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The Guqin in Japan
Melodies from Qin Handbooks in Japan 2
A qin at the Shosoin3
Most "Japanese" music instruments actually came there from elsewhere,4 but until Western music arrived in Japan5 the Japanese tendency was quickly to create a uniquely Japanese repertoire for those instruments.6 The exception to this seems to have been the qin and its music. Although there are Japanese melodies for qin, most qin players in Japan play a largely or exclusively Chinese repertoire.7 This was also largely true during the Edo period (1603-1868), or at least largely the intention; during that time there was qin music in Japanese music idiom, (see below) but it apparently never really caught on. People who play the qin have almost always considered it as a way to follow a Chinese literati musical aesthetic.
The qin (now usually called guqin) was brought to Japan over 1,000 years ago, as was the other important Chinese long zither, the zheng (or guzheng).8 Important qin music and documents have been preserved in Japan since the Tang dynasty. However, whereas the zheng became exceedingly popular in Japan (where it is called a koto and its music was localized), evidence suggest that the qin was actually played there very little prior to the arrival in Japan of Jiang Xingchou (Shin'etsu), in 1677.9 Shin'etsu taught qin to many students, thereby beginning the first documented tradition of qin play in Japan.
A program on this theme could thus focus on the following aspects of qin music in Japan.10
A liberal interpretation of this category would allow inclusion of the qin setting made around that time, quite likely also in Hangzhou, for the Heart Sutra; this can easily be sung using the common Sino-Japanese pronunciation (shown here).
Another possibility is to have a program involving the guqin and a Japanese music instrument. Here perhaps the most natural choice for the Japanese instrument would be the shakuhachi end blown flute. In China the instrument today most commonly paired with the qin is another end blown flute, the xiao. And the shakuhachi, like the qin, is best known as an instrument of contemplation.14
In addition, the Japanese ichigenkin one-string qin, according to tradition, has its musical and aesthetic roots in the Chinese guqin. In China there are some stories and illustrations regarding a one string qin, and one handbook published in 1618 actually has a few melodies. However, the modern repertoire of the ichigenkin seems more closely related to that of the samisen, a three-stringed banjo-like instrument.15
Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)
|1. 古琴在日本 (The Guqin in Japan); image at right from the entry in ZWDCD||a zheng (koto); the player would sit on the near side|
Both the qin and the koto are long zithers and thus somewhat similar in appearance. The koto traditionally had 13 strings, the qin seven. Otherwise the main difference is that the 琴 qin/kin has no frets while, as can be seen in the image at right, the 箏 zheng/koto has a movable fret or bridge under each string. For the qin/kin the player plucks the strings with the right hand while pressing down on the same string with the left hand, pressing it into the top board (入木) except when playing harmonics; on stopped sounds the pitch can be changed by sliding the left hand finger horizontally up or down the board. For the zheng/koto the player also plucks the strings with the right hand, but usually using a finger pick, and the left hand does not push the string all the way to the wood; here the pitch can be changed by moving the hand vertically, thereby tightening or loosening the string tension. Nevertheless, due perhaps to their similar overall shape plus the fact that references to qin are very common in early Chinese literature whereas zheng references are rather rare, early Japanese writings commonly used the kanji (Chinese character) for qin/kin when a zheng/koto was the actual reference. In modern times the confusion was compounded because the list of 1900 characters approved in 1947 by the Japanese government for use in newspapers, magazines and official documents did not include the character 箏 zheng/koto, but only 琴 qin/kin (with "koto" given as one of its pronunciations).
|和琴 Wagon (pron, "wa-GON'); image from Malm, Japanese Music, 1959; p.43||a wagon zither; the player also seated on the near side|
Japan also has some other interesting "qin" that seem to be unrelated to China's guqin, such as the "鵄尾琴 owl tail qins" depicted
The Guqin in Japan, main references
The main references I have consulted include:
To this should be added the page on
A qin at the Shoso-In
This instrument is discussed further here.
Origin of Japanese music instruments
Almost all Japanese musical instruments arrived there from China, including (in addition to the koto) the 琵琶 biwa (Chinese pipa, original origin Central or West Asia), the 三味線 samisen (from the Chinese 三絃 sanxian, via Okinawa) and the 尺八 shakuhachi (from the Chinese 洞簫 dongxiao, though there was also a Chinese 尺八 chiba in Fujian province; 7803.10 gives a Tang dynasty source [唐藝，呂才傳] as its earliest reference).
Arrival of Western music and instruments in Japan
Early Jesuit missionaries brought Western instruments to Japan, but the widespread introduction of Western music came with the Meiji Restoration of 1866. As part of modernization Western music came to dominate schools and conservatories. Japanese traditional music, with their own hereditary schools, did not adapt well to this. Today in Japan, as in much of the world, "music" means Western music, and you have to specify "Japanese music" if you wish to refer to the local traditions.
Unique Japanese idiom (for qin see below)
Whereas the ancient (Chinese) physical shapes of Japanese instruments has been better preserved in Japan than in China, other than with qin music the music itself has been almost completely changed. This situation can be compared to differences between the Japanese and Chinese languages: the casual observer will note that the writing systems look very similar, and indeed the Japanese written script originated when they tried to use Chinese characters to write Japanese. However, this proved to be inadequate: linguistically the languages are totally unrelated, with Japanese having verb and noun endings than cannot be expressed by characters. For this the Japanese had to develop an alphabet (actually a syllabary); these somewhat resemble Chinese characters.
