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How Records Spread the Tokyo Style of Yokyoku Nationwide

Erito IIZUKA

Professor, Sugiyama Jogakuen University

 Due to the Meiji Restoration, Noh performers, who had been retained under the patronage of the Shogunate and feudal domains up to then, lost their jobs. While the Noh world temporarily declined, thirty years or so into the Meiji period, members of Japan's pre-World War II hereditary aristocratic elite and many wealthy families became amateur apprentices to Noh performers. Thanks to their patronage, which provided masks, costumes, and stages, Noh performances increased from the Edo period. Unlike other theater genres, amateur apprentices observed the stage to learn performance techniques practiced and modeled by their master or the master of a particular style, so Noh was not something that was purely appreciated as an art as it is today. Utai (Noh chants) pressed onto the record were also not to be appreciated for enjoyment but were to be used as references for unclear sections by amateur apprentices devoted to practicing those chants. Yokyoku (Noh songs) records, which came to be widely sold in the late Meiji period, delivered the voices of masters living in Tokyo to countless people in other regions in an era still without the radio. At the same time Noh proliferated via the record to locales where there were few if any yokyoku masters and to regions with few training rooms, those who practiced with these records could chant along to match their chanting techniques with masters from Tokyo and with many styles from the iemoto (heads of Noh schools) captured on the record, and they could then teach those styles. Because of this, the local color of many chanting techniques within various styles faded and rapidly unified into the singing styles of the iemoto of the Tokyo schools. In addition, the intellectual class who graduated university and obtained high-income jobs as doctors, company executives, and bank officers, dramatically increased in influence as the Taisho period was ushered in. They replaced the great patrons of the Meiji period, and accounting for the majority of aficionados of Noh, preferred to perform maibayashi (a genre of informal Noh musical performance) and to recite Noh chants without the burden of Noh costumes, masks, and other accouterments. They also began to chant Noh songs with along with professional Noh musicians.

Images provided by Erito Iizuka.
English version released on March 30, 2020.

1. Hachinoki (“The Potted Trees”) (Aa furitaru yuki)/ Shin Hosho (image 1) (Victor, released April 1928, Record number: 50249)

Shin Hosho

Image 1: Shin Hosho (pictured on the right)

 The Shimogakari Hosho-style waki, Shin Hosho, was born in 1870, making him all of 57 years-old when this record was released. It is well-known that Soseki Natsume was introduced by Kyoshi Takahama and learned yokyoku from Shin Hosho. This recording is taken from the shite’s (the lead role in Noh) entrance in the Noh chant “Hachinoki” up to the exchange between the shite and the tsure (the shite's companion). Shin Hosho, the wakikata, chants a part the shite plays which is not performed on stage or broadcast on the radio. One could also call this a masterpiece that preserves the status of the shite and tsure, in which Shin Hosho performs with a beautiful voice and volume, and also demonstrates his ability to be a master of Noh chants.

2. Funa Benkei (1)/Masakichi Noguchi (subsequent stage name: Kanesuke Noguchi) [shite] (image 2), Nagashi Matsumoto [jiutaikata], Matarokuro Isso [flute], Goro Ko (subsequent stage name: Yoshimitsu Ko [kotsuzumi (small drum)], Rikichi Kawasaki (subsequent stage name: Kyuen Kawasaki) [otsuzumi (large drum)] (Victor, released September 1928, Record number: 50504)

Kanesuke Noguchi

Image 2: Kanesuke Noguchi

 This record was released in 1928, radio broadcast audiences increased dramatically throughout Japan at that time, and yokyoku chanting styles were already beginning to unify into those of the leaders of the Tokyo schools around the same time. The local color of hayashi (Noh musical accompaniment) also faded as it went through a transitional period and unified with the performance techniques of the Tokyo masters. Masakichi Noguchi, a Hosho-style shite, performs in this source recording with a damaged voice, however it was not the harsh voice that can be heard in his later years. The shite chants are also clear and the spirited kakegoe (vocals performed by the hayashi musical accompanists in Noh) of Rikichi Kawasaki and Goro Ko in their prime are magnificent. This is a valuable source recording of an historically great performance that would become the foundation of present-day hayashi.

