“I'm going to Takachiho in Miyazaki from tomorrow. It's a place that is said to have the origins of Japanese music.” says Ryochu Miyako. He was born as the son of Itchu Miyako, 12th generation of Itchu-bushi (Shamisen: three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument), he is now on various stages both in Japan and abroad as a Joruri-kata (a narrative singer of the traditional Japanese puppet theatre).
In this interview, we asked Ryochu about new challenges that he would like to pursue in the future and what he thinks what the “essence” is.
Ryochu MIYAKO / Itchu-bushi, Joruri
Since the early days of his life, he began to practice Japanese traditional music, Itchu-bushi, from his father, and his predecessor, both Itchu MIYAKO. He regularly organises his own concert “Miyako Ryochu no kai”. He served as a Joruri-kata for concerts and dance performances, and appeared in many performances overseas (Berlin, New York, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, etc.). In addition to performance activities, he is also lecturer, guest at radio station, and Joruri instructor, etc. He also participated as a singer in the image album (CD) of the Studio Ghibli film “Spirited Away”
What is the Itchu bushi?
Itchu bushi is known as particularly elaborate and elegant music among shamisen music, and has been handed down for over 300 years since the Edo period. The number of notes are few, and the tones and knots and shamisen are soft and gentle, so that it may seem plain when you listen to them for the first time. However, each sound has its depth, and the fineness and quietness between each note is its unique attraction. During the Edo period, it was so popular that everyone listened and practiced, and it was loved and enjoyed by the upper class of trademan and craftsman.
It will never be completed. That is why it is always new.
- How do you manage your time?
I'm mainly spending time on three things now - Getting on the stage, Practicing, and Teaching.
Some of schedules such as lessons with students are fixed, but others are quite flexible. It is very difficult to secure time for my own lessons. Sometimes I spend a whole day practicing, and another time I only have 2 to 3 hours.
- Is there anything you have to keep in mind when managing your three tasks?
First of all, I will aim for the closest stage, but to be honest, I always feel like i is always unfinished when I am on the stage. Of course I am doing everything I can, but there is always something that is not still perfect. It may be the case in any field, but I don't think it will ever be completed no matter how much I do.
Therefore, I need to try something new all the time. It is necessary to learn music pieces that I will not be playing at the next stage. The accumulation of new things fills the remaining few percents toward the completion. Although, it is very challenging to keep doing new things that are not directly related to the stage in front of me.
I like singing, just as much as I used to as a child.
- I heard that it has been about 30 years since you started Itchu bushi. but how did you start?
My father has always been the Shamisen player ever since I was born, I had been practicing since the age of three. It had already been the daily routine before I realised.
When I was a kid, I loved singing anime, and I always used to sing on my way home from school or when I am riding a bicycle. I remember singing all the songs that each character sings, such as “Dragon Ball” or “Ranma 1/2”.
When I was a child, Itchu bushi was an extension of my favourite singing activity.
I still remember that it was frustrating that Itchu bushi was so difficult that I could not do it as well as I can do in anime song.
- I don't think there were many people studying Joruri around you, but what did you think of it when you were a student?
My father always used to tell me, “Do as you like.” “If you have a favourite job, you can choose that.” "If you don't like it, it's rather rude to Itchu bushi."
It was when I was a high school student that I actually decided which way to pursue. I started to learn about the contents and details of the song, and I realised it is somethign that I would enjoy the rest of my life.
Although I was still young when I made this decision, I was 17 years old when I was given the name “Ryochu MIYAKO” and began to appear on stage as a professional “Itchu bushi Joruri kata”.
- Making a decision when you were a high school student was a big thing, but what was the reason you were determined that you want to do it for the rest of your life?
Around the same time, I had a chance to travel to the United States with my father. It was my father's vacation trip, but a Japanese friend invited us to their home to organise a small music concert like a salon party. I remember that there were about 30 local Americans and Japanese people. After interpreting the commentary in English, my father played and sang, and I was just listening by his side.
