Jiuta - literally "earth song" - is a kind of Japanese musical performance dating from the 17th century when blind male musicians would entertain the yuppies of the day: the rising professional classes, with the koto: a kind of harp, the shamisen: a three-stringed guitar-like instrument, and the shakuhachi: a bamboo flute.
Needless to say, such music is now rarely heard in Japan, and I was privileged to be offered a ticket to a jiuta performance on Monday evening at Tokyo's Aoyama Round Theater, courtesy of the main jiuta performer, Ms. Akiko Fujii, and the Japan Traditional Cultures Foundation.
Like most court-inspired music in Japan, jiuta is hardly entertainment in the conventional sense of the word. It is very closely allied with silence, and has complicated rhythms that are not really designed to get toes tapping.
The main performer of the evening, Ms. Akiko Fujii, had a very engaging presence, a full, expressive voice, and exuded complete mastery of the jiuta form. Her very first performance, “Black Hair,” was especially enchanting, and made even more enjoyable by being able to follow the lyrics in English translation.
“It is the pillow we shared that night, when I let down my jet-black hair…”
Between performances there was English commentary, which also helped make the music that much more approachable.
Akiko Fujii, born in Osaka, is the daughter of the National Living Treasure, Kunie Fujii. She comes from a long line of musicians with a history going back almost 400 years.
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Japan Tokyo jiuta Akiko Fujii Aoyama Round Theater
Thursday, January 24, 2008