Resonances of Chindon-ya: Sounding Space and Sociality in Contemporary Japan

Resonances of Chindon-ya: Sounding Space and Sociality in Contemporary Japan

by Mari Abe
Resonances of Chindon-ya: Sounding Space and Sociality in Contemporary Japan

Resonances of Chindon-ya: Sounding Space and Sociality in Contemporary Japan

by Mari Abe

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An investigation of music, sound, and public space in contemporary Japan

In this first book-length study of chindon-ya, Marié Abe investigates the intersection of sound, public space, and sociality in contemporary Japan. Chindon-ya, dating back to the 1840s, are ostentatiously costumed street musicians who publicize a business by parading through neighborhood streets. Historically not considered music, but part of the everyday soundscape, this vernacular performing art provides a window into shifting notions of musical labor, the politics of everyday listening and sounding, and street music at social protest in Japan. Against the background of long-term economic downturn, growing social precarity, and the visually and sonically saturated urban streets of Japan, this book examines how this seemingly outdated means of advertisement has recently gained traction as an aesthetic, economic, and political practice after decades of inactivity. Resonances of Chindon-ya challenges Western conceptions of listening that have normalized the way we think about the relationship between sound, space, and listening subjects, and advances a growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship that examines the ways social fragmentation is experienced and negotiated in post-industrial societies.

Hardcover is un-jacketed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819577795
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 02/06/2018
Series: Music/Culture Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

MARIÉ ABE is an ethnomusicologist and accordionist, and teaches as assistant professor in the department of musicology and ethnomusicology at Boston University.

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Walking Histories

Chindon-ya walk, on average, about ten kilometers (a little over six miles) a day. Along with ostentatious costuming, musical performance, and sales pitches, walking is one of the main preoccupations of chindon-ya. Despite this obvious centrality of walking to chindon-ya's everyday routine, my attention did not turn to their footwork until well near the end of my fieldwork; for many years, I was listening to their musical sounds, but not to their footsteps.

This changed one day in 2013, when Hayashi Kojiro, the leader of the Osaka-based chindon-ya troupe Chindon Tsushinsha, started hosting a monthly chindon-ya workshop called Horyu Shokogaku Hayashi Juku (Hayashi School of Walking Style and Music of Gong Chime and Drums). According to the flyer, the goal of this school of horyu — literally, the style or flow of walking — is the pursuit of "beautiful resonance and lithe body through performance of kane [gong chime] and taiko [drum]. Catering primarily to aspiring amateur chindon performers, these horyu lessons are hands-on (or, rather, feeton) workshops where Hayashi demonstrates the philosophies and techniques of walking and performing he feels are essential to chindon-ya practice.

Hayashi asks, "Have you wondered why chindon-ya are always walking around?" Of course, to publicize a client's business — but in reality, Hayashi maintains that there's really no place where chindon-ya are supposed to belong but in the act of walking. Describing the challenge of how chindon-ya must negotiate their physical and sonic presence where they are not meant to be, he maintains that "in short, wherever we go, we are only odd-looking intruders from elsewhere. So there's no space that we can confidently occupy. ... Originally, the places where chindon-ya are called [to go] are absurdly bachigai (wrong place, out of place) for music and performances, such as living spaces in residential areas, financial districts, and downtown areas" (Hayashi 2002, 110–11).

Chindon-ya by definition are constantly carving out a space to perform where there is no preexisting setup or built-in expectations for them. While chindon-ya must blend in well enough to the surroundings sonically and visually in order to be received by the audience, they simultaneously "need to be bachigai. It's meaningless if you become completely transparent." Being in place and out of place at once, he argues, is how you create a place chindon-ya can belong (ibasho). It seems fitting, then, that Hayashi decided to hold a workshop on walking — the fundamental act that holds a key for achieving this balance of being simultaneously in place and out of place as chindon-ya strive to maintain their presence on the streets.