After the performance, all the guests seemed very moved and came up to my father. Some people expressed their excitement and asked for a handshake. I was watching the whole scenes and felt very happy that the music I am practicing every day could make people so happy. During the trip, I went to see musicals and orchestra concerts and I was very moved by those. However at the same time, I felt proud that Itchu bushi is equally amazing. Those experiences gave me a great opportunity to think that I want to do my best.
- My image of your father Itchu is playing the shamisen, but the image of you are narrating.
I could choose to be the Shamisen player, but I chose the Joruri kata pathway. I always enjoyed to use my voice, so it was a natural flow for me. Basically, it will be either full-time narrator or Shamisen player. Although, I also learned the Shamisen in order to narrate Joruri, and I play Shamisen when I teach my students or play at a very small concert, I focus on the narrating when I am on the stage.
Some people do both, but that is quite unusual. First of all, it is hard to keep the balance and keep up the level at the same time.
The amount of "frustration" and "joy" increases over time. This is why I keep going.
- Why do you think you could continue Itchu bushi since your childhood?
There are two reasons that I am continuing - that are “Frustration” and “happiness”. The more I get older, the more I get those feelings.
- When do you feel the frustration?
There are so many things that I cannot do. Even if you can imagine, there are a lot that I cannot reach no matter how I try. But that is why I keep on trying to get closer to the completion.
Although I am able to do something I could not do in the past, my ideal level goes higher. The goals and ideals are always above me. It never gets closer at all. That's why I want to do more. I want to pursue it.
- So when do you feel “joy”?
Thankfully there are people who say "Please perform in my local area" and there are people who say "I listen to the CD every day''. I always feel afraid that they do not have to listen to mine everyday and they should listen to something else too, but I feel so thankful.
Shamisen music form varies, and Itchu bushi is a very quiet and there are a lot of silence between notes. It must be difficult to get the idea that it appreciates the quietness, but people listen to it patiently. I am very happy when people tell me "It was a kind of music that I had never heard before" or "Please tell me when you have a chance to perform again". This is one of the reasons that I continue Itchu bushi.
Telling the essence is what we do
- How is the reaction overseas?
Until now, I have had the opportunity to appear in performances in various places such as New York, Boston, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Cologne, Berlin, etc., most of which is accompanied by my father.
Of course it is not the same reaction everywhere I go, but amongst all what impressed me was in Berlin in 2014.
It was held at the German-Japanese Centre in Berlin so I suppose there were many people who were interested in Japanese culture. But what amazed me that not only standing ovation, comments such as "very comfortable" and "the unique silence was wonderful", but also "the work was beautiful" and "I want to imitate the appearance", which relates to the concept of Japanese culture as a whole.
I often hear people around me perform overseas, and I hope it will increase as 2020 approaches.
- What are the things that you want to tell to people?
I want to deliver the performances that I do every day without faking it.
Recently, I hear a lot of new projects such as collaborating with something outside of Japan, or arranging the original song into another. It is very important to keep trying new things, and there are situations where it's necessary.
However, I would like to show what I am doing on a daily basis to the overseas audience who listen to music for the first time. This is because I want them to feel the original charm and the essence of the pure Itchu bushi. It is a challenge to continue to refine myself so that there are important elements in the connection of our predecessors over a long period of time.
For example, I don't want to change the song itself, even if I make an elaboration in the space, such as the location and lighting. It is fine even if it would be boring to the audience. The kindness for people to be understood is necessary, but there is also a risk that important parts will not be transmitted if you care too much about others.
Still, it will be difficult even for Japanese people today listening to Itchu bushi and understanding it without any prior explanation. Especially there is a language barrier to overseas audiences.
What I learned so far through my experiences is that it is quite useful to show the meaning of the music and what lyrics mean alongside the performance real time. Also audiences could naturally enter into the world of music and were pleased when I told the background story and the history of the content before I started playing.
- What do you think is the “essence” of the Itchu-bushi?
For example, when audiences could feel the spring air through the Joruri clause and the sound of the shamisen when I am narrating about the spring. Or when audiences could feel if the characters in the stories are happy or sad through Joruri and Shamisen. I think it is the essence of Itchu bushi that I can share the scenery and emotions with audiences via Joruri and Shamisen.
