A survey of Filmon audio recordings in the collection of Myogan-ji Temple (Maki Ward, City of Joetsu, Niigata Prefecture)

IKENAGA Fumio, the chief priest of the Myogan-ji Temple (right)
portable player of the Filmon sound-belt

 The National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo has conducted joint studies of Filmon sound-belts with the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University. Some of the results of those studies were previously reported in the March 2011 edition (Vol. 5) of Research and Reports on Intangible Cultural Heritage.
 Filmon endless sound-belts are a special type of audio recording medium (record) developed in pre-war Japan. At the time, the most ubiquitous records were 78 rpm records that had an average recording time of about 3 minutes. In contrast, Filmon sound-belts could record performances of 30 minutes or longer. These sound-belts were a ground-breaking invention, but they were produced only for a short period from 1938 to 1940. Moreover, they required a special player, so after the war they were soon forgotten. Only a few sound-belts and players have survived until today.
 About 120 types of sound-belts appear to have been sold. When the report mentioned earlier was written, 85 types were thought to have survived. Late last year, information became available that Myogan-ji Temple in Niigata Prefecture (Maki Ward, City of Joetsu) had a number of sound-belts in its collection, so the sound-belts were surveyed in October with the assistance of the Temple’s chief priest, IKENAGA Fumio. The survey found 49 types of sound-belts in the collection, and 16 of these types had not been seen before. Moreover, few portable players remain, but the Temple had one in working order. The survey was also a major milestone in terms of on-site studies.
 The sound-belts in Myogan-ji Temple’s collection consist of a number of public performances, most of which are Rokyoku or recited stories accompanied by music. According to the Temple’s chief priest, the Temple’s former chief priest, the late IKENAGA Takakatsu, fashioned a setup for wire broadcasts on the main building of Myogan-ji Temple (broadcasts started in 1937) because the region had little entertainment (it currently takes about an hour to reach the Temple by car from the JR Takada Station, which is the closest station). Apparently, the late IKENAGA Takakatsu bought large numbers of recordings to broadcast (primarily in the form of long recordings on Filmon sound-belts) along with players. Several broadcast facilities from that time still remain. The collection is also a wealth of material in terms of the history of folk culture in the region.

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