3. Hayamai (“fast dance”) Kutsurogi (dan-1 and dan-2) / Matarokuro Isso [flute], Goro Ko (subsequent stage name: Yoshimitsu Ko) [kotsuzumi (small drum)], Rikichi Kawasaki (subsequent stage name: Kyuen Kawasaki) (image 3) [otsuzumi (large drum)], Soemon Konparu [taiko (drum)] (Columbia (prewar), released February 1932, Record number: 35268)

Rikichi Kawasaki

Image 3: Rikichi Kawasaki (pictured on the right)

 This is a performance from 1932. Because this is a hayamai (literally “fast dance”) performance, it includes the hayashi only as there is no chanting. This is a recording of Soemon Konparu, the twenty-first performer in the Soemon Konparu line, and he performed this the year after he assumed the lineal stage name Soemon. This is a famous performance from the period in which the present-day performance technique had been reached.

4. Oimatsu (“The Old Pine Tree”)/ Nagashi Matsumoto (image 4) (Columbia (prewar), released April 1933, Record number: 27362)

Nagashi Matsumoto

Image 4: Nagashi Matsumoto

 This is a recording from about two years before Nagashi Matsumoto passed away, but it has a strength and tension typical of wakinoh (a Noh play which the main character is a supernatural being like a god, spirit, or celestial being, etc.). Though his voice is hardly beautiful, his chant is seasoned and steeped in elegance. This record shows why he is proclaimed a master. Along with earning high praise for his Hosho-style shite, as a jigashira (Noh chorus leader) he bolstered the great performance of Shigefusa Hosho and Kanesuke Noguchi. His sudden death in his fifties was a tragic loss of a Noh performer. He was also the father of the haiku poet, Takashi Matsumoto, and the Hosho-style shite, Shigeo Matsumoto.

5. Takasago (Act I) / Manzaburo Umewaka (I) (image 5) (Columbia (prewar), released December 1933, Record number: 35397)

Manzaburo Umewaka

Image 5: Manzaburo Umewaka (pictured in the middle)

 This record was released in 1933, after Manzaburo I split from the Umewaka school and returned to the Kanze school of Noh. Kasetsu Kanze described the skill of Manzaburo as follows; “ In the rongi (the alternating exchange between the shite and waki or chorus in Noh) in Matsukaze (“Wind in the Pines”), for example, the lowering of the “tsu” (in the word “tsuge” or “willow”) in the lines, “Nada no shiokumu ukimi zoto. Hito ni ya taremo tsuge no kushi,” (“Scooping brine from Nada Channel's a sad life, though tell none willow comb.” (Tyler p. 95)) is extremely delicate, and cannot be chanted by a performer who does not have the breath the caliber of the Manzaburo brothers.”(1) [Tyler, Royall. Pining Wind: A Cycle of No Plays. Ithaca, N.Y.: China-Japan Program, Cornell University, 1978, p. 95]. This recording was made when Manzaburo was about to turn 64-years-old. This famous recording displays his rich voice with a strength and clarity worthy of wakinoh and gives testimony to the fact that he was a foremost leader among masters not only in dance (mai) but also in chanting (utai).

6. Takasago (I) “Waremitemo”/ Shigefusa Hosho (image 6) (Victor, released June 1937, Record number: 13514)

Shigefusa Hosho

Image 6: Shigefusa Hosho (pictured on the left)

 This was recorded in 1937. Shigefusa was 36 years-old when this recording was made, however he was already the successor to the Hosho school and had established a reputation for his chanting skill at an early age. Seccho Sakamoto described Shigefusa’s October 1920 performance of the Noh “Atsumori” thus; “While I only saw Shigfusa's nochi shite (the leading role in the latter half of a Noh play), his chanting technique was sublime. I suspect his chanting will become all the more interesting in the years to come. His chanting is resounding and so powerful that once he refines it, will be grander than any current performer in his school.” (2) With its ample volume and profoundly strong chanting, this recording is an historically invaluable source recording of prewar, canonical Hosho-style chanting.

