T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
Handbook List   From QQJC   Correct Toko Kinpu   From Gyokudo   Japan Theme 首頁
Guqin Handbooks Published in Japan 在日本出版的琴譜 1 
Especially the tradition of Shin-Etsu (1639-1695)2 Yang Yuanzheng: Qin players in Japan after Shin-Etsu  3  

In an effort better to understand how the qin has been treated in Japan, available information has been put together in this section. This page, in particular, has basic information about most of the known qin melodies surviving today because of their publication in Japan; all have lyrics, many following a ci pattern (see list). The page also has links to extended comment on a number of these.

The melodies that I have transcribed and for which I have uploaded online recordings (the lyrics are all sung unless otherwise indicated) are:4

  1. Qingping Yue (XII/168)
  2. Lang Tao Sha (XII/169; qin only)
  3. Qiu Feng Ci (XII/177)
  4. Ziye Wu Ge (XII/185)
  5. You Jian Quan (XII/186)
  6. Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao (XII/196)
  7. Mei Hua (XII/203)
  8. Chang Xiang Si (XII/220; qin only)
  9. Xiang Si Qu (XII/221; related to 1618: listen to six versions)

Pieces transcribed but not yet recorded include (on request):

  1. Zui Weng Cao (XII/190)
  2. Fei Qiong Yin (XII/202)
  3. Zhu Zhi Ci (XII/222)

The above melodies aside, most of this section of the website consists details of various guqin handbooks published in Japan, together with listings of their content. Because the three handbooks included in Qinqu Jicheng have considerable overlap in content, these contents are given here as three appendices on a single page rather than separately.

The treatment in Japan of the qin was unlike the treatment given any other instrument that arrived there from China. With other instruments, although the physical shape of these instruments changed much less over the centuries than they did in China during the same period, on those instruments a local Japanese music idiom completely replaced the music that had been played in China. Only with the qin did the Japanese preserve traditional Chinese melodies.5

On the other hand, there is no evidence to suggest that any qin music in old Japanese handbooks preserves ancient music lost from China.6 Nevertheless, this was the contention of some famous Japanese Confucianists, in particular 荻生徂徠 Ogyu Sorai (1666-1728). Here he was specifically referring to some of the Japanese court music, gagaku, but his belief was re-inforced by his discovery of the ancient You Lan scroll.7

A full summary of qin melodies played in Japan during the Edo period, or Tokugawa shogunate, 1603 to 1868, but more specifically after the arrival there of Shin-Etsu just after the year 1676, is beyond the scope of this page, but the following outline of the categories of qin melodies to be considered might be useful for context:

The information in this section about qin music published in Japan largely concerns melodies in the first two categories. These largely comprise those from Japanese publications that have been re-published in the modern Chinese compendium Qinqu Jicheng. As mentioned, they are representative of the tradition of qin music brought to Japan in 1577 by Jiang Xingchou (1639-1695), who in Japan became known as the monk Toko Shin-etsu (and other names).13 Over the following 20 years or so he taught a number of students. Many handbooks following Shin-Etsu's tradition were published later in Japan, generally with the title Toko Kinpu.

Qinqu Jicheng re-published three of these Japanese handbooks, all in its Volume XII (目錄), follows:14

  1. 和文注音琴譜 Hewen Zhu(yin) Qinpu (Wabun Chuyin Kinpu), <1676   (Appendix I)
    38 melodies (34-1st); all with lyrics, hence the title; these are said to have been melodies 蔣興疇 Jiang Xingchou took from Hangzhou to Japan in 1676;

  2. &
  3. 東皋琴譜 Donggao Qinpu (Toko Kinpu); this title dates from ~1710 (details) but these are later editions
    Van Gulik15 says that Toko Kinpu consisted of copies of pieces Shin-etsu (Toko Zenji) taught beginners, but there were numerous editions of Toko Kinpu and it has been argued that the earliest had a more substantial number of the more standard pieces; Zha Fuxi himself mentions many of the editions. The earliest (1710), apparently with additional melodies, was not available for QQJC, so Zha Fuxi took two of the many later editions and appended them to Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu:

According to the accompanying commentary on these by Zha Fuxi,16 he also knew of a number of other Japanese qin handbooks, some of which he had seen,17 others of which he had not.18 But his commentary further expressed the opinion that these handbooks (or at least most of their melodies) derived from the ones he did include.

How many of the melodies in these three Japanese handbooks also appeared in handbooks published in China? Of the 38 melodies in Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu only four also survive in handbooks published there (Tiaoxian Runong, Gui Qu Lai Ci, Xiang Si Qu and Gao Shan; see details). And of the 48 pieces in the two Toko Kinpu, all but eight seem to be duplicates (perhaps sometimes with small editing) from Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu, and of these eight only two are related to melodies in Chinese handbooks (Yu Qiao Wenda and Yangguan Sandie).19

The publication in 2001 of an "Orthodox Toko Kinpu" was intended to clarify which of the qin melodies published in Japan could actually be connected to Shin-Etsu himself.20 As mentioned, because the accompanying web page, Content of Japanese Guqin Handbooks", is largely based on information in the old Japanese qin handbooks re-published in China (in QQJC), it does not really clarify the issue of where the music came from. The "Orthodox" version certainly helps clarify some of the issues, but at present it seems that there are still many unanswered questions about qin repertoire in Japan at that time.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Japanese Guqin Handbooks, main references
Up to the present my main source of information has been 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng (QQJC). Unfortunately, the material there is incomplete because, as mentioned above, some crucial handbooks were not available to Zha Fuxi.

2. Shin Etsu 心越
See 蔣興疇 Jiang Xingchou (1639-1695)

3. Yang Yuanzheng: qin players in Japan after Shin-Etsu   (expand)   Compare Van Gulik's table   (expand)          
Yang's chart is in his Japonifying the Qin, p. 32. Yang disagrees with Van Gulik about there being an "outer tradition" and so revised his chart accordingly. For Van Gulik see Lore of the Chinese Lute, p.233. Van Gulik's chapter "The Chinese Lute in Japan" is very detailed on the subject. Note, however, that many of the people mentioned here are not in the chart. Also, in quoting Van Gulik here I change "Chinese lute" to "qin" as I find the word "lute" very misleading as well as inaccurate.

4. Recordings and transcriptions
The transcriptions are not online.

5. Treatment of the qin in Japan
The other exception to this Japanization of foreign music might be in the Japanese court music tradition, which consciously attempted to preserve music brought from Tang dynasty China. However,the research of the Cambridge Tang Dynasty music research project suggests that in the Japanese attempts to preserve this music they actually changed it so much as to make it unrecognizable.

The qin never had the widespread popularity of other Chinese instruments that came to Japan, specifically the koto, samisen, biwa or shakuhachi. Even after centuries, appeal of the qin in Japan seems to have remained concentrated amongst Sinophiles. This attitude is captured well in the following quote from the essay Dankin 談琴, by Matsui Ren 松井廉 (1857‐1926), translated in Yang (op.cit.) as follows,

From of old, the qin music of national songs has never become popular in the world. Sugiura Kinzen’s effort on waka ...... is [one of these efforts in vain]. It is because qin players are Confucians, not gakunins (musicians). Confucians like [Chinese] poetry, not national songs. For those who master the national songs, there are koto and biwa ready to accompany the songs. There is no need for them to play the qin. Therefore, efforts to compile the qin version of the national songs are all wasted in vain. After all, it is better to follow the old saying: "To transmit and not to invent, to believe in and to be devoted to antiquity."
古來 以國語蒙琴音皆不遂行于世。琴川之于和歌......是也。蓋奏琴者不在伶人而在儒家。 儒家喜詩而不喜邦歌。善唱邦歌者,古來自有箏及琵琶在,固不要琴也。 是以邦歌譜皆屬作者徒勞,畢竟不如"述而不作,信而好古"也。

In addition, even in China the tradition (and/or nature) of the qin has always been, while not necessarily Confucian, to eschew mass appeal.

6. The ancient melody You Lan
Yang, pp.111ff, writes about Ogyu Sorai's attempts to show this melody was actually created by Confucius.

7. Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu as having the tablature brought to Japan
This concept seems to be somewhat contradicted by the inclusion of two "fusang melodies", now said to refer to melodies created by Shin-etsu in Japan.

8. Melodies brought to Japan by Jiang Xingchou/Shin-Etsu
As can be seen by the discussions on this and the related pages there is some disagreement about which melodies were actually brought to Japan by Jiang Xingchou. For example, it is not clear whether some melodies assumed to have been brought to Japan were actually copied later by Shin-Etsu based on a memory of something he had played before he arrived in Japan. These may include many of the melodies that handbooks say he (or perhaps one of his students) revised.

9. Fusang melodies
These "Japanese" melodies do not seem to differ in style from the other melodies in Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu. See, however, the piece called Fuji.

10. Melodies brought to Japan by players not connected to Shin-Etsu
There is actually very little evidence to suggest that any qin players from China were able to overcome the Japanese prohibitions on foreigners living or even traveling in Japan. Nevertheless, Van Gulik (who in his chart calls this the "outer tradition") takes it as a given, typifying this tradition by suggesting that it was furthered especially by people who followed the supposedly Confucian attitude that Buddhists could only corrupt a tradition that had been initiated by the ancient sages. Thus Van Gulik wrote (op.cit., p.248) of the following attitude expressed by one member of this tradition, Murai Kinzan (1733-1815):

(Murai) was not satisfied with the tradition established by Shin-etsu, whom, being a priest, Kinzan deemed unworthy to touch the qin. In 1785 in Nagasaki he met the Chinese scholar Pan Weichuan, and from him learned the qin. Therefore Kinzan considers himself the only Japanese who possesses the real Chinese qin tradition.... He says that later he continued his studies of the Chinese qin on the basis of the materials of Zhu Shunshui...."

None of the melodies in Shin-Etsu's tradition is overtly Buddhist other than the ubiquitous Shitan Zhang, a piece in many handbooks but with few descriptions of how it might have been played before it was transformed into the instrumental melody called Pu'an Zhou.

11. Melodies adapted for qin from Japanese court music (gagaku)
See Yang, pp.103-129. In Chapter III, Gagakuization of the Qin, Yang gives details of a gagaku performance given in 1738 before the Shogun in Edo where, quite unusually, qin were included in the ensemble. On pp. 145-6 he writes that,

Tachibana Minamikei 橘南谿(1782‐1806), a doctor of Chinese medicine and amateur qin player who lived in Tsu‐han, recorded OnodaTōzen’s qin versions for the gagaku pieces 越天樂 Etenraku, 五常樂 Gojōraku, and 拔頭 Batō in his unpublished manuscript Kingaku zasshi 琴學雜誌 (Gaku‐kin nos. 157‐159).

These three pieces are among the 10 discussed here, but I am not sure if the versions are the same. I am also unsure of how all these might be connected a project overseen by Onada Tozen in 1735 whereby 25 qin notations were made from gagaku melodies (Yang, p.186).

From what I can tell these transcriptions were always performed by qin together with ensemble. And although the fact that I have not yet heard of people describing having heard or played them solo does not mean this didn't happen, it suggests that this was never a signifant trend. On the other hand, such solo performances do seem to fit better Gyokudo's known inclinations.

12. Melodies in an idiomatically Japanese style
Because this page focuses on the melodies from Shin-Etsu and his followers that have now been published in Qinqu Jicheng, the emphasis is on the first two categories above. Zha Fuxi did not include any handbooks such as the one by Uragami Gyokudo, published in 1791, presumably because it focused on a more idiomatically Japanese repertoire. Perhaps much if not all of this was inspired by gagaku music; in this case is should perhaps be included in the previous category.

Further details of Gyokudo's handbook are given on a separate page, Gyokudo Collection Qin Handbook.

13. Preserving ancient Chinese music
This does not mean that text preserved in Japan, particularly from the Togaku reperoire, cannot be used to gain a better understanding of Chinese music from that period (further comment).

14. Handbooks connected to Shin-Etsu (details under Content)
Specifically regarding the titles, the implication seems to have been that, on the one hand, during the lifetime of Toko Shin-etsu (1639-1695) his handbook was called simply the "Qin Handbook with Lyrics and Pronunciation" (和文注音琴譜 Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu) and that, in constrast, the use of his name in titles came later (i.e., "東皐琴譜 Toko Kinpu") means Qin Handbook of Toko's Music).

Then, according to the dates Zha Fuxi gives, Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu was the first, and the earliest; the latter two have in their title the words "Toko Kinpu" (or "Toko Kimpu": "Qin Handbook of Toko") in accordance with the common tradition for titles of Japanese tablature connected to Toko Shin-Etsu.

Regarding the former, Zha Fuxi's dating it to "before 1676" suggests the opinion that it consisted of the music brought to Japan by Shin-Etsu. As for the other two, perhaps the use of the words "Toko Kinpu" in the title seems to suggest that these handbooks consisted of melodies Shin-Etsu taught in Japan, not simply the ones he brought there. However, an examination of the melodies in the handbooks themselves suggests that the actual content was more complex than that. In fact, Van Gulik's writings about this seem to divide the music into, on the one hand, simple melodies that Shin-Etsu would have taught to novices (including both ones he brought to Japan and ones he himself created there, i.e., the Fusang melodies) and, on the other hand, melodies that he would have taught to more advanced students (or perhaps simply played himself). This is discussed further in this entry.

