Japan Archaeology

Japan Music and Archaeology


Japanese music is the result of the influence of music from various Asian countries on an autochthonous material of which few testimonies are preserved; learning and performance practice, an almost unique case in the history of cultured music, are based more on oral tradition than on reading the texts. Japanese music can be divided into eight main genres: gagaku (court music); shōmyō (Buddhist songs); music for biwa (narrative genre); music of the nō theater; sōkyoku (music for koto); music for shamisen (kabukie theater bunraku puppet theater ); music for shakuhachi ; folk music. Music theory and notation are based on various systems, based on pentatonic and, sometimes, heptatonic scales. Another system originates from the Chinese one of the 6th century. BC, consisting of a non-tempered chromatic scale composed of twelve semitones. The last, finally, is used exclusively in the noh theater and is based on three sounds (acute, medium, low) placed between them at a perfect fourth. The Western concept of absolute intonation, as well as that of tonality, are foreign to Japanese practice.

From the harmonic point of view, we usually speak of multiphony, in which several instruments enter in succession in a sort of imitative style, creating a chaotic effect. The rhythm is very varied; the alternation of different rhythmic modules and the variation of duration of the accents in the same module are frequent; time generally tends to accelerate over the course of the performance. The form varies according to the genres but is generally attributable to a tripartite structure: jo (introduction), ha (exposition), and kyū (conclusion); in long passages, each section may in turn contain two or more sections (dan).

Among the instruments of the gagakur we remember: the hichiriki, oboe with nine holes, the ryūteki, transverse flute with seven holes, the shō, mouth organ with seventeen bamboo pipes bearing a reed, the taiko, vertical drum, the kakko, drum hourglass, the shōko, small gong. Other instruments: the biwa, flat lute with four or five strings, and the koto, horizontal zither with thirteen strings; the shamisen, a three-stringed banjo; the shakuhachi, straight flute. The timbre, both vocal and instrumental, tends to be strongly nasal; the vocal emission is often ingulated.

With the advent of the Meiji period, Japan also introduced music from the West, currently taught in schools and becoming part of the cultural heritage. Among the most eminent composers who tried to reconcile the musical tradition of Japan with Western currents, Matsudaira Yoritsune (1907-2001)emerges, T. Takemitsu and T. Ichiyanagi (b. 1933). The opening of Japanese culture to the acquisitions of Western music, which began in the 1960s, matured in the following decades to make Japan an essential pole of musical research at the end of the twentieth century.


According to intershippingrates, the Japanese Paleolithic began around 50,000 BC and ended around 13,000 BC, with the appearance of pottery, which marks the transition to the Jōmon period. The Jōmon cultural tradition reaches up to the full affirmation of agriculture, dating back to the Yayoi period (ca. 300 BC-300 AD), during which the foundations of Japanese civilization were laid. The adoption of rice cultivation was accompanied by technological innovations: knives for harvesting, hoes, spades and pitchforks, storage jars, vases, plates, weaving spindles, weapons, mirrors and bronze bells. Frequent contacts with China and Korea are documented in this period. In the Kofun period (ca. 300-700) the aristocracies gave birth to various regional proto-state entities. The end of that period, characterized by the construction of large tumulus tombs, it was mainly marked by the spread of Buddhism, which included the cremation of bodies. With the subsequent disclosure of the writing, the historical period began, coinciding with the territorial and political unification of the archipelago.

Initially limited to the religious sphere (Buddhist temples, inscriptions and steles), historical archeology was then extended to other sectors and periods. Investigations have established complex chronologies of pottery from the Asuka, Nara and Heian periods ; written wooden tablets were also recovered (Heijo palace, Fujiwara palace), of particular importance for the study of administrative systems. Excavations have also been undertaken in medieval and pre-modern cities, castles, tombs etc., but historical archeology after the medieval period is not as well established as that of the ancient historical period.

Japan Archaeology