Collaboration Update #3


A script from a Kabuki play - an infamous sake drinking scene with a 5 gallon sake cup for a treasure spear.
photo of Noriko san's nagauta shamisen which was reskinned in Tokyo but stuck in Japan because JapanPost is still not airmailing packages to Canada due to Covid-19 issues.  She says: "I hope it can fly soon!"

I recorded this short excerpt for Teiya, so they could understand the historical reference
and atmosphere of the sake drinking tale which has been immortalized in poetry, song,
and film. I watched 50 hours of the NHK taiga drama – “Gunshi Kanbe” to find this very
scene. 1 Classical Japanese poetry requires a certain degree of supportive research to
help capture the historical import and emotions, in my opinion. This excerpt from
“Gunshi Kanbe” depicts Mori Tahe (of the Kuroda clan) winning a drinking bet (5 gallons
of sake – one shot!) and receiving the infamous spear – Meiso Nippongo. The song
Kuroda Bushi ( 黒田節) was inspired by this scene. Kuroda Bushi is a folk song from
Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan and dates back to the 1590s. The first verse of
Kuroda Bushi is immersed into the shigin, “Meiso Nippongo”. This is my favorite shigin
for the New Year.

“The Toyotomi Decline.” Gunshi Kanbee, created by Yoichi Maekawa, episode 44, NHK
(Japan Broadcasting Corporation), 2014.


a hand written musical score of a nagauta song.  with musical notations and Japanese written out in the english alphabet

Our conversations about nagauta continue – now to add to the list is “Suehirogari,” “Musumedōjioji,” and “Zen Honō-ji – and I am transported into wonderfully illuminating conversations about the stories behind these songs: noble samurai, drunken competitions, and sorrowful forlorn women. Somehow, we seem to weave Puccini’s Madama Butterfly back into our musical conversations, and how it has affected us from my most recent video offering of The Butterfly Project to Noriko-san seeing it for the first time at age 10 in Montreal where she observed yellow face and costuming that was culturally inaccurate. Cultural appropriation, racism, the rise of anti-Asian hate, echoing back across time, and across oceans to internment camps and incarceration in the 1940s, in both the US and Canada, deportation, disownment, banishment.  And then at the same time unpacking the trope of the unmarried old woman whose unrequited love leaves her bitter and eventually turning into a monster to be discarded, shunned, and then her ultimate death.

We talked about the meaning of our names, the kanji and where it came from: “One who unties knots” will do so “steadfastly as an evergreen forest.” A good mantra for our process, me thinks.

I’m going to dabble more into the world of Otsukisama and dream about what “shigin” could sound like, especially the style of shigin that was taught by a western classically trained opera singer…