Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties Center for Conservation Science
Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation
Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage

First Research Recording of the Azuma School Two-Stringed Zither Nigenkin

Recording scene (from left to right: TOSHA Rosen IX and TOSHA Rokou)

 On November 29th, 2023, the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage conducted the first research recording of the Azuma school two-stringed zither nigenkin in the recording room of the Performing Art Studio of the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

 The Azuma school nigenkin is a school of the Japanese two-stringed zither, an instrument in which two silk strings are stretched over a wooden body and played with a plectrum. The school was founded in Tokyo in the early Meiji era by TOSHA Rosen I, based on the two-stringed zither yakumogoto used in Shinto rituals. It is said that the Azuma school nigenkin became quite popular in the mid-Meiji era, as a female master of the instrument appears in NATSUME Soseki’s novel I am a Cat.

 In March 1973, TOSHA Rosui (later Rosen VI) and TOSHA Rosetsu (later Rosen VII) were selected by the government as holders of ‘Intangible Cultural Properties that need measures such as making records,’ and in March 2002, TOSHA Rosen VIII was registered as a holder of Intangible Cultural Property designated by the Taito Ward. However, as there are now only a few people carrying on the tradition and only a limited number of pieces have been recorded on publicly available audiovisual material, we decided to make new research recordings.

 The first recording included six pieces: ‘Mado no tsuki (lit. The Moon at the Window),’ ‘Hototogisu (Lesser Cuckoo),’ ‘Hatsuaki (Early Autumn),’ ‘Kinuta (Fulling Block),’ ‘Shiki no En (The Beauty of the Four Seasons),’ and ‘Sumidagawa (Sumida River).’ All the pieces were composed by Rosen I and their lyrics were included in Azuma-ryū Nigenkin Shōgashū published in 1885. They are performed by TOSHA Rosen IX and TOSHA Rokou, members of Azuma-kai, the performing group of the Azuma school of two-stringed zither music.

 The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage plans to continue recording rare performances and precious full-length performances.

Ninth Recording of the Live Performance of “Miyazono-bushi”

Preparation for the live recording.
Live recording being filmed (from left: MIYAZONO Senyoshie, MIYAZONO Senroku, MIYAZONO Senkazuya, and MIYAZONO Senkoju).

 On October 31, 2023, the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage conducted the ninth recording of Miyazono-bushi at the Performing Arts Studio of the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN).

 Miyazono-bushi, one of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Japan, originated in the Kamigata (Kyoto-Osaka) area in the mid-Edo period and has since been handed down mainly in the Edo area. Today, Miyazono-bushi is collectively referred to as ‘kokyoku’ (lit. old music) along with other voice genres Icchū-bushi, Katō-bushi, and Ogie-bushi, and there are not many opportunities to hear it performed. The department has continued our attempts to record the live performances of Miyazono-bushi since 2018, archiving the target pieces in their entirety, without omission.

 For this recording, two of the ten pieces in the Miyazono-bushi repertoire classified as ‘modern pieces’ were selected: “Sonoo no Haru” (Garden Spring) and “Wankyū.” The former was composed in 1888 to commemorate the official recognition of the Miyazono-bushi genre by the Meiji Government in 1884 and includes flamboyant kaede (another melody played in coordination with the basic melody) in the shamisen part, which is unusual for Miyazono-bushi compositions. The latter is a more recent work, composed in 1949. It tells the tragic love story between Wanya Kyūbē (also known as ‘Wankyū’), a wealthy merchant in the Osaka Shinmachi area, and Matsuyama, a courtesan in Shinmachi, and depicts a scene in which Wankyū falls into insanity. The roles were performed by MIYAZONO Senroku (lead jōruri voice performer: an individual certified as a Holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property or what is called a “Living National Treasure”), MIYAZONO Senyoshie (supporting jōruri voice performer), MIYAZONO Senkazuya (lead shamisen player: an individual certified as a Holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property, commonly called a “Living National Treasure”), and MIYAZONO Senkoju (supporting shamisen player).

 The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage will continue to make live recordings of classical and rarely performed modern pieces of Miyazono-bushi.

Investigating the structure of Koto from multiple perspectives: In collaboration with Society for the Conservation of Traditional Japanese Musical Instrument Making Skills and Kyushu National Museum

Checking the captured CT images.
Setting up to scan the koto, which is over 170 cm in length, was a challenge.

