Asia Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU)
Asia-Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)

Home | Performing Arts
Performing Arts
 
Japan

Kojin-biwa

Moso-biwa, Chikuzen-moso

Chanting Kojin sutras with instrument biwa


Japan_A06_KojinBiwa
realPlayer80kbps WindowsMadiaPlayer80kbps QuickTime80kbps realPlayer350kbps WindowsMadiaPlayer350kbps QuickTime350kbps

(c) Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties

Filming DateNA


Kojin-biwa is the name of a religious performance as well as the name of an instrument. Biwa is a plucked lute. While playing the biwa,the Buddhist priest chants kojinkyo and jishinkyo, sutras for praying to the gods named Kojin and Jishin.


Reasons for selection

A religious performance of chant and instrumental music, which had influence on various other performing arts of Japan.


Area where performed

In Fukuoka prefecture


Essential elements of the performing art

Music


Detailed explanation

Kojin-biwa is the name of a religious performance as well as the name of an instrument. Biwa is a plucked lute. In Chikuzen, the old name of Fukuoka prefecture, while playing by the biwa, the Buddhist priest chants kojinkyo and jishinkyo, sutras for praying to the gods named Kojin and Jishin. Kojin is the god of the fire in the irori, which is the typical Japanese style fireplace located in the centre of a living room and in the kamado, which is the traditional oven in the kitchen. Jishin is the tutelary god who protects the local area. Kojin-biwa is also called moso-biwa. Moso means a blind priest. Blind priests once used to be performers of kojin-biwa. According to Yamaguchi (1997:36), the method of playing biwa is as follows:

The relative tuning of the four strings is called riku joshi (C4, F4, G4, G4). It has five frets prominent in height which are called ju or chu (pillar). Trained left fingers placed in between the frets press the strings in varying degrees of intensity so as to modify string tensions and produce different pitches.

According to Yamaguchi and Emmert (1997:186), the relation of chanting and biwa is as follows:
The kojin-biwa tradition is a narrative chanting accompanied by the instrument. The sutras are chanted with a resounding quality similar to the buzzing sound ( sawari )of the instrument, mainly in a monotonic style called amadare byoshi. The chanting style may vary from singer to singer.

The melodic line of the accompanying biwa varies according to the number of syllables in the sutra; however, it generally follows a fixed melodic pattern. The biwa is played constantly during the chanting of the sutra but it has an independent melodic line which does not follow the melodic line of the singing. Between sutras, an interlude, also known as sawari, is played to provide a rest for the singer. On each occasion, this interlude may or may not be played as its use follows no particular pattern or practice. The melodic pattern may also be improvised by shortening it or lengthening it.

YAMAGUCHI Osamu
1977 Traditions and Items of Japan for Comparison. Asian Musics in an Asian Perspective. pp. 35-37.
Tokyo: The Japan Foundation. In English

YAMAGUCHI Osamu and EMMERT, Richard
1977 Description of the Musical Instruments: ATPA 1976. Asian Musics in an Asian Perspective. pp. 140-252. In English
Tokyo: The Japan Foundation.


Publication and textual documentation

MALM, William P.
1959 Japanese Music and Musical Instruments.
Rutland and Tokyo: The Charles E. Tuttle Company. In English
TANABE Hisao
1964 Nippon no gakki [Musical instruments of Japan].
Tokyo: Kashiwa Shuppan. In Japanese 1984 Chikuzen no Kojin-biwa Kojin-biwa in Chikuzen.
Fukuoka: The Board of Education in Fukuoka Prefecture. In Japanese


Audio documentation

Fukkoku: Nippon no minzoku ongaku Repress: Folk music in Japan. CD.
Tokyo: Japan Victor Foundation for Promotion of Traditional Musics. Asian Musics in an Asian Perspective.
1977 Tokyo: Victor Musical Industries, Inc.


Visual documentation

Traditional Musics in Asia: Malaysia and Japan.
16mm. Tokyo: Mitsu Productions


Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

The Board of Education in Fukuoka Prefecture
7-7 Higashi-koen, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka 812-8575, Japan


Data provider

Ms. Hiroko Yamamoto
Editorial Advisor
Asia/Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU)
Address: 6 Fukuromachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-8484 Japan