国際交流基金 The Japan Foundation Performing Arts Network Japan

Artist Interview アーティストインタビュー

Mar. 17, 2022
友吉鶴心

薩摩琵琶から広がる
友吉鶴心の思い

Music

Expanding from Satsuma Biwa
The Thoughts of Kakushin Tomoyoshi

Born (in 1965) into a family where both of his grandfathers were Satsuma Biwa players, Kakushin Tomoyoshi learned various traditional arts from a young age before becoming a professional Biwa performer. He studied under the master Biwa performer Kinshi Tsuruta, from whom he learned the traditional classical Biwa repertory, but his activities also ranged into things such as live performances with the likes of Demon Kakka, performing new Biwa works composed for him by Osamu Hashimoto, and doing joint concerts with domestic and international musicians. He has also performed in music for video games and served as advisor and instructor on traditional arts for NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) TV dramas and more. In this interview we ask about his quest to explore new horizons for the Satsuma Biwa and his efforts to spread the popularity of traditional arts.
Interviewer: Kazumi Narabe (journalist)

Kakushin Tomoyoshi Satsuma Biwa recital Nagori no HANA ICHI KAN

Kakushin Tomoyoshi Satsuma Biwa recital “Nagori no HANA ICHI KAN”
(Oct. 28, 2021 at Gallery éf Asakusa)

Your parents’ fathers, your grandfathers, were both Satsuma Biwa (*1) performers. When was it that you decided that you also wanted to become a Biwa performer?
In fact, I didn’t like the Biwa at all when I was a child. There was nothing glamorous about it and I didn’t understand the [old] Japanese meaning of the songs (laughs). At the time, it was Kabuki that I liked the most. I think it was when I was about three years old, when I was watching television and Utaemon Nakamura the 6th was performing Yatsuhashi. When my father changed the channel to another program, I immediately switched it back to that Yatsuhashi performance. It seems that this made him think I was a little bit strange in my fascination with Kabuki at such a young age, and he thought it might be interesting to have me learn traditional Japanese dance. From our house, it was only a short walk of about 50 steps to the home [and studio] of [Japanese traditional dance] master Juemon Hanayagi, so he decided to send me there to learn dance. I was born and raised in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, so our neighborhood was home to masters Kasuga and Eishiba of Kouta (traditional Japanese ballads accompanied on the samisen).
In the past, Asakusa was what you would call a temple town for visitors to the temple of Senso-ji, and as such it was a place where culture of the town’s people flourish in the Edo period [early 17th to middle 19th centuries], and in the Meiji Period [latter 19th to early 20th century] it was the site of numerous entertainment halls and theaters. Still today, it is the home to many traditional Japanese dance and Nagauta and Kouta teachers, which makes it a place where the traditional Japanese arts live on in the contemporary environment.
Our Tomoyoshi family moved from Fukui to Iriya in Edo about 170 years ago in the 6th year of the Kaei Period (1853), around the time that America’s Admiral Perry came to Uraga to open Japan to international trade. At that time, my great Grandfather started miso and soy sauce shop that became quite successful in his time. That was also a time when Biwa and Gidayu (type of reciting used in the puppet theater) were very popular, so my great-grandfather started to play Biwa. That led my grandfather and his siblings to begin playing the Biwa as well. It happened that my grandfather Kakushin Tomoyoshi was same age as Kinshi Tsuruta (*), and they have long been good friends. And the restaurant that my grandfather opened as a side business became the place where people like the Japanese literature scholar Yasaburo Ikeda and Akou Mochizuki, who wrote lyrics for Biwa songs, and other cultured people became regular customers.

My mother’s father was Sokusui Yamaguchi, and it seems he picked up the Biwa as a hobby at first. There was a “Biwa Newspaper” that published comprehensive information about the trends in Biwa performance from the end of the Meiji Period (1868) until shortly after the end of World War II. Although a lot of severe criticism was leveled at that newspaper, for some reason [mention of] Sokusui appeared in it often and was critically acclaimed. My mother says that Sokusui became an instructor when he was in his 20s and many apprentices came to study under him.
I have heard that until about the Taisho Period (1912 – 1926) there was virtually one Biwa in every home. It was popular and many people played it as a hobby.
That is true. There were about 36 Biwa shops in greater Tokyo, and they sold as fast as they could be made. Today, about the only shops remaining where Biwas can be made are Ishida-san in Toranomon and Mitamura-san in Shibuya.

My mother’s sisters all married into houses of Biwa masters. So, at the time the Biwa masters were relatives of Sokusui. There wasn’t a single Biwa player among my grandfather’s relatives, but since his brothers had made their fortunes in business, they played Biwa as a hobby and apparently became patrons for Biwa masters. So my connection to the Biwa actually began before my parents married.

