Tag Archives: Japan

David Bowie and Japanese style

david-bowie-1973

Japanese fashion, theater, and music played significant roles in David Bowie’s pioneering career.

The Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto devised some of Bowie’s most iconic stage outfits, and in the 1960s the singer studied dance with Lindsay Kemp, a UK performance artist who was influenced by kabuki theater with its exaggerated gestures, elaborate costumes and makeup, and onnagata actors—men playing female roles.

This training with Kemp inspired Bowie as he explored ideas of masculinity, exoticism, and alienation. The inspiration extended to the musical realm as well: on Moss garden from Heroes (1977) Bowie plays a Japanese koto; It’s no game (no. 1) from Scary monsters (and super creeps) (1980) features Japanese vocals; and the instrumental B-side Crystal Japan (1980) was released as a single in Japan and featured in a sake commercial.

This according to “David Bowie’s love affair with Japanese style” by Tessa Wong, Anna Jones, and Yuko Kato (BBC news 12 January 2016).

Today would have been Bowie’s 70th birthday! Above, Bowie models a Yamamoto design in 1973; below, It’s no game (no. 1).

BONUS: That sake ad.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Kabuki animals

kabuki

In the eiri-kyōgenbon (illustrated editions of kabuki plot synopses) of the Genroku reign (1688–1704), evidence is found for the representation of exotic animals on the kabuki stage: tigers and elephants, regarded as Chinese animals, in plays of the Edo tradition, as fierce opponents of the protagonist; and peacocks in the Kamigata (Kyōto-Ōsaka) style, in kaichō scenes (the unveiling of a Buddhist image).

It is not clear whether stuffed prop animals were always used or if actors portrayed the animals; it seems certain that real animals were not used.

This according to “元禄歌舞伎に登場する動物” (Animals in Genroku kabuki) by 鎌倉 恵子 (Kamakura Keiko), an article included in Kabuki: Changes and prospects—International Symposium on the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Kokuritsu Bunkazai Kenkyūjo/National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo, 1998, pp. 135–47).

Above, Bandō Mitsugorō I as a samurai subduing a tiger; below, a modern-day kabuki dragon.

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Filed under Animals, Asia, Dance, Dramatic arts

Franz Eckert in Japan

Eckert

In the late 19th century the new Japanese government chose European models for economic and political systems; it also chose European music as its official standard.

European musicians were brought to Japan, and in 1879 Franz Eckert (above) arrived in response to Japan’s request to the German navy for a kapellmeister. As a conductor for the Japanese navy and teacher at military and civilian music schools, he was among the most influential European musicians in Japan in the 1800s.

Eckert is widely considered the composer of Japan’s national anthem, Kimi ga yo, though he maintained that he merely arranged an old Japanese melody.

This according to “German military musicians in Japan during the early Meiji Era (since 1868)” by Wolfgang Suppan and Wilhelm Baethge (Journal of the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles III [1996] pp. 13-32). Below, Kimi ga yo as it was sung by Koyanagi Yuki and the audience when Japan played Trinidad and Tobago in 2006.

Related article: The Sultan’s bagpipes

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Filed under Asia, Romantic era

Entertaining the shōgun

Kaempfer Japan map

An account by the German physician Engelbert Kaempfer (1651–1716) of meetings in 1691 with the shōgun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646–1709) evinces examples of exoticism on both sides.

Each man was curious about the other’s culture, but the situation was unbalanced. The visitor was in a position to gain a fairly objective view of the world of his host, although the situation was far too restrictive to allow in-depth research.

On the other hand, while the shōgun could order his guests to perform for his entertainment—to dance, sing, and so on—he did not know whether or not the information that he gained thereby was reliable. For example, when Kaempfer complied with the order to sing a song and was subsequently asked for a translation of the text, he responded that it expressed his deep wish for the health and prosperity of the shōgun and his family.

This according to “Exoticism and multi-emics: Reflections upon an earliest record of culture contact between Japan and Europe” by Osamu Yamaguchi, an essay included in Music cultures in interaction: Cases between Asia and Europe (Tōkyō: Academia Music, 1994, pp. 243–248).

Above, a version of the map that Kaempfer brought back from Japan in 1692 (click to enlarge); below, the opening movement of Manzai raku (Ten thousand years of music), an example of the bugaku genre that was flourishing in Japanese courts at the time.

Related article: 17th-century Persian music

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities