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#Note: Users can listen to sound recordings introduced in this text at the National Diet Library or
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Listening to The Music of East Asia

Seiko Suzuki

Assistant Professor, Department of Musicology, Osaka University

English version released on March 18, 2022.

"The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" and 78 rpm Record Compilations

Hisao Tanabe

Hisao Tanabe
(Hisao Tanabe, Impressions of Oriental Music, 1941)

 The National Diet Library’s Historical Recordings Collection has a number of historical recordings that serve as sound sources for what is called "ethnic music." Three record collections among these, The Music of East Asia (Tōa no ongaku, 10-disc set Nippon Columbia, 1941), A Greater East Asian Music Compilation (Daitōa ongaku shūsei, 36-disc set, Victor Company of Japan, 1942), and Music of the South [of Asia] (Nanpō no ongaku, 6-disc set, Nippon Columbia, 1942) provide valuable sound recordings for understanding how Japanese music research at that time acted in complicity with colonialism. That’s because the music from these Asian regions was collected and compiled by leading music researchers within the context of Imperial Japan’s colonial policy during the construction of its "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" in the early 1940s.

 Hisao Tanabe (1883-1984) was one such researcher involved in the supervision of each of these records. Though a specialist in modern Western acoustics from the Department of Physics at the Tokyo Imperial University School of Science, Tanabe is also known as a pioneer in the disciplines of Japanese and East Asian musicology. When he supervised the compilation of these records, he was the chairman of the Society for Research in Asiatic Music (Tōyō ongaku gakkai established in 1936). The first record collection, The Music of East Asia, was produced under the supervision of Tanabe alone, while the next two, A Greater East Asian Music Compilation and Music of the South [of Asia], were supervised jointly with young members of the Tōyō ongaku gakkai.

Making The Music of East Asia

 The Music of East Asia was produced in response to the SP record collection Musik des Orients (12-disc set, Carl Lindström, ca. 1928) by Erich M. von Hornbostel, an ethnomusicologist at the University of Berlin. In his commentary on The Music of East Asia, Tanabe describes Hornbostel's Musik des Orients as follows; "It's nothing more than the taste of a foreigner for the exotic or the bizarre. . . This was not out of the question for a Westerner to do, and I became acutely aware that we Japanese absolutely must produce a collection of East Asian music masterpieces based on our own correct observations..."(1)

 The Music of East Asia was produced under Nippon Columbia’s premium label of the time, Yōgaku toku ao-ban (Western music special blue disc) and its supplementary commentary was a luxurious A5 size with twelve pages of collotype-printed illustrations accompanying 72 pages of text. The fact that a collection of records in this form was released when the control over records and print media was tightening tells us that The Music of East Asia was closely aligned with the policy of the Imperial Japanese government. This is evidenced by an endorsement from the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, the Ministry of the Army, and the Ministry of the Navy that adorns the foreword to the commentary (This has since been deleted in the CD reissue). The circumstances that led to the release of the album include Tanabe, himself, lobbing the government and the military after Columbia refused his request for publication.

The Music of East Asia and The Music of Japan

 The Music of East Asia contains twenty songs from Manchuria, The Republic of China, Mongolia, Java, Bali, Thailand, India, and Iran ("Ancient Persia") (The country names listed are as designated by Tanabe). Musical analysis of each piece and consideration of its historical context await the findings of respective experts.

 Tanabe did not include Japanese music in The Music of East Asia. Tanabe reasoned that, "Japanese music is not a branch of East Asian music, but rather the culmination of East Asian music on the one hand and global music on the other. Thus, Japanese music must be considered separately from East Asian music," as he explained in his commentary.(1)

It is also fascinating to note, however, that Tanabe strives to find elements in the music of the "East Asian" countries that relate to Japanese music in the commentary’s music descriptions.

The Original Recordings for Each Song

 It has already become clear that Tanabe used eight songs from Hornbostel's Musik des Orients, but further research has confirmed that he also used four songs from Pathé Orient Records, France and three the Columbia Graphophone Company, Britain. Carl Lindström, the distributor of Musik des Orients, was bought out in 1926 by Columbia, England, while Pathé Orient was similarly acquired by Columbia, England, in 1928. Since Nippon Columbia signed a master disc supply contract with British Columbia Records in 1935, it is assumed that they had free use of these masters as of 1941.