But I didn’t like it. My grandfather took me to the Bunraku (traditional puppet theater) when I was three or four years old, and that got me interested in Bunraku. My grandfather also had a friend who was a Rakugo comedian, and when he took me to a Rakugo show, that got me interested in Rakugo. When I was in 1st grade of elementary school, I was taking lessons to learn the Nagauta recitation for Tsunayakata. A classmate of mine from the house next door was outside playing catch ball with friends, and watching it I thought they looked stupid. So, I guess I wasn’t like other kids.

Among the people that my grandfather regularly played Majong with was were famous woman calligraphers and other important figures in the arts and culture. My grandfather on my mother’s side was close friends with the Nagauta masters Rokuzaemon Kineya XIV and Seihou Kineya. I learned shamisen from Rokuzaemon XIV, but every time I tried to play the “chinton-shan” sound he wanted, he always said, “No, that’s not it.” I also had some lessons from the Koto master Kin’ichi Nakanoshima, but he also said, “No, that’s not right.” But neither of the masters would tell me what was wrong with the way I played. It was also given lessons by the Tokiwazu master Chitosedayu, but when I think back on it now, I realize what great masters I was being taught by.

In a wicker trunk in our house, there is a collection of all the calligraphy that I did when I was young. And from that you can see how many times I was made to write over and over the first poem of the Kokin Wakashū (literally: Waka Poems of Ancient and Modern Times, compiled as an Imperial collection in the early 10th century), a poem which reads (literally: “Spring has come before the (old) New Year / So should I call this “last year” / or the year that has come). My grandfather tried to teach me calligraphy at an early age, because he was of the belief that if you don’t learn to write with a brush before write with a pencil, you never learn to write Japanese properly. When I was a child, my Christmas presents weren’t toys, but replicas of national treasure class scroll paintings of the Genji Monogatari (the Tale of Genji) and Ise Monogatari (Tales of Ise), or ink stones (for grinding the ink stick to make calligraphy ink). Before the question of whether I would play the Biwa or not, I think I was put in an environment where I would naturally absorb the various long-standing traditions of Japanese culture as a base. Thinking back on it, I feel I was very fortunate to have been raised in such an environment. In a sense, I think my grandfather, grandpa to me, was probably trying to make mine a sort of copy of his own upbringing in the rich redolence of the culture of the Meiji and Taisho periods.
Do you think that your grandfather instilled you with things that would eventually make you become a Biwa performer?
No, because I was always determined to become a Kabuki actor. And as I was being taught traditional Japanese dance, traditional instruments like the Shamisen and Koto and all other types of things, and as I memorized the entire Kokin Wakashū and about half of the Manyoshu (the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry from the 8th century), I kept that dream of becoming a Kabuki actor until I was in middle school. I still wanted to deliver famous lines like Yoshitsune’s “How Benkei!” as the leading actor in one of the most popular Kabuki plays appearing in the Kanjincho collection, but there was no way that was ever going to happen (laughs).
It is very difficult to get to the point where you can perform leading roles in Kabuki if you are not born into one of the families that have been Kabuki masters for generations. Even if someone from a family outside of that elite circle becomes a Kabuki actor, the most they can expect to achieve is a supporting role for the lead actors.
Growing up in an environment where the [Kabuki] actors my grandfather knew were constantly visiting our house, I naturally had illusions that I could someday become one too. But by the time I reached high school, I finally realized that I could never become a Kabuki actor. I just hated school studies, so I spent my time doing things like going to see Kabuki, and when I did go to school, I would often spend most of the day in the school infirmary. I spent most of my time in that kind of delinquent behavior.

My parents were determined that I at least go to university, so I applied for the Nihon Buyo (Traditional Japanese Dance) course at Nihon University College of Art, where the dance critic Kiyoshi Mokudai that I admired so much was teaching. I got top score for the actual dance skills, but on the written exam I couldn’t answer anything except for the questions on history, so I just indiscriminately answered Yes or No on the rest of the questions. In the interview, I gave the acting performance of my life by swearing that if I was accepted to the course the course I would study hard. With that I was accepted, but as usual I found the studies boring (laughs). In high school I had written a paper about titled “Ohgi” (the fan used in traditional dance) and how it had traveled to Japan along the Silk Road [from the Middle East], so I took that to my professor and claimed that I had no interest in the college courses that simply repeated what was written in the textbooks.
Since you have worked as a consultant on the historical background of art for some TV historical dramas of NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), I had assumed that you went to university to study the traditional performing arts of Japan’s medieval period.
I really had wanted to study that. I wanted to learn how the Ryojinhisho (a folk song collection compiled in the end of Heian period) had developed and eventually connected to Izumonookuni (a female artist of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (second half of the 16th century) who is considered the originator of Kabuki). I had been reading about the Ryojinhisho from my days in middle school, so I knew about that and other things and was able to answer any questions about the traditional performing arts of the medieval period before I went to university. And once I got there I was able to actually dance in professor Mokudai’s classes and hear his interpretations of the reasons behind the different movements, which I enjoyed very much. But the rest of the subjects I had to study at university were of no interest to me.

That started me on another period of delinquency with regard to my “filial piety” when I put the tuition my parents had given me in my pocket and went to watch Kabuki performances, three days straight from opening day, three more from the middle day and three from the closing day. Then, even though I was no good at languages, I gathered together some money to go to Paris to go to opera performances, and the following year I went to New York to go to the musicals. I had a lot of courage in those days. And while I was spending my time being delinquent, a notice went to my parents that my university tuition had not been payed, which caused an uproar. And it was during that time that my grandfather passed away.
So there was no one left then to help you out, was there?
At that time, I knew I could ever become a Kabuki actor, and I was lost because I had no money to do anything else with. It was at that time when I happened to have dreams of my grandfather playing the Biwa three nights in a row. I knew that if I chose to start the Biwa, all of my relatives were Biwa players and it would be convenient if inherit my grandfather’s name, so for no other reason that I started studying the Biwa. But I didn’t even have an instrument, so when I went to my grandmother of the Sokusui Yamaguchi family and said I wanted to start the Biwa, I was told it was a lost cause and that I could never make a living with the Biwa, so I would just be a burden on my family. But I kept going to ask her three more times, and on the fifth time I went together with my mother. That was finally the deciding card, so I ended up studying Biwa under the late master Kinshi Tsuruta.
So, it wasn’t the case that you chose Kinshi-san as your teacher yourself?
I had that introduction, but I also had a reason why I made that choice. I had discovered a tape of Kinshi Tsuruta playing the piece Atsumori. When I listened to it I was amazed by it. It was completely different from any other Biwa music I had heard before. That was the reason I chose to apprentice myself under master Kinshi, but at first I had no serious resolve, as I was living at home and my parents were supporting me and paying my tuition.

When I first went to see her, she asked me, “Can you sharpen chisel?” I responded that I had come to learn the Biwa, to which she replied, “Listen you, don’t talk back when I say something.” “Can you use a saw?” “Can you sharpen a blade properly?” When I said that I didn’t know them, she said, “Then you don’t belong here. Leave.” I was told that someone who couldn’t sharpen chisel or cut with a saw could never become a Biwa player. The singing is something anyone can do, and playing the instrument is something anyone can do, and with that I was sent home once.

I went to see the master again with my grandmother, and I pleaded my case saying, “I’m sorry but I still want to ask you to teach me. I have been doing some studying.” The way the strings sit on the fret makes a different in the sawari (slight buzzing sound or timbre) expected with the Biwa, and a chisel is used to get the right sound.
Slight adjustment of the height of the fret produces the distinctive beeenn… sound of the Biwa sawari timbre. It is the Biwa player who creates the right sawari sound, so they have to be able to using a chisel and saw properly, don’t they?
If you can’t sharpen chisel by yourself, you can’t produce your own distinctive sound, so I had to start from buying some wood and making frets. I was often scolded by the master for being a conceited person who spoke brashly without actually knowing myself.

I am good at mimicking the voices of the people around me. For example, if I’m asked to do the (Noh actor/narrator) Kiyomoto Shizu-tayu I can do an impersonation of him, and if I’m told to imitate Tokiwazu Chitose-tayu I can chant as if Chitose-tayu is inside me. So I can also imitate the singing of master Kinshi. But master Kinshi told me that being able to do that kind of imitation would never amount to anything.
I believe you must have learned a lot from Kinshi-san, haven’t you?
I didn’t really become serious about the art of the Biwa until after master Kinshi passed away. One of the things she would say was, “You can do anything you want [with your music]. But the Biwa has to remain the Biwa.” And in fact she did many things that no one had done before with the Biwa. Once she tightened the string extremely tight and then smashed the Biwa with a hammer. She also did a session together with the famous jazz pianist Keith Jarrett.

