopation. Once they all had it, she gave them the notation of the piece and they sight-read the rest easily. Got them to sing the melody backward and explained that it was a crab canon.

Sixth class: Harmonic dictation (with history). Second-year middle-school students, all girls. Teacher introduced a John Dowland love song in four parts, played a recording, and contextualized it historically. Then (because the teacher had a particular interest in dance), she played a CD recording of a dance—a minuet—and demonstrated the dance. That piece is the project for dictation. She played the top and bottom of four voices—eight measures. Played several times, asked them to sing one of the lines while she played the other. Then they notated it and she replayed the recording.

The study of solfège continues in music high schools and colleges. Unlike students at the Toho Music for Children program, the composer Makiko Kinoshita studied solfège only just before taking the entrance exam for Tokyo Geijutsu Koko(music high school), which is affiliated with Geidai, but she was admitted. In our conversation she gave me further evidence of what training in solfège might include:

In high school an interesting solfège teacher asked us to make a cadenza for a Mozart concerto. I was the only one who did. When I played it in front of classmates, I was applauded. That suddenly changed my dream. "Maybe I have talent. I know I have talent. I could make a new thing. Making a cadenza is arranging, not composing, but...." This was at age seventeen at the Tokyo Geijutsu Koko. I graduated from the piano course and then did the M.A. course in composition. (Makiko Kinoshita, personal communication, June 2, 2004)

Excerpted from COMPOSING JAPANESE MUSICAL MODERNITY by BONNIE C. WADE. Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Bonnie Wade is professor of music at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of many books, including Imaging Sound: An Ethnomusicological Study of Music, Art, and Culture in Mughal India, also published by the University of Chicago Press, and most recently Music in Japan: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews