About Japanese music history

In the history of European music, there are roughly speaking several periods of music; the Middle Ages, the renaissance, the baroque, the romantic, the modern and the contemporary.

In the history of Japanese music there are three main types of music with different variations of theatre or dance being created from each era. The first is Gagaku, the second is Noh and then the most famous in the world for kabuki.

Gagaku is court music from aristocrats that has existed for 1200 years. Noh theatre is a theatre in which its origin is the music of the people but 14th century formed as it is now by Zeami and practiced by the samurai.



Kabuki who is the youngest, his origin was born in the early 17th century also in peoples. And this theatre has remained in the hands of peoples. At that time, there was also “bunraku” the puppet theatre

"Gagaku" is a music that arrived in Japan through China and Korea in the 5th century.


Basically, there is "Togaku" which comes from China and "Koma gaku" which comes from Korea between the 5th century and the 9th century and there is "Kuniburi no Utamai" which was born in Japan. 


Japan had cultural and commercial exchanges for centuries with the countries of the continent but stopped in the year 894 and after it developed what became its own culture during the Heian era 平安 794-1185)

Interestingly, musical instruments for Gagaku and Gagaku music remained as they were imported to Japan in the 8th century while in China and Korea they were modified and this "Gagaku" music is now gone. 


The Gagaku took the place as court music in Japan and after as the aristocratic era ended in the 11th century and power was taken in the hands of the samurai. During the samurai era, other genres of music were born (like Noh and after Kabuki) and the Gagaku was kept in the hands of aristocrats who keep their elegance and aesthetics of life despite the ambient poverty, until the 19th century.


None of the instruments will be used for other genres of music that will be born after this time. There is a flute which is called "Ryuteki" (Dragon flute 龍 et) which resembles Nôkan (能 管) well and which I play from time to time ... But they are different. 

Originated from Sangaku, the Noh theatre was called ‘Sarugaku’(literally the monkey and the music)  until the 19th century.The origine of Sangaku is mixed of Chinese and Japanese folk dances and music and then it became “Sarugaku”

Sarugaku was played by peasants during the Heian era (794-1185). But during the Kamakura era (1185 - 1333), then in the hands of the aristocrats, moved into the hands of the samurai, Sarugaku begins to receive the support of the temples and it is then that are set to appear professional troops.

During the Muromachi era (1336-1573) the famous actors of Sarugaku, Kanâmi and his son Zéami, were strongly supported by the shogun Yoshimitzu Ashikaga and it was at this time that the Noh theatre was created.

The atmosphere of the Noh theatre is mysterious and spiritual. It was practiced by famous samurai during the time of the war (the end of the 15th century to the end of the 16th century). The flute used in this theatere is called Nôkan. Unlike the shinobue, this flute does not give a scale because of the "nodo" (throat) an additional piece of bamboo inside the flute. This effect creates the mysterious side of this flute.

Kabuki theatre was created by  the famours "kabukimono" actrice by the time Okuni lady. At that time, people called "kabuki mono" were considered hippies. After it had been played by men of power, Noh theatre become a noble theatre. The origine of Kabuki theatre was more dynamic and more appreciated by the people.

As it became popular, many female prostitutes began to imitate it and the Tokugawa government prohibited this theatre from being performed by women. The people however resisted this law and disguised for it young men as women ... Currently the players of the Kabuki theatre are still reserved only for men.

The flutes used in the kabuki theatre are the nôkan and the shinobue. Shinobue has always been used in sacred music or in music for regional festivals. In kabuki music, there are singers and shamisen players. But the flute is included in the group "Hayashi kata" with the percussions.