But she always said that we had to be able to perform the traditional classic pieces properly. “If you master the classics, then you can do whatever you want after that,” she said. Because of impertinent nature, I once asked something like what was the essence of the classics (koten in Japanese) that she talked about. In Japanese koten is written in characters ko for “old” and the character ten, which can mean a number of things, from “rites” to “ceremonies,” and in my own mind I had decided that koten didn’t mean just old music or old literature, but rather I interpreted the character koten to mean an “ old container,” like one for making offerings to the gods, because ten is composed of a parts meaning “platform” and “hands.” A “container” may still maintain its function when it gets old, but if you don’t keep changing the things in the container they will rot or decay. Playing old classics may be koten, but it also contains the constantly renewed contents. When I suggested that to master Tsuruta (Kinshi), she chuckled and said, “That’s true.” But she said again that we can do new things, but we also have to be able to play the classics properly.
Speaking of doing new things, you did your first self-produced concert at the Aoyama Spiral Hall in 1990. That time you performed with Demon Kakka, the lead singer of the rock band Seikima II (a name that plays on the term sekimatsu, meaning “End of the Century”). You performed with Demon Kakka a number of times.
When I told master Kinshi that I wanted to do a concert, and although she got mad at me for making such a proposal, I was able to do it anyway, and I titled it Monogatari Yugyo (Story Tour). It consisted of three parts, including a talk show with Demon Kakka titled Shunkan and performance of a solo piece for Biwa composed by Seiho Kineya titled Futoh.

I also designed the concert’s program myself, which had the Japanese title Monogatari Yugyo (Story Tour) written out in English letters instead of Japanese characters. I use the alphabet because I wanted to free the title of the meaning of the Japanese characters. I did the same with the name of the concert series I began doing from 1991, writing it in English spelling as Hana ichi go to separate it from the original Japanese characters meaning the “lifetime of a flower.” This allows different people to interpret it with different images. This is because I may call myself a Biwa player, but the concerts are meaningless if people don’t buy tickets and come to the performances, and in the end it is the people in the audience that will judge whether it is good or not.

Since I don’t like the terms “concert” or “recital,” I do all of our apprentice group performances under the title Hana Ichie (a single flower). I chose this title from an affinity for concept of Zeami’s Kadensho (a written record of a Noh plays). The idea is that although we don’t have the true flower (hana) now, the steady accumulation of our efforts, doing our best in each performance, we can eventually approach that “flower” (hana) Zeami spoke of. My dream now is that if I a time came when I could communicate what we are doing now to my late master Kinshi in the world beyond, if it does exist, that she won’t get mad at me.
When we speak about the classics (koten), you certainly grew up in an environment that was steeped in classic traditional culture.
I have only been able to listen to the sounds of the performers of the generation before me. For example, the Shamisen players who appeals to me most are Gosaburo Kineya and Katsutoji Kineya. As for Koto players, my favorite is master Kinichi Nakanoshima. When you have been exposed to performers like them, you realize it is not a matter of the qualities of their pitch or their rhythm. And realizing that, I am absolutely convinced that it is best for me to return to the classics in search of new sounds.

When I reach the age of forty, I want to play the music composed by Toru Takemitsu, like November Steps and Eclipse. I want to become a Biwa player who can do that. After master Kinshi died, My elder, Kakujo Nakamura, inherited the Biwa that master Kinshi had spent her life perfecting and gave the name Asaarashi (morning storm). After that I went to study sometimes at Kakujo-san’s studio, but the sound of that Biwa was different from when master Kinshi had played it. Then I realized that it had become Kakujo-san’s instrument.

It was then that I remembered the Shakuhachi (five-holed bamboo Japanese flute) master Katsuya Yokoyama, who had played November Steps and Eclipse with master Kinshi, and I went to see him. When I asked him to teach me, he said, “You’re an interesting fellow.” I went to his place about five times, but he never gave me any actual lessons. He would talk with me about this and that, and then he would say something like, “We have some good curry today, so why don’t you stay and eat with us.” Or he might say today we are going to order sushi. That was all. But then I realized, master Yokoyama was teaching me how he and master Kinshi had spent their time together.

The fret on a Biwa consists of one in straight horizontal line, but master Kinshi’s fret had a raised step running the length of the fret around the middle. I had thought that our master made the frets for all of her apprentices, but I learned the stepped fret was originally master Yokoyama’s idea. The fret of a Biwa has considerable width, so of necessity, the sound changes depending on where you press the string down on the fret. As he was thinking about what to do about those slight changes in the scale in a rehearsal, master Yokoyama got his idea while looking at the black keys of a piano. When viewed from the side, the white keys of the piano are definitely lower than the black keys, aren’t they? When he told master Kinshi about his idea, that led to the stepped fret that she and all her students used after that. I also hear other things from master Yokoyama, such as how Toru Takemitsu arrived at a certain phrase in one of his pieces. Finally, he told me that I should decide how I would Takamitsu’s November Steps.