15. Van Gulik on Shin-Etsu's melodies
See R. H. Van Gulik, Lore of the Chinese Lute, in particular pp. 226-227.

16. Japanese handbooks in 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng (Volume XII/165-381)
The original commentary by 查阜西 Zha Fuxi (QQJC XII/ii-iii) was edited for publication in 1994 by 吳鉊 Wu Zhao. For more on Zha Fuxi see details of his Guqin Work.

17. Zha Fuxi's list of Toko Kinpu he had seen
Zha published the following list of the names of handbooks he had actually seen. Some handbooks are not on the list because Zha Fuxi was either unaware of them or had not been able to gain access to them. For others he determined they did not include anything not aleady seen in the three he did include. In any case, in addition to Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu he listed the handbooks he was able to see as follows:

  1. 宿谷慎吏編 Shukutani Chikasato edition; combines two volumes dated 1802 and 1808
    9 folios, 44 melodies; in the 上野圖書館 Ueno Museum;

  2. 兒島鳳林刊本 Kojima Horin edition; 1827
    3 folios, 46 melodies

  3. 德川元子又本《東皋琴譜》 Another Toko Kinpu of Tokugawa Motoko
    33 melodies

  4. 德川元子藏《琴譜雜錄》 Tokugawa Motoko's Qinpu Zalu
    Includes four songs seldom seen elsewhere, 春野 Chun Ye (Haruno),富士 Fu Shi,山里 Shan Li and 山櫻 Shan Ying (
    further comment).

  5. 大原止郎據仁木斯祐 Ohara Shiro's volume based on Niki Siko; 1898
    33 melodies; in the 東京大學圖書館 Tokyo University Library

  6. 鈴木龍刊本 Suzuki Ryu's edition; 1772
    14 melodies (? should be 15)

  7. 菊地遷甫刊本 Kikuchi Sensuke's edition; 1797
    15 melodies

QQJC includes the fifth and sixth of these handbooks. They were apparently copied by the well-known modern musicologist 田邊尚雄 Tanabe Hisao (1883 - 1984).

18. Toko Kinpu Zha Fuxi did not see
The earliest of these seem to have been three books in the collection of 德川元子 (Tokugawa Motoko) in Tokyo, but those books had not been copied, so they were not available to Zha Fuxi for examination. He describes them as follows:

  1. &
  2. 東皋琴譜,杉浦正職重交本 Toko Kinpu, two editions
        桂川月池抄本 A Hand Copy by Katsuragawa Getchi (1751 - 1809), details not known
        幸田子泉舊藏本 An Old Volume Belonging to Koda Shisen (d. 1758), three folios, 57 melodies
  3. 琴譜 Qin Handbook
        幸田子泉舊藏 Old Collection of Koda Shisen (d. 1758), in 7 folios, with 51 melodies.

See also the reference above to the "earliest" of these Toko Kinpu.

19. Pieces in later Toko Kinpu that were not in Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu
The six melodies in the later QQJC handbooks that were among the eight not in Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu and are also not to be found in surviving handbooks published in China are:

In this regard see also the pieces in the "orthodox" volume mentioned in the next footnote. here is a list of the pieces that, in spite of the fact that it may have been published earlier than them, it has that were not in either Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu or in either of these two Toko Qinpu.

More puzzling is that two pieces in the later handbooks have lyrics but not music: Ye Zuo and Zhou Ye; one, Caoman Yin, has only music, but lyrics are published elsewhere

120. "Orthodox" Toko Kinpu"(「東皐琴譜」正本)
This handbook, the title of which could also be translated as the "Complete Toko Kinpu", was published in a limited edition (50 copies) by the senior Japanese qin specialist 坂田進一 Sakata Shinichi (information from the 秋月齋 Autumn Moon Studio, which also send the Table of Contents, on which this page was based). It would be interesting to compare this with the 1709 edition mentioned above.

Note also the inclusion in this handbook of more of the advanced melodies, such as Liu Shui and Ou Lu Wang Ji. Here it might be noted that Van Gulik, ibid., said that he initially was quite convinced that all the melodies brought by Shin-Etsu were so simple that he must not have had very advanced students, and perhaps he himself was not such a skilled player either. However, noting mention of other handbooks Shin-Etsu brought with him, Van Gulik added that more recently he had revised his opinion, at least holding open the possibility that Shin-Etsu and some of his followers actually were quite skilled. Here it would be interesting to know how the versions from Japan of such melodies compare with the ones surviving from Chinese handbooks.

Return to the Guqin ToC