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Friday, April 23, 2010

Music we love to write waka by: The koto

The koto -- 13-stringed Japanese lute -- dates back more than 1,300 years, and its sound was a popular accompaniment to waka-writing parties and other social gatherings of the Heian court. In the world's first novel, the title character falls in love with an unseen woman after hearing her play the koto. An instrument so important to Japanese history seems the perfect accompaniment to our 21st-century Waka Fest.

Though it had survived for hundreds of years, however, the art of the koto was almost lost when Japan was opened to the world about the time Reiki founder Mikao Usui was born in 1865. As Western culture flooded into the once-isolated Japanese society, traditional Japanese arts, including the koto, fell out of fashion. It was saved largely thanks to one man, Michio Miyagi, a composer who was the first to combine western music with traditional koto music. Miyagi was one of Japan's first recording artists and he performed on the nation's first radio broadcast (coincidentally, Usui's former employer Shimpei Goto was also heard on that same 1925 broadcast).

While we couldn't find any recordings of Miyagi himself on iTunes, we did find a lot of his music performed by others, including the Yamato Ensemble. Click on the Yamato Ensemble - Japanese Music By Michio Miyagi, Vol. 1 - Haru No Yo button to listen and find out more.

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