The participants of the horyu workshop were to learn the art of carrying oneself spatially and socially, the art of gestural movements, and the art of perceiving one's presence in relation to others and one's surroundings. But the lessons were not simply a type of dance lesson or etiquette school, where one learns appropriate or effective comportment. Rather, Hayashi approached these "art of walking and sounding" lessons as an opportunity to share the many historical insights he has gained over the last three decades of practicing chindon-ya himself. As one of the leading figures of the recent chindon-ya resurgence, which began in the 1980s, Hayashi has been dedicated not only to pursuing chindon-ya as an aesthetic and business practice, but also to historicizing it.

Historicizing chindon-ya is no straightforward task, as there is a dearth of historical documentation and recordings. As with many musical genres, an origin story is almost impossible to pin down. By definition chindon-ya is an elusive subject because of the way multiple practices have informed what we know today as chindon-ya; there is an inherent challenge in capturing wide-ranging, highly localized, and individualized practices that have coalesced under the umbrella of chindon-ya. Furthermore, considered merely a part of everyday urban soundscape and a commercial practice without aesthetic merit, chindon-ya was rarely the subject of institutionalized preservation efforts in the past. But these gaps in historical knowledge were precisely the driving force behind the new generation of chindon-ya performers, led by Hayashi and others in the early 1980s, who sought new creative, economic, and musical opportunities in the once-obsolete practice. In particular, the so-called "blank period" of chindon-ya's history — when the economic slowdown following the "oil shock" of the early 1970s, new electronic and digital advertisement media, and the persistent social stigmatization of chindon-ya kept younger people from joining the business — has inspired the current generation of chindon-ya practitioners to take on careful and long apprenticeships, oral history projects, and archival work.

This resurgence in chindon-ya activities since the 1980s has been a performative and at times intellectual process. It has included following and recording the street routines of the older generation of chindon-ya (then in their eighties and nineties); gathering to host "listening parties" to listen to tapes of old field recordings of the veteran chindon-ya; compiling veterans' oral histories; publishing books and magazine articles on chindon-ya; and even producing a theatrical dramatization of the origin stories of chindon-ya. I call these interpretive historicizations of chindon-ya "genealogical performances," following Foucault's notion of genealogy as "the coupling together of scholarly erudition and local memories, which allows us to constitute a historical knowledge of struggles and to make use of that knowledge in contemporary tactics" (2003, 8). They are creative practices through which contemporary chindon-ya practitioners imaginatively seek to piece together fragmented and localized histories of chindon-ya to serve their varying contemporary interests — which I will unpack throughout this book. In this light, Hayashi's "art of walking" lessons are not only a pedagogical practice but also a genealogical performance: he is distilling, synthesizing, and making present historically specific ways of being in the world through acts of walking, sounding, and listening.

By ethnographically examining the small gestures and everyday practices of contemporary chindon-ya practitioners, with a particular focus on musical sounds and the walking body, this chapter shows how their genealogical performances not only comprise the fundamental techniques of chindon-ya performance, but also are creative practices of assembling and animating historical times. My goal in this chapter is threefold. First, by way of tracing the historical background for chindon-ya's precursors, I introduce the concept of embodied heterophony as a sensory expression of sedimented histories of European and American colonial expansion into Japan, and the entangled relationship between Japan and the "West." Second, by examining the "art of walking" workshops and chindon-ya's movements, I show how the seemingly nonchalant gait of chindon-ya is in fact guided by sonically, aesthetically, and physiologically informed performance tactics grounded in specific senses of historicity and sociality. I highlight two historical forces in these genealogical performances that are central to understanding chindon-ya within the larger social and cultural arcs of Japanese history: histories of European and American imperialism as well as Japan's own colonialist past, and Japan's shifting relationships to the capitalist market economy — from the proto-capitalist market economy of the late Edo period to the industrial economy of the first half of the twentieth century. Third, following anthropologist Jo Vergunst's assertion (2010, 387) that walking "gathers together material and social relations in the street and produces rhythms that the ethnographer can listen to and take part in," I focus on the practice of walking as a way of understanding the historical context in which the chindon-ya resurgence took place. In the only existing scholarly analysis of the chindon-ya resurgence in Japanese, media scholar Watanabe Hiroshi (2013) situates the movement within Japan's participation in the then-emergent "world music boom" in the West in the 1980s, which capitalized on Western desire for the non-Western and the non-mainstream through exploitative commodification of musical sounds from the "rest" of the world. Against a background of increasing internationalization, rising economic power in the global market, and the subsequent popularity of nihonjinron (pop-academic discourse of Japanese uniqueness), Watanabe describes chindon-ya as a representational resource for claiming unique Japaneseness, a nativist effort to assert a Japanese national cultural imaginary through navel-gazing in search of roots, and a reactionary impulse against the West defined by pursuit of the disappearing traces of premodern Japan — what Ivy calls the "discourses of the vanishing" (1995, 155). While this view of chindon-ya's resurgence throws into relief some of the essentializing discourses of Japaneseness that I did hear from time to time in my fieldwork among contemporary chindon-ya, my ethnographic observations revealed more complexity than Watanabe's analysis suggests.

