Min’yō at WSF2018

The world of shakuhachi min'yō is coming to London WSF2018

Min'yō at WSF2018

It is the first time in the history of World Shakuhachi Festival that shakuhachi in min’yō (folk song) is represented. Of all the various groups of shakuhachi players in Japan, min’yō shakuhachi players make up the biggest group by far. Despite this fact min’yō as a genre has been underrepresented outside Japan. Also in Japan the min’yō and hōgaku (Japanese classical music) worlds have been separated and they hardly collaborate or play in the same concerts. Following the tradition of inclusiveness at the World Shakuhachi Festival initiated by YOKOYAMA Katsuya, min’yō will be represented by Aomori Min’yō Kyōkai (Aomori Min’yō Association).

The players coming to London from Aomori are MIYAKE Ryoji and SHIRATO Tomoya, who are both singers, shamisen and taiko players. We will also have ENOMOTO Shusui from Nihon Min’yō Kyōkai (Japan Min’yō Association), who is an expert min’yō shakuhachi player. The three will introduce the general public in London to the sounds of min’yō through concerts and to the participants in the World Shakuhachi Festvial through workshops and lectures.


Tokyo, Japan

Performer & Teacher
Ninon Min'yō Kyōkai


Chiba, Japan

tsugaru jamisen & singer
Aomori Min'yō Kyōkai


Yokohama, Japan

tsugaru jamisen
Aomori Min'yō Kyōkai

ENOMOTO Shusui, MIYAKE Ryoji and SHIRATO Tomoya will perform in following concerts:


31.07.18   Gala Opening Concert at Union Chapel, Islington, London

01.08.18   Lunchtime Concert, Great Hall, Goldsmiths, University of London.

02.08.18   Lunchtime Concert, St James Hatcham Building, Goldsmiths, University of London.

02.08.18   Evening Concert, Great Hall, Goldsmiths, University of London.

03.08.18   Evening Concert, Great Hall, Goldsmiths, University of London.

04.08.18   Lunchtime Concert. Great Hall, Goldsmiths, University of London.

04.08.18   Grand Finale Concert, Great Hall, Goldsmiths, University of London.


Our three min’yō players from Japan will be supported by the local SOAS Min’yō Group led by Dr. David W. HUGHES (song, shamisen, taiko) as well as Gina BARNES (song and shinobue – Japanese traverse flute) and Yoshie Asano CAMPBELL (song and dance). Thus min’yō at WSF2018 will also be a collaboration of locals in London and professionals from Japan. Together they will present a varieties of the genres to the audiences and participants.

Genres in min’yō include for example shigoto uta (Worksongs), ozashiki uta (songs sung by geisha), Party songs, odori uta (dance songs), bon odori songs, komoriuta (lullaby), warabe uta (children’s game songs) and iwai uta (celebratory songs).

Aomori, JAPAN

About Min’yō and Aomori

The word min’yō itself is a borrowing from the German word Volkslieder. It consists of two characters of Chinese origin: 民 (tami, min) = nation, people + 謡 (yō, uta) = song, ballad, recitation.

ASANO Kenji defined min’yō in 1966 as ‘songs which were originally born naturally within local folk communities and, as they have been transmitted, [have continued] to reflect naively the sentiments of daily life’.

During the past 5-7 years an increase of interest in min’yō among non-Japanese shakuhachi players has clearly been seen, so we therefore see it as highly relevant to include min’yō in WSF2018. The Japanese musical world is complex and we are very proud to be able to invite members of Aomori Min’yō Kyōkai to present the sounds of min’yō as played and lived in Aomori in the northernmost Tohoku region of Honshu island. The region is characterised by the rough nature with cold winters with large amounts of snow. It is mountainous and has a long coastline towards Sea of Japan to the west, Tsugaru Strait to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the east. The Tohoku region is regarded by urban dwellers in Japan’s large metropoles as a region where life is still a little slower, more authentic and more traditionally Japanese. It is thereby also looked upon as the region where one can still experience the furusato (hometown) of one’s heart where human values are highly regarded and there is time to stop up and sing a song together. Min’yō has a high status in Aomori region and a special genre from Aomori is tsugaru jamisen.


Tsugaru jamisen

Tsugaru jamisen is a type of futozao (thick neck) shamisen. It is a three-stringed fretless lute. The sound box is pressed against the stomach of the player to facilitate the powerful striking of the bachi (plectrum) against the membrane covering the sound board. The tsugaru jamisen has a longer neck, larger body, and thicker skin than any other types of shamisen except the very similar instrument used in the bunraku puppet theatre.

Many of the tsugaru jyamisen repertoire consists of solo arrangements of folk songs from the local region. The pieces often use triple meter which is unusual for Japan. Tsugaru jamisen produces a loud, robust sound, and the strings are often stroked with great force, which makes the plectrum hit the body of the sound box with each stroke. The music is often very rhythmic and features a strong contrast between the powerful, percussive strokes and delicate passages.

Tsugaru jamisen music is individualistic and performers are encouraged to improvise and freely interpret the pieces – which is perhaps an aspect of the music that has enabled it to become popular among young people in Japan. Many performers also do creative fusion music in popular music genres.

Both our guests from Aomori, MIYAKE Ryoji and SHIRATO Tomoya, play tsugaru jamisen.


