Hipsters in Happi Coats: A Look At Music in Prewar Japan.

Music, Modernity and Locality in Prewar Japan: Osaka and Beyond
Hugh de Ferranti and Alison Tokita (editors)
Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2013.
ISBN: 9781409411116 (Hardcover)
RRP: US$113. 95

Amongst the myriad side streets and back alleys of Western Japan, between Osaka and Kobe specifically, lay hidden the sites and activities that make up the modern Hanshin Area – a locus of art and music making that has long influenced national and international creativity. There, one will find creativity thriving, and the opportunity to engage in multiple artistic endeavors, thanks to the Hankyu Dentetsu railway and the JR Rail lines it intersects. But, as active as it has been, especially post-HanshinKan Modernism, little has been written about its history; how this wonderful suburban area came to be what it is. This lacuna is surprising, considering how influential the area has been, including the formation and rise of the legendary GUTAI Art Association, and the interdisciplinary creativity they engendered.

As a former Hanshin resident I am very excited to see a work like this finally come to fruition. Having spent three years (1998-2001) active in the Keihanshin (Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe) non-idiomatic improvisation scene, as well as in painter Shozo Shimamoto’s circle of friends and collaborators, I had always wished someone would produce such a volume to further elucidate and share with the world Osaka’s wonderful role in shaping Japanese music and art. How did Osaka become such a place? How did so much excellent cultural material arise from even relatively tiny Hanshin alone?

De Ferranti asserts that two points in particular highlight such occurrences. First, the extraordinarily diverse range of music to which prewar metropolitan Japanese had access to, and the amazing eclecticism of musical reception and (to my mind most importantly) creative appropriation of these musics. Second are the regional variations that occurred until the 1930s when Tokyo became the center of the publishing and recording industries (4). As much as Osaka still is a vibrant producer of fascinating 21st century visual and aural culture, its importance in shaping the 19th and 20th century Japan is still relatively unknown. As such, I would hope that this work is not only utilized as research, but also read by the general public, as its structure and contributions make for very interesting, accessible reading.

Like myself, co-editor Hugh de Ferranti admits to “having been long been enamored of Osaka and the affable directness that seems part of the genetic makeup of its people” (xix). But, cognizant of that fact, he asserts that he and his fellow editor and authors have made a conscious effort to not fall for stereotypical views of “Osakan uniqueness,” because such essentialization “in no way helps achieve an understanding of how particular repertoires and styles of music developed and were practiced in modern Osaka (10). But, all personal feelings aside, de Ferranti asserts (post-Tokugawa Era) modern Osaka has been conspicuously absent in representative texts on Japanese music, even though it has greatly influenced architecture, modern literature, urban design, and popular culture (xix).

Thus, through a close examination of musical culture across Japan’s second metropolis, the volume adopts a “concern for locality that has been conspicuously absent from studies of music in East Asian urban settings” (9). Through this exploration, the volume seeks to better understand “the effects of regional geography, demography, history and tradition on processes of modernization in expressive culture” (9-10). This empirical investigation of the role of music in modern formations of locality is also ethnographically grounded in recollections of the latter years of the prewar era by young people and children; now available as oral history data in the memories of elderly people in some chapters in the book (10). It is this focus on locality and the common person that makes this book a real contribution to musicology and Japanese studies. With the passing of artists such as Shimamoto (1928-2013), the need for such ethnographies in a geriatric society such as Japan’s becomes more and more urgent. Thus, Tokita and deFerranti’s editorial effort is much needed, and I suggest, will be increasingly appreciated as time goes by.

As de Ferranti states, this collection of studies, in the context of Japanese music research, also suggests the potential value of a different approach to documentation of the many musics of the transitional, rapidly hybridizing society that was early twentieth-century Japan, grappling with prewar Japanese issues across the hougaku-yougaku (traditional/modern, and/or classical/popular) divide (22). An excellent example of this would be Naoko Teruchi’s chapter on the Garyoukai, a private “alternate” court & Shinto music (gagaku/kagura) ensemble formed to succeed the formal group at Shitennouji Temple who themselves were one of only three groups considered to have authentic formal succession. Having myself studied gagaku at Kobe’s Ikuta Shrine (Jinja) I was eager to learn more about the Garyoukai, and their particular traditions, but could not due to language constraints.

Between 1871 and 1878 the service for the Temple founder (Prince Shoutoku) was suspended due to the rise of the haibutsu-kishaku, “destroy Shotoku” anti-Buddhist movement that forced many musicians to relocate to Tokyo (174). Also, membership in the official ensembles was hereditary, and thus engaging in formal gagaku studies was not an option to the general public. But thanks to the activities of those who founded the Garyoukai, non-hereditary membership helped rebuild the group. The idea of an indie scene; meetings (kai) of amateurs and professionals to maintain such a tradition, indeed was highly unusual, but the enthusiasm and enterprising spirit of Osakans in creating and supporting the broad range of Garyoukai activity helped such an act considerably over the years (188). One such activity is the creation of new works, which is banned by orthodox ensembles. Indeed, when I inquired at Ikuta as to whether I could compose such a work, my request was met by a resounding ‘no’ from all relevant parties due to such orthodoxy, and not because I was neither Japanese nor a member of the Shinto religion. It just was not done, period.

Such a volume not only provides sound musicological information, but may become a source of inspiration for those who have yet to live and do fieldwork in Japan, and engage with her vast intellectual riches.



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