View Full Version : Japanese Music for Mandolin?

J. Mark Lane
Jan-08-2004, 9:50pm
What little Japanese music I have heard I have liked very much. I know nothing about it, though. I have tried various web searches, but found very little of any help. Interestingly, there has been some interest in Japanese music for the recorder (which I sort of kind of play a little). But I want to try it on the mandolin. I think it could work well.

Does anyone have anything to offer in terms of help? Anyone know anything about Japanese music? Are there any transcriptions to Western notation anywhere? Anyone ever try this before?



Jan-08-2004, 10:19pm
Mandolin orchestras and classical mandolin are very popular in Japan - perhaps even more so than in Italy. They play a lot of Italian reportoire but also many arrangements of Japanese folk songs etc. For starters, try looking for "Kojo No Tsuki" and "Sakura". You should be able to find some generic solo or four-part arrangements (maybe in MIDI format) that will adapt to mandolin easily.

Perhaps someone with a more extensive music collection can recommend some specific recordings. You might want to try posting this question in the classical area as well.

Jan-08-2004, 10:39pm
There is some great classical music in Japanese style for mandolin. #Some of it can be downloaded for free from Yasukazu Ishida's site (http://www2.justnet.ne.jp/~yasu.ishida/index01.htm) after you've registered. #Almost everything you find there will be Italian or in Itlian style, but some of the stuff by Takei has a Japanese air about it. #Plucked String, Inc. (http://www.mandolincafe.com/cgi-bin/strings/searchdb.cgi?uid=default&view_records=1&keyword=japanese) lists Takashi Ochi's "Se'i-Doh" for solo mandolin and three mandolin duets on Japanese folk melodies (although I haven't played them, these sound very nice and are richly sparse...if you follow my paradoxical hooey) as well as Siegfried Behrend's four Japanese folk songs (I'm familiar with this German composer but not with this particular piece). #Raffaele Calace (1863-1934) was a big hit in Japan and wrote a couple pieces in Japanese style; they can be ordered from the shop he founded at http://www.calace.it/ (FAX or write them, do NOT e-mail). #In contrast, Jiri Nakano from Japan wrote a great deal of marvelous music for solo mandolin in a decidedly European fashion.

A fine CD full of such stuff is Orchestra di Mandolini e Chitarre "Citta di Brescia" with Ugo Orlandi, 2000, Mandolin & Japan, Nuova Era 7348. #This is an interesting blend of Japanese-styled music by European composers, European-styled music by Japanese composers, Japanese-styled music by Japanese composers, and European-styled music by European composers...who just happened to be visiting Japan (e.g., the aforementioned Calace).

Jan-08-2004, 11:18pm
Well, no tab but ya could try this CD out "peppermint tea house", The Best of Shoukichi Kina...he's actually from Okinawa but it's great stuff. #Ry Cooder plays mandolin on 2 or 3 tracks and it also has Haruomi Honsono from Y.M.O.. #Plenty of 'fweshi for the un-initiated....:cool:

Jan-08-2004, 11:53pm
Hmmmh - In Simon Mayor's "Mastering the Mandolin" there's a nifty tune called "Kyoto Road". This is in G but actually written over a Gsus9 chord for the first 9 bars. I've struggled with it and it does work but not too well (yet) with my rusty fingers. Very pretty to hear when Simon plays it. He's done four or five of this type of tune on some of his CD's but - this is the first one which has been transcribed for mortal consumption.

J. Mark Lane
Jan-09-2004, 12:16pm
Wow, you guys are great! Thanks for all this info. This will give me quite a lot to get started. I really appreciate it.


Jan-09-2004, 12:42pm
Grisman wrote a tune he called "Japan", was a dawg-type number but did have some japanese-sounding intervals in it.

Jan-09-2004, 12:42pm
What particular type of Japanese music? #There a multitude of styles from enka, min-yo, Noh theatre music (nohgaku), Zen shakuhachi (end-blown bamboo flute)meditational music, trad. work music, etc. #There's art (classical) music and there's traditional music, as well as westernized hybrids. #Or pick an instrument, and you'll get different music: shamisen, koto, shakuhachi, biwa, transverse flute.....,

The tunes played by such western flautists such as James Galway and Jean-Pierre Rampal are more modern Japanese compositions using western scales. These are fairly accessible to western ears.

You can probably find "Sakura" on the web, both as midi and notation.

Structurally, some of the traditional stuff, especially vocal music, can be hard to lock-on to. #It sounds good, but remains in the realm of exotic sonic wallpaper which is hard to grasp. #If you listen to it frequently, the brain eventually begins to sort stuff out, and you begin to hear those as specific tunes.

Your best bet in finding western notation of Asain music tunes, is to find some good midis, and open the midi-files with a notation program which will convert it into western notation. #

An ideal place to begin is whith this excellent compliation which offers a multitude of roots styles from all over Japan and Okinawa:
Rough Guide to the Music of Japan (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&uid=UIDSUB040401052322271536&sql=A7kq2g4h9tv3z)

The Okinawan stuff tends to be fairly accessible:
The Music Power From Okinawa (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&uid=UIDSUB040401052322271536&sql=Ac8n8b5c4tsqg) - Shoukichi Kina (Globestyle)
Asia Classics 2: Peppermint Tea Room (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&uid=UIDSUB040401052322271536&sql=Acxoibks9jakq) - Shoukichi Kina (Luaka Bop)
Akemodoro Unai (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&uid=UIDSUB040401052322271536&sql=A5gq5g4hmtv5z) - Nenes (Globestyle)

- - - -
This old album is reissued on several labels with different cover packaging. Get the one on LaserLight since it is the cheapest:Koto Music Of Japon (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&uid=UIDSUB040401052322271536&sql=Av4520r2ar48i) - Zumi-Kai Original Instrumental Group (LaserLight)

Niles Hokkanen

J. Mark Lane
Jan-09-2004, 1:43pm
Niles, thanks so much for responding. I don't know enough about the music to know what styles of Japanese music I want. It's more of a general thing. I'm totally ignorant of the subject. I've just heard and seen a few performances here and there, and loved it, whatever it was.

I was think perhaps something written for the biwa might work well on mando, but I have no idea. The problem of getting it into Western scales and notation is, I suppose, a major issue. I will try your suggestion with midi and a notation program (I have Tabledit).

Thanks, again. I really do appreciate the help.


Jan-09-2004, 2:08pm
Eugene mentioned above Jiro Nakano. Gertrud Troester has recorded a full CD of his music: "Jewels for the Mandolin" (Thorofon CTH 2408). The music is in the European-style, romantic vein, but includes also typically Japanese flavour especially in some tracks. Beautiful music, and played with Troesterīs typical impeccable technique. Nakano uses romantic mandolin musicīs techiques with great effect. The CD is definitely worth owning, IMO. Jiro Nakano was 98 years old when the album was recorded in 2000 and there is one nice photo of him showing sheet music to Gertrude.

As what comes to traditional/classical Japanese music, one of my all-time favourite instruments since I was a schoolboy has been shakuhachi, the simple bamboo flute with its boundless nuances.

Another one that I encountered much later, is biwa, the Japanese lute with 4-5 silk strings. There are many types of it, some ancient and obscure. Probably the most popular types nowadays are Satsuma biwa and Chikuzen biwa. The types can be seen for example here. (http://www.hogaku.it/strumenti/biwa.html) Kinshi Tsuruta was the most famous exponent of Satsuma biwa, and she played also some modern compositions by Toru Takemitsu.

The musical esthetics of Japanese music are quite dissimilar to Western ones. I think Niles put it well above. Itīs very difficult to "understand" the music you hear, but it stirs emotions and gives a feeling of being on the brink of something mysterious and deeply touching. In Japanese music and maybe especially in biwa itīs not the notes alone that are important, but also the quality of the sound and special effects that could on a superficial level sound only as "noise" (like the scraping sound Ms Tsuruta makes sliding the broad edge of the plectrum along the strings). Also, like in Far East landscape painting, the silences (empty canvas) is as important as the sounds (brush strokes). Totally fascinating...

greetings, Arto

Jan-09-2004, 7:00pm
Arto is correct in saying that the aesthetic priorities in some of the Japanese music is completely different than that in the west. #Some of those pieces have tempos that are slower than slow. "Space" plays a huge role, and the name of the game is tone& dynamics, whether it is rendered vocally or instrumentally. The shakuhachi and percussion music is a prime example.

But there are also types of music (dance music forms) which have a groove and may be uptempo. #The Tsuguru shamisen of northern Japan (Hokkaido island) can be very flashy, notey, even frantic, and improvisational. #

There was a series (9-disc in all, sold separately) called Music Of Japanese People on the Japanese King/Seven Seas label, but frequently stocked by Tower Records, although these are now out-of-print (I think). I have five of the series:
2: Japanese Dance Music
4: Jam Session Of Tsuguru-Shamisen
5: Music of Okinawa
6: Music of Yaeyama and Miyako
7: Music of Amami

Vols. 2 and 5 are excellent. 4 and 7 are quite good. Vol 7 (from the most distant of the Ryuku Island chain) has archival value, but it's one that I didn't listen to a lot. You may find some of these floating around in cut-out company catalogs like Daedalus Books (http://www.salemusic.com), or unsold in a Tower Records (or store like that) bin.