When the Suntory Hall was planning to include a performance of November Steps in a concert to celebrate their 20th anniversary, they had asked master Yokoyama who he recommended as the musicians. By chance, Shakuhachi player Dozan Fujiwara and I had come to master Yokoyama’s studio to practice, and he told us, “Why don’t you two young performers do it?” When we did the final performance [Suntory Hall], he came to hear us. We couldn’t perform the piece well at all that time, but he kindly told us, “That’s OK. That’s the kind of music it is. Keep playing it for 20 years and you will finally be able to master its form. You two should find your way to perform it.” In 2016, when a sort of retrospective concert of modern Hogaku (traditional Japanese music) was held at the National Theatre, the two of us performed Takemitsu’s Eclipse, and he felt that we had made some progress, and we were beginning to remove the thin veil of what master Yokoyama had tried to tell us. Of course, we still have a long way to go.
Listening to you speak earlier about the Biwa “Asaarashi” that Kinshi-san perfected over time, made me realize anew how performers can also raise the maturity of their instruments.
I believe we can at least say with certainty that today’s Biwas have a different sound from the Biwas played up until the time of Kinshi Tsuruta and my grandfather. The Ishida Biwa shop is doing its best to make good Biwas, and it is not a matter of the craftsmanship but the fact that it is difficult to get the kind of good, well-seasoned mulberry wood that is used to make the body of the Biwa that has changed the sound of today’s Biwas. Today they have to depend on the imported wood materials they can get, and the amount of time spent seasoning the wood is shorter. So, they have to build Biwas today with wood that still contains too much moisture. Since the result is a moist Biwa, the sound becomes one that tends toward a keeenn, keeenn type of sound.

Even the Biwas made by Stradivari-class master craftsmen like Usuke Hayashi, Tomojiro Yoshioka (Tomojiro Maruyama) and Seiichi Katsuta, will produce a different sound when the new style of sawari (buzzy timbre) is used. It may be a nice sound to the ear of today’s Japanese, but I fear that the real appeal of the Biwa’s original sweet, deep and dry sound that conveys the gentleness of wood is being lost with time.
We know that you are also devoting efforts to the promotion of the Biwa through activities such as teaching children. Since today’s children are raised with an ear for the Western scale, which is completely different from the world of sound of traditional Japanese Hogaku, teaching must be that much more difficult, isn’t it?
Not at all. I believe there is no need for them to know that, so I just ask them to try it. That is the way I learned it, so I just teach them like I was taught. And tell them to try it. Then I have them read the words. The Horaizan, which is a song for Satsuma Biwa, begins with the lyric Medetaya-na (Japanese for happy, joyful) and I tell them this is Japanese and just have them read it like it is.

I am now teaching children in the region where the Satsuma Biwa was born, they live in Irikifumoto, Satsumasendai City in Kagoshima Prefecture. I tell them the Biwa they are playing was made in the house just two doors away. So your grandfathers and great-grandfathers knew the people who made these Biwas, I tell them. And your great-great-grandfather may have sung this song. So, isn’t it great that you can sing with me this song that people here sang hundreds and hundreds of years ago, I tell them. Hearing this, the children say, “Wow, that’s cool!” Nothing makes me happier than that.

Then I play one whole piece, I give them the musical score and then show them how to play it in a two-hour lesson, after which we chat while drinking tea. I go there to do this about once a week, and I thought they wouldn’t be able to learn it in a month, but they did it. They could sing the whole piece in a month. Children are amazing. It isn’t about the sound or the words, it might sound a bit crude if I said it is the heart, so let’s say I believe it is the feeling that carries it for them. It seems like children who have grown up with local love for Irikifumoto have the Satsuma Biwa in their DNA. I think there is a kind of special magnetic field there.

I leave the Biwas with the children and tell them they can use them freely in any way they want, they can even break them if they want. In fact, some have been broken, but it is OK, because they can be repaired. When I said that I wanted to teach Biwa to children in Kagoshima, through the city I had them send out a notice that if there were families that had old Biwas, we would like to borrow them. And in fact several families responded and lent us Biwas.