I would be happy if people could experience the beauty of Japanese sensibilities.
I am convinced that the essence can be told regardless of country, since I was in high school when I decided that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. It is a theme that we must continue to think about, "How to create better performances and ways to convey while continuing to pursue the value of itself," and "what will change and what will not change."
Itchu-bushi is the origin of Edo Joruri-style shamisen music. The first generation of Tayu Itchu MIYAKO was the second son of the chief priest of Kyoto Meifukuji in 1650. He gradually integrated various forms of shamisen music that were popular in Kyoto at that time, and later expanded into Edo and Established as the Itchu bushi. During the Edo period, Itchu bushi was popular with the upper class of trademan and craftsman in Edo.
Even now, after more than 300 years, the music and spirit of the first generation are faithfully handed down. In addition, the music of the first generation was passed on to the disciples, and later developed into Tokiwazu, Kiyomoto, Shinnai, Tomimoto, etc. and became the source of various schools, greatly affecting the entire shamisen music.
Interviewer: Yuki Kitamura, Kaoru Kuribayashi Stanislaus
Photo: Atsushi Sakamoto
Place: National Noh Theater
01 Practicing classical Japanese dance in the 21st century: Balancing the demands of being a career woman and continuing the family legacy | Ume Nakamura (Part2)
Ume-san is the daughter of Nakamura-style Japanese dance that has been around since the 1700s, and the second generation Nakamura Umeya of the 8th generation Iemoto (master of the school). In the first part of this interview, we talked about the origins of a dancer and the reasons for continuing a career as a corporation employee. In the second part, we will go further and ask about the future that she want to create.
What kind of dancer do you want to become?
Most of people in this field are professionals who are engaged in the practice and always working on to improve their performance. Those people must remain in the future. They are so into the world that they perform so well. Traditional arts are passed down. The closest example for me is my mother.
I always think that I will never be better than her. I respect her all the time who is addicted to performing arts, but my father, on the other hand, suggests me to pursue business pathway. Growing up in such environment, I thought that I want to be a dancer who can take various perspectives into dancing. I am certain that such kind of dancer is also necessary.
It may not be the same way as my mother, but the desire to improve the world of dance is the same, and my respect for dance remains the same. At this moment I am still dancing while I'm working, but eventually the dancing is going to be my main business and would like to tell the story to people who were never reached before.
I think it is same with other traditional performing arts, but it's difficult to attract new people so that it is difficult to make money out of stages.
It might sound direct, but money cannot be ignored in order to make better stages and train new talents. To that end, I think it is important to attract new people who have never seen it before. I want more young people both as dancers and audiences, and want them to enjoy the unusual experiences. That is what I want to achieve as a dancer.
Is there anything you want to do or you are doing to improve the world of dancing?
Recently, I try to connect with various people. I want to know more about the outside world. When I meet and talk, they tell me that they want to know more about it as I do not know anything about it although they have a wonderful image about it.
Those opinions are so fresh for us being inside of the certain world and appeal to me that the way of receiving the dancing is so different.
Every time I talk to people, I always think that there is no single answer that it has to be told in certain way. Even if the way I communicate is different, the way people feel is different to each other. Otherwise, the world of dance will disappear.
Actually, it is very difficult for us to reach out to people who do not know anything about dancing and attract them to see the show. Then, why not approach to those who are familiar with art and performances. Even if someone likes or is interested in certain field, it requires a bit of effort to know the details. My mission before I become 30 is to communicate more with those who already have a potential to be interested in this world.
In fact, there are many dance and music pieces that I am sure people would love once they know them.
One good example is "Dojoji". As a dancer, everyone wants to perform the piece. The story is based on the what is called the legend of Dojoji. Very simply speaking, there are a monk and a woman. She loves him so much but he does not. He tries to run away from her and escapes into the temple called Dojoji. But she still enters pretending as if she is a dancer. Eventually, the monk escaped into the temple bell, and the woman turned into a snake, wrapped around the bells, burned the bell and killed the monk.
Isn't this content that is quite a movie or drama now? What's more, in this performance, Dojoji is performed in various versions such as Kirishidan Dojoji.
