Nice and Traditional

Apr 30,2014

Last week I received the gift of a pair of tickets to a traditional type of play called Nihon Buyo. It's partly because the giver of said gift is the only person I'm certain still reads this blog from time to time, outside of the people who work in this office, and partly because it's the first actual outing I've done in some time, most of my free time spent either in the garden or the music studio, that I finally have something to type about. It's been difficult enough to get out of the house until recently, but at last we have weather resembling spring, and outings are no longer grueling ordeals.

My wife thought such an event would be audienced only by senior citizens in kimono, but this was not the case at all; several young people were in attendance, and nearly everyone was dressed casually. Disappointingly, there were mobile telephones ringing and people talking audibly at times, but the performance itself was quite nice.

Now, normally when I hear young people talk about 'Japanese culture' they tend to give the most philistine of examples, like manga and J-pop. I don't generally care for manga--although there are certainly some stellar works in the genre, the majority of it is unpleasant and lowbrow--and J-pop simply emulates the worst aspects of mass-produced western pop music and further dilutes what little depth and substance it might have had to begin with.

Here, though, I thought, was something a people can be proud of. First came the sound of the shamisen against a backdrop of stylised Mt Fuji and the colours of daybreak, inspiring me to meditate for a moment on how much a culture's folk music is influenced by the natural environment from which it grows, and since I'm eager to acquaint myself with all the genres of traditional music the human race has produced, I'm chagrined at how little of it I've actually heard. Japanese traditional music is exquisite. The only context in which most people hear it is in supermarkets around New Year's.

To be fair, the most frequent complaint about traditional performances such as noh and kabuki is that they are 'too slow', and in consideration of the degree to which we have damaged our attention spans with film and television, I have sympathy for people who simply never had a chance to aquire the capacity for patient reflection.

No musicians were visible on stage, however, and so I couldn't tell whether the music was played live or had been recorded beforehand; the only presence on stage was that of the dancing of the kimono-clad performers, and I don't have the background to grok what the movements were supposed to represent. I dare say that if the music was pre-recorded, and the cost of the tickets was only for the privilege of watching three women in elaborate costumes move about on stage, the event was overpriced. At least one of the performers was of considerable renown, and perhaps that was the justification--again, assuming the music wasn't live, and I certainly hope it was. The other thing was that I couldn't understand the lyrics, and I spend a bit of time reading Taisho-era novels aloud to my wife to improve my Japanese. My first reaction was that for a permanent resident, my language ability was really not up to par, but my better half assured me that she couldn't understand it either.

So there we have it. It was enjoyable on the whole, I'm glad I went, I'll try to find more events to write about, and I wish I knew more about the world.

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