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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Performing Arts
Gagaku
Of the various musical forms transmitted from the mainland in early Japanese history, that which was elegant was called gagaku. Indigenous Japanese genres such as saibara and rōei also came to be included as part of the gagaku repertoire, as was music performed at Shinto shrines for ritual functions. Thus, the widest definition of gagaku would include all these different forms. The musical genres imported from the continent can be divided into two groups based on their geographical origins; tōgaku (from China ) and komagaku (from Korea). Under the Ritsu-ryō system, a Department of Gagaku (gagakuryō) was established to administer performances, and the management and training of musicians. However, by the middle of the Heian period the gagaku-ryō had declined and its functions shifted to the ōutadokoro or gakusho. All musical forms not officially part of gagaku were known as sangaku. These genres become the precursors of other musical forms, most notably sarugaku and Noh. During the later Middle Ages gagaku continued with groups of musicians in Nara and elsewhere. After surviving the decline of Court rituals during the Warring States Period, gagaku received some protection from the Edo period military government (bakufu). The Meiji government also established a Gagaku Bureau as part of the new government (locating it in the Great Council of State) and musicians from the three major centers of gagaku practice — Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka — were gathered and organized into a formal department. Today, gagaku and the associated dance form of bugaku, is practiced by the Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency (Kunaichō). There are numerous groups and organizations throughout Japan that practice gagaku. In particular, the Nippon gagaku-kai, founded by amateur and fans of Gagaku in 1962, performs widely and is actively involved in spreading and popularizing gagaku.

— Yonei Teruyoshi
An example of a gagaku performance that forms part of a ritual observance at a shrine. Gagaku is played while the participants in the ritual worship at the altar. Shown in the footage is the Tsukinamisai at Hirakata Jinja.

Osaka Prefecture, 2006

©Ōsawa Kōji

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