Every dance performance has its own meaning, and it is related to various things. There are many ways to enjoy it, and I want it to be something that you see and do in everyday life, not in a world with a high threshold. Of course it's not just about dancing. I think this is true for the entire Japanese culture.
You can think it's boring, if you think so. Don't try to be too serious. If you find the explanation interesting I would love you to watch the show, but it is ok if you do not find it appealing. I do not think this is something that you have to try hard to be interested in. If you think it's interesting or find it enjoyable, please let me talk to you. I would love to talk to many people from different worlds and create and spread new dances.
[Nakamura-style Japanese dance]
A style originated in the third generation Shikan NAKAMURA, a kabuki actor who was famous during the Bunka and Bunsei periods.
The feature is that the actors of Kabuki's Narikomaya have inherited the original family from generation to generation, and the emphasis is placed on the mainstream of Kabuki performances. Since 2012, the second daughter of the first generation, Umeya NAKAMURA, has succeeded the family. Fukusuke NAKAMURA, the 9th generation, as the head of the school and Hashinosuke NAKAMURA, the 3rd generation (Shikan NAKAMURA, the 8th generation as of October 2016), as an advisor.
“Aiming to create a new dance world on a new path different from that of my mother.” Ume-san's goal was a little surprising.
Although it is still the first time, we will continue to interview various people in their 20s and 30s who will inherit the wave of tradition and lead the next generation of Japan. It was a story I felt strongly that I would like to create a Japanese culture that will continue into the future by working together in the interviews.
Interview: Kuribayashi Stanis Roth, Kitamura Yuki
Photo: Tsuchiya Fumino
Place: Nakamura Ryu
Okoba (Kagurazaka) Sweets: Umekatei (Kagurazaka)
01 Practicing classical Japanese dance in the 21st century: Balancing the demands of being a career woman and continuing the family legacy | Ume Nakamura (Part1)
On the face of it, Ms. Ume Nakamura (24) leads a normal life. After graduating university she entered into a company as a fresher, and from Monday to Friday she is learning her trade as a junior member of staff. But beyond the demands of work, she has a large responsibility to carry on the family business. Ume is the eldest daughter of Umeya Nakamura, the eighth Headmaster of the “Nakamura School” of Nihon Buyo (classical Japanese dance). Nippon Collection visited Ume’s house in the traditional Tokyo neighbourhood of Kagurazaka to discuss what its like to balance these dual identities, and the challenges of preserving this classical form of dance in an age of declining interest among millennials.
How do you balance your time as a career woman and a professional dancer?
Growing up in a family that lives and breathes traditional Japanese arts, working for a company that is in the Kabuki theatre business was pretty much a natural choice for me. My role is in design and product development related to “Kumadori,” a special face paint used by Kabuki actors to show different expressions and more detailed facial features such as blood vessels. Our face paint designs are used in popular products and accessories and so I am constantly thinking about what is most appealing to the general public. Perhaps the most interesting discovery I have made so far is that most people want designs that are less subtle and more obvious in their depiction of “Japaneseness.” Surprisingly this applies more so to regular Kabuki theatre goers.
On weekends I am either practicing my dance routines or performing on stage. But otherwise if I have some free time I do pretty normal things - I like to hit the shops, watch films or eat out in restaurants with friends. I think for me, the most important thing is to try new things.
Have you always had a passion for classical Japanese dance?
I think my first exposure to classical Japanese dance was at 2 years old. I still remember the feeling of nervousness the first time I stepped onto the stage at the Kabuki-za (the largest Kabuki theatre in Japan). Naturally I was scared about standing in front of lots of people. Looking back now at those early years, I think it was the words of encouragement that I received from the audience and fellow dancers that kept me going. For me, dance was simply a routine, and not yet a way of life. Just like how lots of parents take their children to piano lessons, I was made to practice classical dance. The only real difference was that I had spend a long time putting on the white make-up before practicing – fortunately my friends thought it was cool at the time!