If you hit the used record stores, look for an album called Benzaiten by Osamu Kitajima (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&uid=UIDSUB040401052322271536&sql=B2srx287c054a). Released on Island in 1976 and then reissued on Antilles in the early 80's, this is a tremendous Japanese folk-rock album. #Follow-up discs such as Osamu and Masterless Samurai are OK but these move away from the more traditional sound towards new-agey smooth jazz which eventually took over completely in subsequent records. #Osamu incidentally makes an appearance on some Japanese instruments on the Ry Cooder Alamo Bay soundtrack.

Niles Hokkanen

Jan-09-2004, 7:11pm
Osamu Kitajima's early stuff was totally awesome for sure! My all time favorite album from the Japanese island's is Stomu Yamasta's all percussion masterpiece "Close to the Edge". He later did some work with Al DiMeola, Steve Winwood and some other westerners. Drop me a PM with your address and I'll burn ya a couple of CD's.

Bob Sayers
Jan-29-2004, 9:48pm
I would recommend the Accord CD (100002) entitled "Flute & Koto du Japon." #It includes famous folk melodies like "Kojo no Tsuki" and "Sakura Sakura" with the shakuhachi in most cases playing the melody line in slow languid fashion. #It's fairly easy to transpose these relatively simple melodies to mandolin (or guitar). I've done it.

Just for interesting listening (not for mandolining), I also like Shoukichi Kina's "Peppermint Tea House." #Also try Akiko Yano's "Piano Nightly" on Nonesuch. #She has a fabulous melodic sense and a strange voice that you either love or hate (I love it). #

Finally, for a particularly spooky treat you might search out a CD of gagaku, an archaic form of Japanese court music. #A good choice is "Gagaku and Beyond" [Celestial Harmonies 13179-2] performed by the Tokyo Gakuso. #Boy, when those weird sho (a kind of bamboo mouth organ) kick in, it's like hearing the music of the gods. #Curiously enough, I have a similar reaction when I hear early American fugueing like that on the Smithsonian Folkways CD "Old Regular Baptists: Lined-Out Hymnody from Southeastern Kentucky."

Bob Sayers

J. Mark Lane
Jan-30-2004, 8:26am
Thanks very much, Bob. I have several CD's on order (takes a while on some of this stuff to get it here, I gather), and will add these now. Thanks also for the tip on the Smithsonian CD. Sounds interesting, and I will order it.


J. Mark Lane
Feb-01-2004, 8:16am
Well, I had to share this. The first of my Japanese music CD's arrived Friday, and this morning after breakfast I put it on. (It's "Traditional Vocal and Instrumental Music of Japan, Ensemble Nipponia"). My 22 month old daughter loves music and constantly insists that the stereo be "on." (I have lied and told her that Ralph Stanley is "Elmo singing", so she loves Dr. Ralph.)

So... I put on this CD, and she walks out into the living room and gets this look on her face.... And she says, looking up at the stereo, "It's boken, Daddy." Alas, the Western ear and the Eastern sound... <g>

Bob Sayers
Feb-01-2004, 3:28pm
That's a really good CD, Mark, your daughter's critique notwithstanding. #That would have been #1 on my list, because of the beautiful ensemble work. #However, I still would recommend that you get "Flute & Koto du Japon" if you're looking for melodies that translate well to mandolin. #

The other things that I recommended are pretty esoteric and probably not to everyone's taste. #Fortunately, you can listen to brief samples on the Amazon.com website before you commit to buying them. #

Bob Sayers

P.S.: Speaking of Ralph Stanley: Back when I was an undergraduate at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) in the late 1960s, some Japanese students moved down the hall from me in the broken-down boarding house where I was staying. I couldn't believe my ears when I woke up one night to the strains of the Stanley Bros. coming out of their room. Now 30-some years later I wished I asked them about their interest in bluegrass music. At the time, though, it was just a strange coincidence. (Of course, they probably wondered who the guy down the hall was who played Blind Willie McTell, Charlie Poole, and the Country Gentlemen into the wee hours of the night.)

J. Mark Lane
Feb-02-2004, 11:51pm
I agree, Bob, it is a tremendous CD. I was listening last night on the headphones late into the night. (Even my daughter warmed up to it yesterday, after her initial reaction, and danced to some of it... <G>).

I have to check and see if "Flute & Koto du Japan" is one of the ones I have on order; if not, I will add it.

I was looking to see if I could find any performances of traditional Japanese music in NYC. I saw these, and was wondering what you (and others) thought they might be like. (I have to allocate my time very carefully these days...).

See http://www.nyogetsu.com/events.html (esp. the Master Concert on Feb 13).

And the events discussed here:


Sorry for the non-mando content... but I am looking to the idea of eventually translating some of this to mando.



Bob Sayers
Feb-03-2004, 10:52am
Those look like good possibilities, Mark. There are always lots of Japan-related activities in New York City. You should keep checking the website of the Japan Society (http://www.japansociety.org/), as they sponsor wonderful exhibitions and concerts throughout the year. They also offer Japanese language classes. Hope this helps!