My aim is to augment Watanabe's discursive analysis by understanding chindon-ya as not merely a semiotic resource, but as a constellation of embodied performances that warrant close ethnographic attention — thereby complicating the common view of chindon-ya resurgence as a nativist phenomenon. By historically situating the resurgence of chindon-ya within the cultural movement of rojo kansatsugaku (street observation study) during the 1980s, I posit that chindon-ya's genealogical projects, while partly participating in the discourses of the vanishing, also do the work of what Henri Lefebvre (2004) calls "rhythmanalysis": creatively listening to social relations as integral to physical surroundings, while making various patterns of temporal organization into presences. In doing so, chindon-ya at once capitalize on urban commercialism while refuting commodification through their insistence on walking — being in the body, in every moment, with every step a social and spatial movement.


Chindon-ya's Roots in Military Brass Bands

The first time chindon-ya's footwork came to my attention — although I didn't quite make note of it until much later — was in a conversation with my aunt at the beginning of my fieldwork in 2005. Upon hearing that I was in Japan to do research on chindon-ya, my aunt, who was well known in the family for following chindon-ya as a little girl, reminisced about her childhood memories of chindon-ya in the 1950s. She said: "Chindon-ya would wear long, bright-colored and striped kimonos, and they had this showy walking style where they would kick up one foot a little bit to flare up the bottom of the kimono." With a mischievous smile, she demonstrated the walk — a zigzagging, playful, affected gait with a little bit of humorous hopping gesture accentuating the turns. Taishu geino (popular performance arts) critic Fujii Sotetsu also provides a similar description of his memory of chindon-ya's movements from the same period: "With a mincing gait, they walked in the shape of the letter S; looking back, that was probably a typical chindon-ya walking pattern" (1977, 173).

This playful footwork, as remembered and reenacted by my aunt, struck me for two reasons. First, compared to what I observed in the field, her demonstration of chindonya's movement from decades ago seemed much more exaggerated. Second, this realization allowed me to pay attention to what I took for granted in my observation of chindon-ya's street routines: the free-flowing body movements of chindon-ya practitioners and the lack of synchronicity among them while walking to their own musical accompaniment. This seemed to me rather odd, especially considering that chindon-ya's emergence in the late 1800s coincided with the arrival of European and American military brass bands, which introduced European musical instruments, repertoire, and coordinated movement to Japan as a way of producing new national subjects (kokumin). Despite chindon-ya's historical roots in European and American military brass bands, their footwork today shows no trace of the disciplined body movements typically seen in military marches. How did the musical and embodied discipline of military brass bands inform the formation of chindon-ya at its emergence, and how did it transform into the free-flowing, nonsynchronized, playful movements that we see today?

Brass bands were first introduced to Japan by European militaries in the 1850s, just as the Tokugawa shogunate, under European and American pressure to open Japan to trade, was lifting the 220-year-long seclusion policy. As the Japanese central government began to actively incorporate European-style military systems, Satsuma Han (today's Kagoshima prefecture) was the first region in the country to introduce the brass band into its military training program, in 1869. After the overhaul of the shogunate feudal system, the independent feudal domains were unified to build a modern nation under the new Meiji government. In its effort to militarize and unify the nation-under-construction, the government developed military bands (gungakutai), which were strategically incorporated into public events like imperial parades and other military displays as a spectacle to inspire awe in the public. Drumming and marching were introduced also as a technology for disciplining, orchestrating, and synchronizing nationalized bodies through sound.

