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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

Spreading the Joy of Music that Transcends Categorization

[From November Issue 2010]

Traditional Japanese Musician
HAMANE Yuka

“Hogaku” is a particular type of traditional Japanese music. Koto, shamisen and shakuhachi are its core instruments. And, there are many hogaku schools offering to teach its various styles. The head of each school is called “iemoto” and they are usually succeeded by their children. Players are usually ranked according to the skills and the number of years they have been studying.

Musician HAMANE Yuka is a member of the group “Seiha Hougaku-kai,” which plays the “Ikuta-ryu” school of hogaku, using the koto instrument. She is ranked as “dai-shihan,” just behind “iemoto.” She has played on the recordings of 11 CDs, including her own solo project and two of her group’s projects. In addition to being a musician, she teaches koto, shamisen and singing, and also judges contests.

When she was eight years old, Hamane started learning koto at the behest of her father, shakuhachi player HAMANE Kanzan. “I remember one time when I was putting more of my efforts into my school subjects and my father said, ‘you should spend more time practicing the koto,’” Hamane recalls with a laugh. After graduating from high school, she entered the Seiha Ongakuin music school, where upon graduating she received the President’s Award. She also won first prize at a MAKINO Yutaka’s compositions contest and further passed auditions at NHK.

However, times have changed since Hamane was a child. Now, fewer children are learning hogaku, and she does not have as many teaching jobs. She eventually started playing music anywhere she was offered a job, including in Japanese restaurants. “At those places, what they wanted was not my music but a woman wearing a kimono and playing a koto. Sometimes I was told to play while there was a different back ground music. After I got married and had a child, I had to keep the balance between bringing up my child and doing my work,” she explains.

“However, I am happy about having been able to make my living with just music. Some of my friends were not able to carry on,” explains Hamane, adding, “Also, I feel I have been able to create humanistic and warm sounds because I have continued to accomplish two equally important things, my work and parenthood.”

Nowadays, young Japanese people don’t listen to hogaku much anymore. Hamane thinks the problem lies with the performers. “They are too conservative. I have heard that, in one school, a member cannot start a new activity unless iemoto approves of it. There are also some teachers who are only interested in the traditional forms, without conveying the joy of all music,” she says.

In 1998, Hamane and her friends formed the group, “T’s color.” The band consists of four hogaku musicians and one westerner. They add pop elements to hogaku and create their own lyrics and melodies. In 2003, she also opened a school for hogaku singing. “There is no system in Japan that teaches how to sing songs in Japanese. I thought there was a need, so I myself started the school to fill it.”

Since the Meiji Era, only western music has been taught at schools in Japan, but nowadays hogaku is also being offered. “School music teachers now come to study hogaku, and inexpensive easy-to-use instruments are selling well. I want people to learn how to enjoy all kinds of music. So for that reason, I play music that transcends categorization.”

HAMANE Yuka

Photos for : HAMANO Yutaka

Text: SAZAKI Ryo


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