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The Guqin in Japan
Melodies from Qin Handbooks in Japan 2
古琴在日本 1 
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

  1. Idiomatically Chinese qin music preserved in handbooks published in Japan.
    These are mostly short qin songs. Some are copies or adaptations of melodies played in China, including a few longer melodies such as
    Gao Shan, Yu Qiao Wenda, and Shin'Etsu's own teacher's Li Yun Chun Si. For various possibilities, see Guqin Handbooks Published in Japan.

  2. Idiomatically Japanese qin music preserved in Japanese handbooks.
    Although some of the melodies listed under
    Japanese Handbooks in Qinqu Jicheng and "Correct Toko Kinpu" seem to have been created in Japan (for example, Fusang melodies), it is not always clear which (if any) can be considered idiomatically Japanese (e.g., using Japanese rather than Chinese scales or modes).11

  3. Chinese qin melodies known or likely to have been played in Japan but not published there.
    The most likely sources for such melodies would be the handbooks known to have been in Japan during the Edo period.
    12 Most relevant to the early Edo period would probably be Songxianguan Qinpu (1614) and Qinxue Xinsheng (1664). There is evidence that Shin-Etsu actually brought at least six handbooks to Japan (one of them being the handbook of his teacher) and Van Gulik argues that he probably taught his advanced students from them.13 On the other hand, all the versions of melodies from these handbooks that can be found in Japanese publications were noticeably altered.

    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).

  4. Chinese qin as portayed in Japanese art.
    Numerous Japanese paintings have been done on Chinese themes or in Chinese style, especially landscape paintings. Several famous painters were skilled qin players, most famously 浦上玉堂 Uragami Gyokudo (1745-1820), who even compiled his own qin handbook,
    discussed here. In 1999 the China Institute had an exhibition called The Resonance of the Qin in East Asian Art that included a number of relevant Japanese artworks (Catalogue). Paintings from that exhibition plus similar Japanese paintings from other sources could be made into a multi-media qin program. Examples include: calligraphy by Gyokudo for the melody 幽澗泉 You Jian Quan, and Japanese images of Boya and Tao Yuanming. An example from outside the exhibition is this painting (Boya and Ziqi?) by Kanō Eitoku (1543-1590; Wiki).

  5. Chinese qin melodies preserved in Japanese libraries or museums.
    The most famous example of this is
    You Lan.

  6. Recent qin compositions with a Japan connection
    There is at least one modern composition for qin and Japanese instruments.

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        
There can be confusion in Japan about the character for qin (in Japanese "琴 kin" but sometimes [incorrectly] "koto") vs. the character for zheng (in Japanese "箏 " or "koto", depending on the context). This confusion can be found in ancient documents as well as at present.

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        
The guqin seems to have (or have had) no relation to an ancient Japanese instrument called the 和琴 wagon (, a plucked zither also called a 大和琴 yamato goto (5960.629xxx) but also sometimes incorrectly referred to as a wagoto. It had six or seven strings but also movable bridges (sometimes missing from images), making it more closely related to the koto; once again, the part of the strings to the left of the bridges are not intended to vibrate. The wagon is generally thought to be indigenous to Japan.

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 here and here.

2. The Guqin in Japan, main references
The main references I have consulted include:

To this should be added the page on Japanese Handbooks.

3. A qin at the Shoso-In
This instrument is discussed further here.

4. 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).

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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:

  1. Melodies brought from China
  2. Melodies in the same style but created in Japan
  3. Distinctively Japanese melodies for qin

As yet I am not familiar with any studies that identify the specific characteristics of melodies in the third category.

8. 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.

9. 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".

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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)   
According to the current Wikipedia article, the string of the Japanese ichigenkin (or ichigen-kin) is made of silk. It adds that the Japanese originally adapted the instrument from the guqin. Such an origin is substantiated by the samples and stories of the one string qin in China. It is also interesting to note that shortly before Jiang Xingchou came to China a handbook was published with one-string qin melodies (dated 1618; see details). And as the image at right (said to be 19th century) seems to confirm, the 1-string qin (right side of image) in Japan originally had, as it had had in China, the same body as a 7-string qin (see left side of image), but was strung with only one string.

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.
  Modern ichigenkin                                  
As can be seen at right, the modern ichigenkin superficially resembles the Chinese original. However, the string is now connected either to two large posts (one at either end, as at top) or, more commonly, to a large post and a very small one, crossing a bridge (as at bottom; image apparently from the Metropolitan Museum of New York). And although the top image still seems to have 13 hui (markers), from the image at right and also from other online images such as this other one from the Metropolitan Museum, it looks as though the number is different and, instead of indicating harmonic nodes, as they do on the guqin, they indicate "stopped" positions.

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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