My path was distinct from my mother who is now Headmaster of the Nakamura School. From a very early age she had a passion for classical dance and took every opportunity to practice or perform. In the world of classical Japanese dance, this is the norm, and diverging from this path usually is a sign that one’s future lies elsewhere. When I reached high school I was convinced that I hadn’t been given the calling like my mother, and tried to avoid dance as much as possible. Fortunately my family was very understanding, and there was no pressure placed upon me to succeed my mother as the next Headmaster, which is commonly the expectation. In fact, my father pushed me in the opposite direction and suggested that I gain broader experiences and new perspectives outside of the world of classical dance. With no real reason to continue, it seemed that my journey as a professional dancer had ended.
The images are scenes from the performance of “Shunkyo Kagami Jishi,” a famous play in Japanese classical dance and one of the 18 standard pieces in the modern Kabuki repertoire. The play tells the story of a new year’s celebration at the castle in Edo. Maids in the inner court brought a servant-girl named Yayoi into the presence of a Lord. Confused at the circumstances, Yayoi began to dance (left). Shortly after, she put on a mask of a lion’s head, and became possessed by the lion, moving her to dance madly (right).
This particular performance in May 2016 also signaled the grand unveiling of the stage name “Ume Nakamura”.
What was the turning point for you?
To be honest, I think it was a gradual change. During my senior years at university I began to think about what job and career path I would take. The more I started to weigh up the options, the more I realized how important my mother’s influence on me was. I started to consider my mother’s approach to her role as Headmaster and realized that she simply loved what she was doing and took little thought for how to promote her work or how she would earn a living. I started to feel as though it was my calling to support my mother in someway so that she can be an even greater success. And so it wasn’t necessarily me being called to promote classical dance.
So when deciding on what to do after university, I knew that I had to go out into the world of work. Being born into a long line of classical dancers, I could easily spend my life within that bubble without learning about other fields and ways of thinking. I was sure that I could better contribute to my mother’s work if I had broader skills to bring to the table. I stopped taking intensive dance lessons and spent the first year after graduating as a normal Monday-Friday office worker. In order to dedicate myself to my work and maintain my social life, I completely stepped away from dance practice for the whole year. I didn't fully explain to my mother why I had made the choice to take a break from dancing, and no doubt she thought I had quit for good this time.
A year away gave me time to reflect on where I belong. I returned to the world of classical dance with a renewed sense of purpose.
... to be continued
About the Nakamura School of Classical Japanese Dance:
The first Headmaster of the Nakamura School was the Utaemon Nakamura III, a successful Kabuki actor in the Bunka/Bunsei period (1804 - 1830). The school is well known for its careful attention to the Kabuki dance and postures. In 2012, Umeya Nakamura II, the eldest daughter of Shikan Nakamura VII, succeeded as the eighth Headmaster. Ume Nakamura belongs to this long line of Kabuki actors. Ume appeared on NHK broadcasting’s E-tele channel, in a show that introduced Japan’s traditional arts, "Nippon no Geino", performing "Take kurabe" on the 16th September 2016.
Interview by: Yuki Kitamura, Kaoru Kuribayashi Stanislaus
Translated by: Warren Stanislaus
Photos by: Ayano Tsuchiya
Exploring lives of young practitioners of Japan's artistic heritage.
- List -
01. [Dance] Nakamuraryu - Ume Nakamura (Part1)
01. [Dance] Nakamuraryu - Ume Nakamura (Part2)
02. [Sing] Itchu-bushi - Ryochu Miyako
03. [Sencha tea] My Sencha Salon - Iga Michiho
04. [Flower Arrangement] Sekiso school - Shoko Okudaira (Part1)
04. [Flower Arrangement] Sekiso school - Shoko Okudaira (Part2)
05. [Urushi Laquer] Urushi artist - Tomoya Murose
06. [Glass art] Edo-kiriko Kobayashi - Kohei Kobayashi (Part 1)
06. [Glass art] Edo-kiriko Kobayashi - Kohei Kobayashi (Part 2)
07. [Tea] Edosenke - Hiroyuki Kawakami
08. [Tatami] Tanaka Tatami - Hiroyuki Tanaka
09. [Lacquer brush] The 10th generation of the original lacquer brush artisan - Torakichi Izumi