7. Mii-dera (“Mii-dera Temple”)/ Yoshiyuki Kanze (I) (image 7) (Nipponophone, Record number: 3487)

Yoshiyuki Kanze

Image 7: Yoshiyuki Kanze (pictured on the right)

 In his eulogy, Teiichi Kuribayashi had the following to say about Yoshiyuki I; “His artistic style has a solid, understated flair, refined simplicity, solemnity, and exudes polish from deep within as well as brilliance and charm, which I believe to be endowed with the very epitome of the traditions of the Kanze school itself.”(3) Even though this recording is a solo recitation and cannot be said to have beautiful sound quality, the chant with its “refined simplicity that epitomizes its solemn traditions,” allows listeners an ample and tremendous taste of the mother's strength and grief in keeping with “Mii-dera”.

8. Unodan (“Cormorant Dance” scene)/ Kyusen Sakurama (Sakurama Kintaro I) (image 8) (Victor, released December 1954, Record number: NH-2069)

Kintaro Sakurama

Image 8: Kintaro Sakurama (pictured on the left)

 “Unodan” (“Cormorant Dance” scene) is the most compelling part of the Noh play “Ukai” (Cormorant Fishing). Kasetsu Kanze remarked, “When we were young, we did not practice hayashi the way Noh performers do today....When practicing hayashi, naturally, if there is a kotsuzumi, one ends up trying to chant that would suit the kotsuzumi; so, in other words, the chant would turn into a hayashi-chant and the original chant would fall apart....The shite's decision is important in the crucial moment, and you cannot really do what the hayashi-kata tells you to do. “(4) I do not know if Sakurama of the Konparu school had a similar thought, and this recording is self-recitation, so it does not include a hayashi, to make it is easy for the shite to chant to his own rhythm. Nonetheless, his performance of “Unodan”, however, is chanted in a particularly leisurely fashion, thus allowing the shite to express the emotions and status of the old man both elegantly and clearly. I consider this to be a famous recitation that embodies “the very excellence of chanting itself”.

(Image Sources)

  • Images 1, 5, 6, 7, and 8: Teiichi Kuribayashi. No utai shinpu. Yokyoku-kai hakkojo, 1940, Frontispiece photograph.
  • Image 2: Kanesuke Noguchi. Nogaku zuiso Kuromon-cho geiwa. (Reflections on Noh: A Master Reveals the Secrets to his Art in Kuromon-cho) Wanya shoten, 1943, Frontispiece photograph.
  • Image 3: Akira Maruoka. Nihon no no. (Japanese Noh) Davuiddo-sha, 1957, p. 78.
  • Image 4: Haruno Yokoi. Yokyoku to nogaku-tsu. (Noh song and Noh play connoisseur) Shiroku shoin. 1930. Frontispiece photograph.

(References Cited)

  • (1) Sou Numa. “Manzaburo-ani no utai.” (The Chanting of Manzaburo Senior) Kanze Kasetsu Geidan. (Kasetsu Kanze's Discussions on the Arts) Hinoki shoten, 1960, p.38.
  • (2) Seccho Sakamoto. “Jugatsu no no (ju): -chuken no zenmetsu-” (October Noh (Ten): Extinction of the Middle-Level) Sakamoto seccho no-hyo zenshu jokan. Toshima shobo, 1972, p. 376.
  • (3) Teiichi Kuribayashi. “Kanze Yoshiyuki wo itamu.” (Mourning Yoshiyuki Kanze) No utai shinpu. Yokyoku-kai hakkojo, 1940, p. 174-180.
  • (4) Sou Numa. “Hayashi no koto.” (On Hayashi Musical Accompaniment) Kanze Kasetsu Geidan. (Kasetsu Kanze's Discussions on the Arts) Hinoki shoten, 1960, p. 31-33.

(Erito IIZUKA, Professor, Sugiyama Jogakuen University)

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