And at that time, this lead to a wonderful encounter. Toru Takemitsu’s father was from Kagoshima Prefecture, and the family home was one that lent us a Biwa. It happened to be made by the same person who made the Biwa that master Kinshi used to play Takemitsu’s November Steps. Hearing that sent shivers down my spine. That Biwa had to be repaired before it could be use, so I took care of making the repairs. And when I said that I wanted to play November Steps with that Biwa, I was kindly told that if it was for we to play, they would be happy to lend it to me anytime. This Biwa was made in 1917, so it was exactly a 100 year-old Biwa. That means its wood was from a tree that was probably planted sometime in the middle of the Edo Period (18th century) and then cut down around the Tenpo period (1830 – 1844), and dried about 50 years before being made into this Biwa in the Taisho Period (1912 – 26). Since there is no wood like that used in this Biwa today, I think Ishida-san uses wood from mulberry trees from Mikurajima of the Izu Island or Chichijima of the Ogasawara Islands. But even that wood can’t be found today. That is why he has to use imported wood, and even the wood from Japanese boxwoods from Kagoshima Prefecture that is used for the plectrums is getting scarce.
We hear that you also collect old Satsuma Biwas, don’t you?
I have quite a large room that is now full of ones I have collected. As I said before, the Biwas that Ishida-san is making now will have the finest sound possible in 50 years’ time. And that is why I am collecting Biwas now that were made 100 years ago. Whenever I find a Biwa that was made of the Kagoshima wood materials from 100 years ago, I buy them on the spot. I also repair Biwas that have cracks in the body. I mix Japanese urushi lacquer with mulberry wood sawdust and take plenty of time to close the cracks and bring the body back together. To do this I also studied about lacquer and lacquer work. On the inside of the body of those I repair, I put my stamp reading “Repaired by Tomoyoshi in year 0000.” The sound board of a Biwa is decorated with mother-of-pearl, and I studied that craft so I can also do that myself.
Biwa Meiki no Kazu Kazu

Exhibition “Biwa Meiki no Kazu Kazu” (Oct. 27, 29, 2021 at Gallery éf Asakusa)

You have worked as an advisor on the historical background of performing arts for some historical TV drama series on NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). In one drama set in Japan’s the medieval period there were scenes of a dances where the dancers rand small hand cymbals as they danced and by dancers called shirabyoshi that were performed with a fan in hand. Since there are surely no scores remaining from that time, we can’t know what kind of music they danced to and what the choreography was like. How did you recreate those dances?
Thankfully our home has piles of replicas of old scroll paintings to refer to. I became able to serve as a an advisor on the historical background of the performing arts thanks to the long nights I spent studying those scrolls. I have read as much as I can about Gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music) and Kabu (theatrical performance combining singing and dancing) from historical texts and the diaries of the nobles of those times. And then I think about what must have been thoughts and world views of the people of those times. Researchers speculate about how the people must have sung, but that is just ideas, and there is no way for us to know how it actually was. The most important thing is to ask what people like shirabyoshi dancers actually were. My job is to explain that to the actors. So I tell them what shirabyoshi dancers were at the time and then I tell them to dance as they themselves feel based on that knowledge.

There are a few things that we can pick up about the musical temperament and rhythm of the music of the time from sources like the Ryojinhisho (a folk song collection compiled in the end of Heian Period in the 12th century), and other than that there is what we know about the Satsuma Biwa that I play. When you sing the Biwa songs slowly, it is almost the same as Gagaku ancient court music. So, conversely, you can record things that you like from Gagaku and play it back faster. So, I take the sounds from that which catch my ear and then apply my own process to it. For example, with the same Biwa song, the way my grandfather sang it, the way master Kinshi sang it and the way I sing it are all different. But, the basic sounds, the way you develop it, how far you go and the way you link into the second to the last note are all the same for the three of us. So, I build things in line with those commonly shared qualities of Japanese music.
Year by year you seem to continue branching out from your base in Biwa music. Lately you have handled the music composition for video/computer game music. For the game , how did you approach that task?
I got the offer for the job to do the music, but when they said it was for “Monhan” (Monster Hunter), I had no idea what that was. Because, in my house there is no television and no computer. When I asked my apprentices, they told me that it was a world-famous game. I had no idea how to relate to that, but I was told that it would be a way to get many people around the world to listen to Biwa music so I should definitely take the offer.

But I wasn’t shown any pictures or written materials beforehand, so I had to approach it completely adlib. They had me secluded for five days and then in the studio I was finally shown the pictures and listened to the words, and then they said, “Can you please play something for us that fits this image?” So, I did a few dozen variations. There was no musical score or anything, and I was just given directions like, “Yes. That’s it,” or “This one is not as good as the last one,” or “Can you sing a little more as if in fear?” or “A little more lively,” and I just kept improvising on the spot as it went along. It was very tough work.
I had thought that you must be a lover of games.
Not at all. To start with, I had to ask them, “What is Capcom? Is it something instant Cup Noodle? (laughs). Now I have a request from Shueisha Inc. for which I am creating music related to the Bleach manga series (which follows the adventures of the hotheaded teenager named Ichigo Kurosaki, who inherits his parents’ destiny after he obtains the powers of a Soul Reaper). When the author Taito Kubo and the producer heard me perform what I had prepared, they said they immediately thought, “This is it!” I accepted this proposal just because I want as many people as possible to hear the Biwa.

