The Development of Japanese Folk Music

Japanese Folk Music is characterized by its characteristic folk music style, folk music structure and its non-specific structure. These characteristics are apparent in both music and dance, but especially in music. Since Japan has not yet achieved full internationalism, its folk music industry has been limited to the indigenous population.

During the early part of the seventeenth century Japanese experienced the European classical music with European instruments and even learned from them, while at the same time traditional Japanese music gradually declined. But once ruler of Japan outlawed Christianity, it was quickly and almost completely forgotten and turned into a form of nationalistic music that combined various Asian influences. In the Meiji Period (early nineteenth century), a new focus was given to the revival of traditional Japanese music. This resulted to the appearance of a number of new forms in both the public and private domain, many of which were highly influenced by European classical music. These early Japanese songs were written in Chinese characters and were therefore called kyokaku, a term referring to songs that have a chiefly western origin.

In the nineteenth century, traditional Japanese music underwent numerous transformations, changes and additions. Some instruments used in the earlier songs were taken to factories and were converted into modern instruments, while other instruments were neglected and remained unused. Moreover, the revival of Japanese folk music gave birth to a new kind of popular music: the anime style.

Anime, in its widest sense, is a Japanese term used to refer to contemporary sketch comedy and anime art. Unlike traditional Japanese music, anime does not feature dramatic instrumental accompaniment. Many times, the songs are performed by the actors and singer with or without the accompaniment of an instrumentalist. Some well-known anime songs include “Koi No Ko” (lit. “The Princess and the Stroll”) and “Ai No Koe” (lit. “Little Star”).

Another significant development in Japanese folk music was the rise of voce literature, or music for voice. Vocal music, like that of the kimono, evolved from Japan’s culture as rice tea ceremonies developed. The songs featured in the early writings of this genre were similar to the contemporary Japanese songs we know today. Vocal music, like kimono, went through various stages of development before reaching its present form. A major innovation in this genre was the addition of a chorus in the late nineteenth century. Chorus was adopted because it added a pleasing melody to the song, which was then easily recognizable as a characteristic of traditional Japanese folk music.

Another influential force in the development of Japanese folk songs was the army. Most of the early soldiers in the country were from the samurai class. Samurai folk songs were very popular in their day and were often used as an element of ceremony. These early songs are also known as bokuseki, which translates loosely to “war songs.” Today these songs are still used for ceremonial events and as traditional accompaniments to live performances.