Listening to The Music of East Asia Available on the National Diet Library’s Historical Recordings Collection

 You can listen to sixteen of the twenty songs through the National Diet Library’s Historical Recordings Collection.

 What follows is only a partial introduction. Descriptions of the elements related to Japanese music Tanabe selected from the music of the distinct regions are in quotation marks (Brackets indicate the serial number of the original recording). These descriptions, in fact, serve as a bridge to the music of other countries we hear for the first time, and may help us understand Tanabe's concept of a "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere" of music.

 The place names and song titles in the headings are those printed on the labels.

1: Manchuria. "Gagaku (Ancient court music): 'Pántáo Huì (The Feast of Peaches) (Jilin) '"


Source / BnF

 Tanabe made the original recording in September 1940 when he conducted an on-site survey of the Jilin Confucius Temple [S-98]. Performed by the Jilin Gagaku Kenkyusha (Jilin ancient court music scholars). The primary criticism of Hornbostel's Musik des Orients is that Manchuria (and Mongolia) is missing, so it must have been politically important for Tanabe to feature it in the beginning.

 The commentary reads, "The music is played with a shosho (a reed pipe instrument), a hichiriki (a double reed Japanese flute) (called a kanshi), a yokobue (transverse flute), a kokyū (a traditional Japanese string instrument played with a bow), a teikin (Chinese two-stringed instrument), and an unra (Chinese ten gong chime). The music is elegant and graceful, vaguely evocative of our own gagaku." (1) The same comparison with Japanese gagaku can be found in his field research records.

2: The Republic of China. "Chinese opera song: 'Yang Guifei'"

The Republic of China.

Source / BnF

 The original recording was made by Pathé Orient Records, France [D-3409]. The performer is the celebrated Peking opera great, Mei Lanfang. He first toured Japan in 1919 and enjoyed popularity there, but after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, he refused to attend performances organized by Japanese nationals.

 "In the West, all female roles are usually played by actresses, but in China, as in Japan, female roles are generally played by male onnagata, who employ particularly refined falsettos to produce a beautiful feminine voices."(1)

3: Mongolia. "Folk Song: 'Shepherd's Song'"


Source / BnF

 To commemorate the 1938 Mongolian exhibition and concert held at Mitsukoshi Department Store in Nihonbashi, Nippon Columbia recorded several pieces of Mongolian music. "Ancient Song: Shepherd’s Song” [M-9] is a solo performed by Zhūkèdéĕrgāĕrbā, who was studying abroad in Japan at the time.

 "This song is sung while chasing sheep on the Mongolian plains and typifies the Mongolian people. It is exactly the same as listening to "Matsumae Oiwake-bushi," regarded as one of the most Japanese of Japanese folk songs..." (1)

4: Java. "Folk Song: 'Golden Rain'"


Source / BnF

 The original recording is part of Musik des Orients [Jab-50]. It is presented as a solo vocal by a "Sundanese Lady." The Sunda are the Sundanese people who inhabit western Java.

 "This melody shares many similarities with our Japanese folk songs, and it's said to occasionally remind Japanese travelers to the South Seas of home when they hear it. This holds especially true for those who are from the Kumamoto or Satsuma regions of Kyushu."(1)

5: Java. "JogJakarta Palace Gagaku: 'Sekar gadung'"

5: Java.

Source / BnF

 The original recording is part of Musik des Orients [Jab-129]. Tanabe situates the gamelan (a melodic ensemble of percussion instruments) of Java as "courtly" and the gamelan of Bali (Recording 6) as "popular."

 "The music and dances of the royal court are very elaborate and graceful and have much in common with the gagaku of Japan." (1)

6: Bali. "Wayang (shadow play): 'Seléndero'"


Source / BnF

 The original recording is part of Musik des Orients [Jab-557]. In the commentary, the title of the song is "Indian Myth" followed by "Seléndero" written in parentheses.

 "The music and dance of Bali are performed not by a special professional group, but by almost everyone on the island. This is just like the Bon-odori in rural areas of Japan."(1)

I would like to express my gratitude to Yuichi Iwano for providing me with valuable materials on the production of The Music of East Asia.
Remerciement (Acknowledgment)
Je tiens à remercier le département de l’Audiovisuel de la Bibliothèque nationale de France pour son aimable autorisation d’utiliser les images des étiquettes de disques 78 rpm. (I would like to thank the Audiovisual Department of The Bibliothèque Nationale de France for its kind permission to use their images of their 78 rpm record labels.)