What I played for them was improvisation. They sent me the whole set of volumes of Bleach, but I haven’t read it all yet (laughs). If I read it all, I might start to fantasize, and then a drama could start forming inside my mind. I wanted to take what the director told me sincerely and stay true to that image.
What principles do you hold to when you start some new project like this?
I believe that if I have strong feeling about something, the financial part will always work out somehow, and that is how I have worked for the past 30 years. I am not out to win someone’s praise, the important thing for me is my responsibility as a performer and the things I think about how I live my life. As artists, we always have to be striving for the next level of development, so the words I am most gratified to hear are, “You’ve gotten better,” or “Today’s performance was better that the last one.” Practicing is my hobby, and lately I have gotten to the point where, when the curtain suddenly opens for a performance, I can show that I have been practicing by the way I play. When I feel that way it is wonderful for me, even if the actual performance may not be the best.

I dislike Japanese culture since the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912). The Meiji Period saw an explosion of energy aimed at throwing out what was good in Japanese culture until then and building a new Japan, and that is what led to the modern Biwa style. But when players born in the Meiji Period and studied under a master was born in the Edo Period, they don’t sing with a passion. They sing softly and steadily. Since they are songs that were born in the Kagoshima dialect, they would have been sung strongly, picking out the strong points, like pon, pon, pon. But that style of singing changed in the Meiji Period. I believe we have to stop and take a good look back to the roots of our art, our culture. I am very grateful that I am being allowed to work and perform freely as I like, but when I look to the future, I don’t see anything there. The future is based in the past, and I believe that especially those involved in the traditional arts should approach their art with reverence and respect for the tradition.
Today the proper materials [like well-seasoned wood] to build the instruments are no longer readily available, the number of skilled craftsmen are also decreasing, and there are fewer opportunities to hear Biwa performances. Under these conditions, how can Biwa music be passed on to future generations?
If things continue like they are now, I think the tradition will die out. Because, in truth, it is not essential to people’s lives. In life in Japan today, the Biwa is not irreplaceable, no one will die if they don’t have Biwa music. When I was in my 20s, there was a time when I drove out to a place where I could look up at a full sky of stars, and at that time I thought that someday I wanted to be able to write music of the kind that you would want to hear a Biwa and cello or something playing when you proposed to your love or some occasion like that. But now, what I want most is just to have children playing the Biwa. If you press the keys of a piano, it will make a sound. With the Koto you can basically say the same thing as with the piano: it will make a sound. But with the Shamisen and the Biwa, you have to create the sound. It won’t make a sound unless you yourself make it.
I believe there are things that are not essential for daily life but people still need in order to live. So I hope the art will not die out.
Of course, I feel the same way. I think the world will decide whether it will die out or not, but I must continue to live this life I am living.

I want to be able to create an organization that will teach children to play the Biwa. I know there are many who agree that working alone on a project like this is very different from being part of a public organization that is behind the project, so I want to establish a general incorporated association. In fact, there is a project underway to have me teach a class for children at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo from April. In the near future, they will hold “children’s biwa classes” at shrines and jingu (Shinto shrines) in Tokyo, Kyoto, Kyushu, etc., starting with Kagoshima Irikifumoto. I definitely want to put Biwas in the hands of children, who are always such fast learners. After that, it doesn’t matter if they continue it or not. When I was a child, I was given the time and opportunities to come in contact with many things, and so I just want them to pick up a Biwa for the first time and play Biwa music from 100 years ago. From now on I want to work steadily to provide this opportunity to children.

Also, this year I want to begin making recordings of the Biwa music that master Kinshi Tsuruta created so that they can be available as a sound resource. There are no performers today who are singing master Kinshi’s pieces as they should be sung. There are many written resources in our home that can’t be found anywhere else, and there are many, many recording of my grandfather performing that have never been released before. I want to study master Kinshi’s pieces and perform them, and my goal is to record 20 pieces in the coming year. Within the next two years I want to record as sound resources all of the works master Kinshi left, and I want to complete the work of writing down for the record all I can about why she played the pieces in the way she did and how she sang them.

Also, I want to preserve existing Biwas and repair them as necessary and as inexpensively as possible and then lend them out. There is simply too little environment or research being done on the development of Biwa, so I want to make the research that my apprentices are now doing on the old issues of the Biwa Newspaper and make that documentation available to anyone who wants to do research on the Biwa.