Aomori and Nezasaha, Kinpū Ryū 

Also represented from Aomori prefecture in WSF2018 is Nezasaha, Kinpū Ryū as we have invited the two holders of Aomori Prefecture Intangible Folk Cultural Asset in Aomori prefecture SUTO Shuho and YAMADA Fumio. They will play and teach Kinpū Ryū honkyoku – a style of honkyoku that has been adopted into many other schools’ repertoires. Here we will here it as it is played in Hirosaki, the town where Kinpū Ryū originated.


The komusō were granted monopoly over the use of the shakuhachi (laymen were officially prohibited from playing the shakuhachi – a rule implemented in 1677) by the Edo government (1603-1867). According to the rules of the sect the shakuhachi was to be used exclusively as a hōki, a sacred tool, for the purpose of spiritual training and for takuhatsu (religious mendicancy). Music other than honkyoku was referred to as gaikyoku (outer pieces) or rankyoku (disorderly pieces). However, it is well known that not all komusō obeyed the rules and played sankyoku and min’yō. The influence of min’yō can be heard in many of the honkyoku pieces such as Tsuru no Sugomori, Tori Kadotsuke Hachigaeshi, Murasaki Reibo among others.

When the Edo government was overthrown in 1867, the new Meiji government abolished the Fuke sect indefinitely in October 1871 and begging was prohibited in 1872, although it was again made legal in 1881. These events had a strong impact on the shakuhachi, its music and environment and led to major changes. Among the changes was the fact that the shakuhachi began to play a bigger role in min’yō, accompanying song and playing along other instruments such as shamisen, shinobue and taiko. A new genre of min’yō called takemono, which is song accompanied by shakuhachi only, was created and by the 1950s the shakuhachi was the most important accompaniment of free-metered song. Today the shakuhachi forms an important part of the accompanying group of singing also in metered songs. But it is in the unmetered takemono songs that the shakuhachi comes into its own. Here the shakuhachi player will chase the singer while there is sung text and unfold his or her own musicality between verses.

Aomori Min'yō Kyōkai

Aomori Min’yō Kyōkai is a non-profit organisation that aim at preserving the folk music culture of Aomori. They continue to work on keeping the music alive by creating opportunities for performing and transmitting the music to the next generation.

In order to promote and popularise min’yō and folk dances, members of the Aomori Min’yō Kyōkai organise classes – for children as well as for adults – to aide awareness and disseminate knowledge about min’yō. It also aims to disseminate the knowledge of min’yō internationally.

The members of Aomori Min’yō Kyōkai consist of professional singers of min’yō, dancers, shamisen and shakuhachi players as well as researchers and educators of min’yō from Aomori and general members who support the activities of the professional group.

Min’yō Kyōkai also volunteer to travel to retirement homes and play for elderly citizens for whom min’yō has been an integral part of their lives.

Since 1986, the Aomori Min’yō Kyōkai has held a contest of folk song singing and playing – an annual festival of folk songs from Aomori. The participants compete in folk song, folk dance, and there are junior contests as well.

The representatives of Aomori Min’yō Kyōkai at WSF2018 will be MIYAKE Ryoji and SHIRATO Tomoya, who will sing and play min’yō from Aomori and beyond.

The WSF2018 executive committee is proud of being able to present the wonderful folk traditions of Aomori and thereby contribute to not only cross-cultural exchange but also to bring the hōgaku and min’yō worlds closer together.

For more information see the Aomori Min’yō Kyōkai website at www.ao-min.jp (Japanese)

Nihon Min'yō Kyōkai

Nihon Min’yō Kyōkai has its roots from min’yō research conducted by GOTO Tosui already in the Meiji era (1868 – 1912). In 1965 Nihon Min’yō Kyōkai was recognised as a charity organisation and continues the work to promote min’yō.

The aims of Nihon Min’yō Kyōkai is to contribute to the promotion of folk culture and art in Japan by conserving and help populisation of min’yō and dance. They have a hall for classes with a capacity of 300 people, a data room, an exhibition room, a reading room, a viewing room and a conference room, which are open to members and the general public. The organisation is very active in promoting min’yō among school children.

From Nihon Min’yō Kyōkai ENOMOTO Shusui will perform, teach and hold lectures on shakuhachi in min’yō.

The WSF2018 Executive Commitee is grateful for the generous involvement of Aomori Min’yō Kyōkai and Nihon Min’yō Kyōkai.

For more information see the Nihon Min’yō Kyōkai website at www.nichimin.or.jp (Japanese)

SOAS Min'yō Group

The SOAS Min’yō group was founded by Dr. David Hughes, formerly Head of the Department of Music at SOAS, University of London. Since around 1990, he has been teaching some SOAS students to sing and play Japanese folk songs. Then this group was officially created in 2013. Dr. Hughes is retired from SOAS, but he still leads this group (and the London Okinawa Sanshinkai in practices every Saturday at SOAS. They have performed often throughout England, and also at the annual Sakura Festival in Copenhagen.

Dr. David Hughes is a member of the WSF2018 executive committee. He received on 22 February 2018 the Order of the Rising Sun (旭日章) for his extraordinary contribution to cultural exchange between Japan and England – just in the spirit of the WSF. (You can read all about it at the Japan Embassy in the UK website). He has performed, researched and written about min’yō since the 1970s, has appeared on Japanese television, stage and radio over 50 times, has been a judge at min’yō contests, and has recorded an LP of Japanese folk songs for Nippon Columbia (with his teacher TANAKA Yoshio).

The WSF2018 appreciates the help and contributions of Dr. Hughes and his expertise on adding min’yō to the World Shakuhachi Festival for the first time.