(References Cited)

  1. (1)Tanabe, Hisao, Tōa no ongaku (The Music of East Asia), kaisetsusho (commentary). Colombia Records, 1941, 12p, 72p.


  • Uemura Yukio. "Tanabe Hisao to Tōyō ongaku no gainen" (Hisao Tanabe and the Concept of The Music of East Asia). Rekishi hyōshō to shite no higashi-ajia ― rekishi kenkyū to rekishi kyōiku to no taiwa ("East Asia as Historical Representation: The Dialogue between Historical Research and History Education") in Asakura, Yūko, ed. Jōetsukyōikudaigaku Higashi-ajia kenkyūkai-hen (Joetsu University of Education East Asian Studies Conference). Seibundō shuppan, 2002, p. 225 - 239.
  • Umeda, Hideharu. "Shichōkaku shiryō-hyō Tōa no ongaku" (CD shōkai) (Audio-Visual Data Review: The Music of East Asia (CD Introduction)). Tōyō ongaku kenkyu (The Journal of the Society for the Research of Asiatic Music). 1998, 63, p. 170-173.
  • Onishi, Hidenori. "SP rekoodo reeberu ni miru nicchiku-nippon korombia no rekishi" (A History of Nipponophone-Nippon Columbia as Seen on SP Record Labels). Kyotoshiritsu Geijutsu Daigaku Nihon Dento Ongaku Kenkyu Sentaa (Research Institute for Japanese Traditional Music, Kyoto City University of Arts), February 5, 2015.,(Accessed 08/22/2020).
  • Katō Tōru. Mei ranfan sekai o toriko ni shita otoko (Mei Lanfang, The Man Who Captivated the World). Bijinesusha, 2009, 254p.
  • Koromubia 50-nenshi Henshū Iinkiai (Columbia Fifty- Year History Editorial Committee) ed. Koromubia gojūnenshi (Fifty Years of Columbia). Nihon Koromubia (Nippon Columbia, Co.), 1961, 216p.
  • Suzuki Seiko."Gagaku" no tanjō: Tanabe Hisao ga mita Dai Tōa no hibiki (The Birth of "Gagaku" - The Sound of Greater East Asia as Viewed by Hisao Tanabe). Shunjūsha, 2019, 376p.
  • Suzuki, Seiko. "Le gagaku, musique de l'Empire: Tanabe Hisao et le patrimoine musical comme identification (Gagaku, Music of the Empire:Tanabe Hisao and musical heritage as national identity)". Cipango. 2013, 20, p. 93-139.
    Online edition, (Reference 2020-08-22).
    Online English translation by Karen Grimwade,, (Referenced 2020-08-22).
  • Taki,Ryoichi. "Moko ongaku to sonogakki" (Mongolia: Its Music and Instruments). Tōyōongaku kenkyū (East Asian Music Studies). 1938, 1(2), p.1-5.
  • Tanabe, Hisao. Daitōa to ongaku. Kyōgaku sōsho. 12. (Music and Greater East Asia. Education Series.) Monbushō kyōgakukyoku (Ministry of Education, Educational Affairs Bureau). 1942, 33p. [National Diet Library Call Number 760.4-Ta689d].
  • Tanabe, Hisao. Chūgoku Chōsen ongaku chōsa kikō (Travelogue of Music Research Carried Out in China and Korea). Ongaku no tomosha, 1970, 473p.
  • Tanabe, Hisao. Tōa no ongaku (fukkoku CD kaisetsu-sho) (The Music of East Asia (Commentary from the reproduced CD)). Koromubia myūjikku entateinmento (Columbia Music Entertainment), 1997, 96p.
  • Bohlman, Philip (Tsuge, Gen'ichi, trans.). Wārudomyūjikku/ sekai ongaku nyūmon (World Music: A Very Short Introduction). Ongaku no Tomosha, 2006, 248p.
  • Hosokawa, Shuhei. "In Search of the Sound of Empire: Tanabe Hisao and the Foundation of Japanese Ethnomusicology". Japanese Studies. 1998, 18-1, p. 5-19.

A website where you can listen to the Musik des Orients Hornbostel compiled follows below.

(Seiko Suzuki, Assistant Professor, Department of Musicology, Osaka University)

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