Likewise, in spite of the foreign origin of most Japanese music instruments, their music has virtually nothing in common idiomatically with that of other countries.
Qin repertoire in Japan: Japanese melodies?
The page Japanese Guqin Handbooks lists melodies from early handbooks written and/or published in Japan. As suggested with the program possibilities outline, these early melodies can probably be divided into three types:
As yet I am not familiar with any studies that identify the specific characteristics of melodies in the third category.
Arrival of qin and zheng in Japan
This is discussed to a limited extent in Van Gulik, op.cit. He mentions the fact that the word "qin" could be used as a positive expression for pretty much any instrument. One might also suspect that the fact that it was not easy to adapt the qin to a Japanese idiom was a major factor inhibiting its popularity.
Reaction to the guqin and guzheng
One might suspect that when the Japanese first received the two similarly looking instruments they found that they liked the philosophy and aesthetics of the guqin but preferred the sound of the guzheng. The previous footnote mentions the difficulty of adapting the qin for a Japanese idiom. This would have been especially true if there were no teachers to show the way. In addition, if the aim was to play for others, in particular to make a living from playing, the extreme quiet of the qin (at least until the modern switch from silk to nylon-metal strings) made this more difficult.
As a result, the Japanese confused the two: one can find Japanese landscape paintings that in China would only show someone with a qin but in Japan it the instrument shown may very well be a guzheng/koto even though there they be accompanying text mentioning "qin".
Focus of the program
Being able to use a qin with a Japanese connection would make such a recital particularly relevant. As it is, since 2013 the best silk strings for qin have been made in Japan (with Chinese advice) by Marusan Hashimoto.
Idiomatically Japanese qin melodies
When the qin was introduced into Japan in the 17th century (some might say re-introduced, but there is little solid information about the qin being used in Japan prior to then, other than occasionally as part of a ritual ensemble) it was played in Japan by a class of people who consciously tried to preserve the Chinese uniqueness (here perhaps one might compare Japanese studying Confucian philosophy).
As for idiomatically Japanese qin melodies, I am not yet familiar with any studies done of this topic. Van Gulik himself (op.cit., p.232ff) divides the qin tradition in Japan into two streams: 內傳 naiden (inner tradition: direct heirs of Shin Etsu, and 外傳 geden (outer tradition: those who learned from Chinese players). There is no solid evidence of people doing significant study outsde the Shin-etsu tradition, but the person Van Gulik mentions as closest to advocating Japanese melodies for qin is 浦上玉堂 Uragami Gyokudō (1745-1820), whose handbook 玉堂藏書琴譜 Gyokudō Zōsho Kimpu included melodies such as 青柳 Aoyagi, 伊勢海 Ise-no-umi and 梅枝 Umegae that seem purely Japanese (see further).
On the other hand,in his
2008 doctoral dissertation Yang Yuanzheng argues that, although there is some evidence of people after Jiang Xingchou trying to study with other Chinese visitors to Japan during the Edo period (for example, in Nagasaki), there is no evidence that they had any substantial learning; and if they did, this was not transmitted to others.
Qin materials in Japan during the Edo period
Mention should be made of the seventh century tablature for You Lan preserved in Japan, though there is no evidence for it having been played there.
Qin materials brought to Japan by Jiang Xingchou (Toko Etsu)
Van Gulik, Lore, p.226 tells of Toko Etsu advising a student to use Songxianguan Qinpu. On 231 he gives evidence for the presence later of Qinxue Xinsheng. Today the most famous of its 14 melodies (13 of which appeared here for the first time) is #14, Wuye Wu Qiufeng. Only one of them, #4 Li Yun Chun Si, is also in a Japanese handbook.
Shakuhachi (尺八 chiba)
7803.10 尺八 chiba gives as its earliest musical reference the biography of Lü Cai in the Tang History (唐書，呂才傳 Tang Shu, Lü Cai). There is also a reference to Records of Qin in the Chinese historical work Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government (資治通鑑，秦紀 Zizhi Tongjian, 1084), but this does not seem to be connected to music. There is still a flute in Fujian province sometimes called the chiba, and this is generally said to be the flute from which the shakuhachi developed.
|15. Ichigenkin (一絃琴 yixianqin; see in Wikipedia)||7 string & 1 string qin on porcelain plate from Japan (detail)|
This should emphasize the original meditative nature of the ichigenkin and its connection to silk strings. And in Japan today the instrument still has these associations. However, its playing style and the sound seem more closely related to that of the samisen or biwa than to the guqin. This is in part because in Japan ichigenkin players use a pick to pluck with the right hand, and harmonic notes are very infrequent; they also use a slide to "stop" (not pressing all the way down) or slide on the string with the left hand. In addition, as with samisen, the string on the ichigenkin played in Japan today has a thin gauge as on a samisen, and likewise is often made of nylon instead of silk (there has also been some experimentation with using a metal string and an electronic pickup, but this has not become part of the mainstream).
It may be noted here that the Vietnamese dan bau monochord (see further) no longer uses either silk or nylon strings, and it almost invariably has an electronic pickup.
The Wikipedia ichigenkin article also mentions two Japanese two two-string qins that apparently developed from the ichigenkin: the the 二絃琴 nigenkin and the 八雲琴 yakumogoto (note here "koto" written as "qin").
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