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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HOME ALONE ON A WINDY NIGHT WITH A CHINESE LUTE

I am at home alone (the wife’s exercising and I think everyone else is at a movie). There is a strong wind blowing outside, and I have a CD of Chinese lute (Pipa) music playing. Whenever I put on this CD I feel like I can almost taste a very nice cup of Jasmine tea. I would go make some, but I’d have to look for it, and I’m too lazy—I will add another haiku post to this thread instead. The Pipa is known as a biwa (琵琶) in Japan. The CD has such titles, poorly translated as, ‘Chen Hsin-yuan to Pacify the Barbarian/Fall into Courtyard,’ ‘Playing Xiao and Drum Under the Setting Sun,’ ‘A Tyrant in the Difficult Status,’ and ‘A Blossom of Plum.’ These songs are generally classic pieces that were played on the pipa. The title of the CD, is ‘Shi Mian Maifu‘ which means, ‘Ambushed From Ten Sides.’ It is also the title of the 3rd song. This song and most of the others are listed on Wikipedia under Pipa as traditional classics for this instrument. The authors that put out the CD translated Shi mian maifu as ‘An Overall Ambush.’ But shi mian does mean 10 sides, or 10 fronts.

Anyway—-it’s a great CD if you like stringed instruments, and want to set that perfect mood for a cup of Jasmine Tea. Some of the songs are played solely by a pipa, others are accompanied by other traditional instruments.

Here is the song Shi Mian Maifu (Ambushed from Ten Sides) on a pipa:

 

 

But if that is a little too wild and violent for you, here is, White Snow in the Spring Sunlight:

 

 

It’s spring, but Colorado can still get a lot of snowstorms this month (today was over 70 though…). Regardless, winter and fall haiku are my favorites. Here are some more from 2006—I’ll stick a Spring one in there:

 

夜の闇に

寝る町

大雪おこり

 

Yoru no yami ni

neru machi

Ohyuki okori

 

In the darkness of the night

the sleeping village

a blizzard arises

 

At night, as most of the creatures of the day, including man, sleep, they are completely oblivious to the storm brewing up outside their homes. But it wouldn’t matter, we are helpless and weak against the fury of mother nature’s storms. Nothing we can do will arrest its development.

 

夜の森

水の音

みみづく鳴き也

 

yoru no mori

mizu no oto

mimitzuku naki ya

 

Forest in the night

the sound of water.

A horned owl cries!

 

The seasonal word hear is the horned owl—but I cannot say for sure what season that is off the top of my head—-I’d have to look it up.

 

山深し

森にかくるる

冬の月

 

yama fukashi

mori ni kakururu

fuyu no tsuki

 

Deep in the mountains

hiding in the forest

the winter moon

 

~ruru is an older verb conjugation. Here is another one–a spring one–along the same lines:

 

古池に

隠りょうとする

春の月

 

furu ike ni

kakuryou to suru

haru no tsuki

 

in the old pond

it tries to hide–

the spring moon

 

Whenever you use ‘furu ike’ (old pond), it probably calls to mind the most famous haiku of all–especially outside of Japan: furu ike ya/kaeru tobikomu/mizu no oto, or, ‘The old pond!/frog jumps in/the sound of water.’

The moon, as I have mentioned numerous times before, has a lot of meaning to the Japanese. It is a symbol of enlightenment for example. The moon trying to hide in a pond, is an aesthetic interpretation of an experience when, at least for a moment, one has been gripped by nature. It becomes much deeper though if we think of the old pond as a metaphor for the consciousness, and under its surface—the subconscious. As I have stated before, I am not Buddhist, but rather an animist, so I could interpret the moon in ways other than Buddhist enlightenment—such as a deep knowledge of spirit, or the connection to the other side, or even that animating force (what the Japanese would call 神 kami) within each living thing. And the pond, rather than, consciousness, could be that veil between physical reality, and the hidden reality of spirit. There are so many ways that one could experience this haiku—some perhaps, at least for me, touching on that special feeling of 幽玄 (yuugen—-See my post, YUGEN—A SPIRITUAL FEELING TOO DEEP FOR WORDS).

AND—-this is the Spring moon that is hiding, and spring is a time of new beginnings…

The Chinese pipa music however, has got me to thinking about haiku regarding the biwa. Maybe next time I’ll have one or two haiku on that theme.