 The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage conducts research not only on the traditional performing arts themselves, but also on their ‘tools’ – musical instruments. The department has now started a joint survey of the structure of a koto (in a private collection), which is thought to have been made between the late Edo period and the Taisho period, in collaboration with two organisations: the Society for the Conservation of Traditional Japanese Musical Instrument Making Skills, which is a conservation group for the Selected Conservation Techniques of the making of the koto and the fashioning of the shamisen neck and body, and Kyushu National Museum, which belongs to the National Institutes for Cultural Heritage, in common with us. This effort is an attempt to synthesise the knowledge and perspectives that have connected performers and audiences through instrument-making skills, the techniques and perspectives of museology for non-destructive investigation of the interior of cultural properties, and the perspectives of instrumentology and musicology on intangible cultural properties to clarify the structure of the koto from multiple perspectives.

 On August 29, a CT examination of the koto was conducted at the Kyushu National Museum, and while checking the images immediately after the scan, several discoveries unique to this collaboration were made. For example, opinions were exchanged on a newly discovered notch on the inner bottom surface of the koto: the notch appears to have been accidentally caused by the entry of a saw blade once used in the instrument-making process and to have been partially filled in with other wood to compensate for this.

 This research has only just begun, but by gathering opinions from people with various perspectives, it is hoped that new aspects will emerge, such as the techniques used in the instrument-making process, the intentions of the makers, and the structure of the koto as the culmination of this work. In the future, we intend to examine the CT images obtained in detail, scrutinise the origin of this koto, and compare it with other kotos owned by other institutions that may have been made by the same maker, to clarify the characteristics of its structure and production techniques.

Manuscripts of Traditional Japanese Music Notations Transcribed by Mr. ASADA Masayuki, known as Asada-fu: Digital Images Released

Viewing images on a dedicated computer at the TOBUNKEN Library.
Example of additional revisions to a once-published manuscript ('Sanja Matsuri', Kiyomoto-bushi No.39)

 The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage organizes and makes available to the public valuable materials that serve research on intangible cultural properties. Digital images of the manuscripts of traditional Japanese music notations, transcribed by Mr. ASADA Masayuki (1900-1979), have been made available for viewing at the TOBUNKEN Library.

 Asada-fu is the result of Mr. ASADA’s continuous transcription of a wide variety of shamisen music genres, including melodies of voice (jōruri or uta) and shamisen accompaniment. It is estimated that more than 100 notations were privately published over a period of 23 years. Because the original manuscripts require careful handling, only the bound versions (copied and bound from the original manuscripts) were previously available to the public. However, with the completion of the digital imaging of manuscripts (Kiyomoto-bushi in FY2021 and other genres, including Icchū-bushi and Miyazono-bushi in FY2022), image data for all genres have been made available in the TOBUNKEN Library from July 2022. This allowed us to examine at our discretion details not reflected in the photocopies, such as traces of detailed modifications to the voice passages made by cutting the paper out of the manuscript.

 Those interested in viewing materials can refer to the TOBUNKEN Library Visitor’s Guide and reserve a dedicated computer. A list of Asada-fu manuscript holdings is available (Japanese only). We hope that these images will be utilized by a wide range of interested people, including researchers, performers, and enthusiasts.

Digital Imaging of the Manuscripts of Traditional Japanese Music Notations Transcribed by Mr. ASADA Masayuki, known as Asada-fu

Asada-fu manuscripts, organized by piece.

 The music notations, transcribed by Mr. ASADA Masayuki (1900-1979), are widely known as a source for describing the melodies of voice (jōruri or uta) and shamisen accompaniment in shamisen music. His notations span a variety of genres, primarily Kiyomoto-bushi, but also Icchū-bushi, and Miyazono-bushi, among others. The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage has been organizing and preserving the valuable manuscripts, which were collectively donated by the bereaved families when the department was known as the Department of Performing Arts. The outline of the material is reported as “Scores of Japanese Music Transcribed by ASADA Masayuki” [in Japanese] in Vol. 5 of “Research and Reports on Intangible Cultural Heritage.”

 The bound versions of Asada-fu (copied and bound from the original manuscripts) are held by various institutions and are available for viewing. In addition, we have been working on digital imaging of the manuscripts, which have only remained at the Institute to ensure their availability for long-term use. We have recently completed the digital imaging of the manuscript of Kiyomoto-bushi genre.

 Documenting intangible cultural properties based on oral/aural traditions, especially vocal music with various verses, remains a difficult task. This was even more so in the period when Asada-fu was created, that is before technological developments made it easier to record sound and edit images. From the manuscript, two types of traceable revisions were found: manuscripts revised by cutting and pasting of papers and those rewritten from scratch by destroying the previous version. The use of digital images allows future research into the revision process to be conducted without damaging the original manuscript, which calls for careful handling.

 The list of manuscripts in our collection [in Japanese], which includes the progress of digital imaging, was posted on the website of the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage on February 1st, 2022. The list will be updated based on the progress of our research.

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