WANDERING STREET MUSICIANS OF 16th CENTURY JAPAN

Years ago when I lived in Osaka, I would go to Takigi Noh Plays in the park surrounding Osaka Castle. Takigi refers to the fires that would burn on each side of the stage while the traditional Japanese Noh play was performed—which many many years ago, would provide the light for such plays at night. They were incredible to see, especially with Osaka Castle lit up in the background.

Here is a concert that makes use of Takigi—it is a tsugaru shamisen concert. The shamisen is a little different than the biwa, or Japanese lute. It is a 3-stringed instrument, that has no frets on its neck. The tsugaru shamisen is a special kind of shamisen that uses thicker strings—because it was played hard and fast. In fact, the tsugaru style was, to me, rock music that was a few hundred years ahead of its time. It was played by a bunch of bohemians—-wandering musicians in 16th Century Japan, who would play in the streets for money and food. I find the music to be truly incredible and creative.

This concert starts with a couple of musicians playing some traditional pieces and then turns into Yoko Nagayama, playing her famous tsugaru piece, Jonkara Onna Bushi. Her song is of a lonely female tsugaru musician, wandering around Japan playing her shamisen in the cold winter. She is apparently following someone she loves, but the affection is not returned—she sings ‘Haru wa watashi nya tou-sugiru‘ (Spring, for me, is too far away), meaning not only how she struggles with the winter, but also suggesting that she has not had sex for sometime (spring can be a euphemism for sex). While a woman’s heart is her weakness, a man’s heart is blown here and there by the wind. In almost every video version of this song she ends the song by looking longingly into the camera (except this one which is filmed more from the corner) singing, ‘Anta ga hoshii…‘ (I want you…). (“I knew it! She wanted me, the whole time she was singing about me—she is following me around, madly in love with me!!”)

I was never impressed with the young Yoko Nagayama (a J-Pop idol), but I am seriously infatuated with the adult Yoko——boy what I’d give to have her as a mistress…!!!!

 

 

I bet you never knew that 16th Century Japan already had electric guitars, clarinets, saxophones, modern drum kits, and other instruments that appear with Yoko. Yep—they were far more advanced than the West when it came to music… …Ok—the song is built from a traditional tsugaru shamisen riff, but I believe Yoko Nagayama composed the words and it is adapted into the modern day Enka style of Japanese music.

Anyway—here are a couple of haiku I just composed yesterday and today, put into the mood by all this music. Anyone who speaks Japanese may catch that this next haiku was inspired by the words of Yoko Nagayama’s ‘Jonkara Onna Bushi’ (the song in the video above):

 

雪ぐもり哉
道に
津軽三味線

 

yukigumori kana
michi ni
tsugaru shamisen

 

Threatening to snow!
in the street
tsugaru shamisen

 

As I said I would in my last post—-here is a Pipa (Biwa) haiku—-and a spring one no less:

 

春風に
乗る遠雷
琵琶法師也

 

harukaze ni
noru enrai
biwa houshi ya

 

distant thunder
riding the spring wind.
the Biwa playing wandering monk!

 

There has got to be a better way to translate that—-monks would often wander around, like the tsugaru shamisen musicians—playing ballads of famous battles and other tales. There are several interesting ghost stories around such figures—-such as the one about the monk who is asked by a spirit to sing the ballad of the famous battle between the Heike and Taira clans in Southern Japan. He fears for his life and to protect himself he paints Buddhist sutra (scripture) all over his body, except his ears. After being moved by the song, the ghost wants to take him to the spirit world so he can always hear the song, but because of the painted scriptures all he can see is his ears—-so he takes those, ripping them off the head of the monk. (At least that is the story as best as my memory recalls).

Speaking of taking Yoko Nagayama as my mistress:

 

春の風
所どころに
浮寝鳥

 

haru no kaze
tokorodokoro ni
ukinetori

 

spring wind
here and there
birds sleeping on water

 

Ukine, means to float and sleep, as on the waves. When you sleep on a boat you—ukine. But it also means to have adulterous affairs—–it is somewhat like the Filipino euphemism of a butterfly, floating from flower to flower. Ukinetori is a euphemism for lovers sleeping around. If you can imagine birds on waves, bobbing up and down, some disappearing behind waves as others reappear. Or think of the Filipino concept of a butterfly going from flower to flower, sticking its long proboscis into the depths of the flower, before moving on to the next one. These are two very artistic ways of expressing these seedier aspects of life.

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