The disciplining of bodies by synchronizing movements to a steady beat was a fundamentally new concept to the Japanese. Until the introduction of European music, marching to a recurrent pulse in a regular meter was absent in Japanese music, from courtly to popular forms. Although there had been forms of parades of samurai warriors in the Edo period, synchronizing one's footsteps with others according to the regular pulse provided by music was an entirely new concept — giving rise to the prevalent discourse of the rhythmically deficient Japanese body, which persists in various racialized tropes to this day. The brass bands disciplined un-metered, unsynchronized bodies through not only military marches but also social dance. As the country was swept up in the national fascination with European "civilization" (bunmei) during the Meiji period (1868–1912), brass bands also provided musical accompaniment at dance parties, balls, and sports festivals for aristocrats and politicians (Horie 1986, 39–42; Horiuchi 1936, 10–13). The aristocrats' ardent and awkward attempts to learn to dance — that is, to embody the European concept of synchronizing one's body to others' and to a musical pulse — are humorously depicted by Baron Okura Kihachiro: "There were a couple of dancers on the dance floor that stood out. Both were men; one was a huge man like a wrestler, the other was a very thin twig. ... The big man was the minister of the Army and the small man was the senator of Tokyo. The former in a stoic military uniform, the latter in kimono, they were determinedly trying to do the dance at which they were not so great" (quoted in Horiuchi 1936, 11). The dancing figures of the senator in traditional kimono and the minister of the army in European military uniform appear to satirize Japan's mimetic attempt to modernize and masculinize itself through militaristic efforts. The account exemplifies the awkwardness of this process of embodying a new, European concept of musically synchronized and disciplined national subjectivity at the turn of the century.

While brass bands were initially considered a novelty and a form of cultural capital for the upper class that indexed their alignment with Western civilization, by the time of the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) their sonic presence in the cultural landscape became more familiar and accessible in the popular sphere. With growing demand for brass band music at various ceremonies among civilians, bands independent of the military developed around 1886. The war increased both the demand for brass bands and occasions for the general public to be exposed to military songs. Now a commercial enterprise, civilian brass bands (gakutai) proliferated in Tokyo and Osaka, performing at silent cinema theaters, sports festivals, send-off ceremonies for soldiers, outdoor social functions, and circuses.Garbed in European military uniforms, gakutai performed European waltzes and marches, Japanese popular tunes, traditional tunes for festivals or variety theaters (ohayasi), and military marches — all of which were contemporarily identified as fashionable.


Excerpted from "Resonances Of Chindon-Ya"
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Copyright © 2018 Marié Abe.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
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Table of Contents

Note on the Companion Website
Note on Language
Prologue: Beginnings
Introduction: Resonances of Chindon-ya
Walking Histories
Performing Enticement
Sounding Imaginative Empathy
Politicizing Chindon-ya
Resonances of Silence
Epilogue: Affordances of Resonance

What People are Saying About This

David Novak

“Abe’s innovative book foregrounds important debates in ethnomusicology, East Asian Studies, and sound studies, with energizing new research on modern folk practices and popular music, neoliberal cities, and the global political ‘resonances’ of protest cultures.”

From the Publisher

"Abe's innovative book foregrounds important debates in ethnomusicology, East Asian Studies, and sound studies, with energizing new research on modern folk practices and popular music, neoliberal cities, and the global political 'resonances' of protest cultures."—David Novak, author of Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation

"Abe's innovative book foregrounds important debates in ethnomusicology, East Asian Studies, and sound studies, with energizing new research on modern folk practices and popular music, neoliberal cities, and the global political 'resonances' of protest cultures."—David Novak, author of Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation

"This book demonstrates some of the best that ethnomusicology has to offer. Among its many critical insights in history, culture, and society, as well as music and other sonic systems, Abe's central concept of resonance stands to be a major contribution to the discipline."—Christine Yano, author of Tears of Longing: Nostalgia and the Nation in Japanese Popular Song

Christine Yano

“This book demonstrates some of the best that ethnomusicology has to offer. Among its many critical insights in history, culture, and society, as well as music and other sonic systems, Abe’s central concept of resonance stands to be a major contribution to the discipline.”

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