There are some young performers who are putting on the makeup and performing Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer), but many others refuse to do it. I am not one of them. I think it should be done, you should be able to freely choose anything you want to do. Since you never know who will be listening to you, there may be people who will listen and say, “What’s that? So that’s a Biwa? It’s really good!” While continuing to encourage these kinds of activities, I want to continue my work to protect our tradition.

The Biwa is an instrument that was born in the Middle East, and I am always thinking about Japan as a country of Asia and the Asia that exists in Japan. In this sense it is a very exotic instrument, as well as an instrument with a tradition that has passed down many wonderful Japanese thoughts and ideas over the generations. This wonderful refinement at its roots remains the same after hundreds of years. As long as we have that, we can do anything we want with it. Those words that master Kinshi used to repeat, I now feel I am just beginning to understand. So, my career has only just begun. My belief is that I have to redouble my determination and live on with this instrument, this Biwa.
Profile

Kakushin Tomoyoshi
Born in 1965 in the Asakusa district of Tokyo as a grandson of Satsuma Biwa player Sokusui Yamaguchi and Kakushin Tomoyoshi. He grew up in an environment rich in traditional Japanese culture and performing arts, and learned various traditional arts including traditional Japanese dance from the age of three. 1984, he entered the Nihon University College of Art and studied Japan’s medieval performing arts in the theatre department. In 1987, he decided to become a performer of the Satsuma Biwa, as both of his grandfather were, and he studied under the master Kinshi Tsuruta. Since then, in addition to his activities as a Satsuma Biwa performer, he has performed with musicians and artists from various genres, including the rock group SeikimaⅡ, and in other activities he has recorded the first DVD of the Biwa Music Association based on a work titled Joheki no Hamlet (Hamlet on the Rampart), a newly written work by the novelist Osamu Hashimoto. Kakushin has also performed the Toru Takemitsu pieces Eclipse and November Steps with shakuhachi flute player Dozan Fujiwara. He is also active promoting the Biwa by teaching children, and has worked as an advisor on historical background of the traditional arts for historical TV drama series on NHK, Japan’s national television network. In other fields he has served as a music director and performer for computer games. He is recipient of the “Shoreisho” Education Encouragement Award of the Ministry of Education and the NHK Chairman’s Award. He is also a part-time lecturer for the Music Department at the Nihon University College of Art, and he serves on the board of directors of the NPO ACT.JC.

*1 Satsuma Biwa
The Satsuma Biwa originated from the Biwa that was used by blind monks in Satsuma (present day Kagoshima Prefecture) and was adapted for use as an instrument to help in the intellectual training of members of the warrior (samurai) class with lyrics written by Jisshinsai (Lord Jisshin Shimazu) and music by the blind monk Juchoin (Ryoko Fuchiwaki). These pieces were written to convey the moral teachings of Buddhism and Confucianism in easy to understand terminology. But because the players were Satsuma samurai, as the times evolved into a period of civil wars. That time was the age of provincial wars, the content and expressive quality of Satsuma Biwa became increasingly valiant and heroic. With this, the influence of the ethical message of Jisshinsai, and that of the lyrical laments of women in lyric like “Xun yang jiang” of Bai Letian brought a tone of sadness to Satsuma Biwa music.
As for the musical qualities of Satsuma Biwa, there is a style of playing all the strings at a fast tempo and singing in an equally bold style called Kuzushi and a contrasting style of more melodic and sorrowful songs called Gingawari. What’s more, there is a type of full volume vocalization close to that of the Gidayubushi ballad drama that uses the full depth of voice from the abdomen which is different from the usual rather subdued voice used in most traditional Japanese Hogaku music. In this sense it is clear that the Satsuma Biwa music inherits a strong influence of the Martial spirit of the Satsuma warrior class.
(Eishi Kikkawa)

*2 Kinshi Tsuruta (1911 – 95)
Born in Takikawa city in Hokkaido, Kinshi Tsuruta was a Satsuma Biwa player and composer. She started the Biwa as a child through the influence of an older brother, and at the age of seven moved to Tokyo to study under the master Gensui Komine. There, she mastered the Kinshin-ryu style of Satsuma Biwa and began performing professionally and teaching younger apprentices from before the age of 20. Later, however, she turned to a successful period as an entrepreneur. Kinshi made her return debut as a Biwa performer in 1955. In 1964, she composed and performed her piece Dannoura for the Masaki Kobayashi film Kaidan (Ghost Story), and this led to her meeting the composer Toru Takemitsu. In 1967, she performed Takemitsu’s piece November Steps to international acclaim. In Kinshi’s ongoing quest for ever higher levels of deeply expressive Biwa music, she made revolutionary changes in the Biwa as an instrument and in Biwa performance.