Daisyfield Archive of Japanese Traditional Music
Nagai and Kobatake's Japanese Popular Music
Back to the songs Puccini
A principal source for the Daisyfield archive of Japanese traditional music is an old and rare book,
Nagai, Y., and Kobatake, K., Japanese Popular Music, A Collection of the Popular Music of Japan Rendered in to the Staff Notation, S. Miki & Co., Nos. 106 and 107 Shinsaibashi Road, Osaka, 1892.
The book contains 28 of the most popular traditional Japanese songs, many of them centuries-old. Several editions of this work were published in Japan during the 1890's, beginning in 1891. These editions had many songs in common, but some songs occur in one edition and not in another.
Each song is presented in both Western and in Japanese musical notation. The songs' words are printed, but only in Japanese.
The music is always printed on a single staff and contains only a melody line, with an occasional extra note to form a two-note chord. I presume that in Japan the melody would be both sung, and also played on a melody instrument. That instrument would probably be the koto, or perhaps the shamisen or shakuhachi. The most appropriate Western instruments for playing these melodies might be the guitar, harp, banjo, recorder, or flute.
These song collections were published at a time when the Japanese were first acquiring expertise in Western music, and also when Europeans and Americans were becoming increasingly interested in Japanese music. Clearly the target audience for Japanese Popular Music included both Japanese and foreigners: Japanese could learn Western musical notation by studying familiar pieces rendered in both Japanese and Western notation; foreigners could satisfy their curiosity about Japanese music by reading Japanese songs in a notation familiar to them.
Some of the tunes in Nagai and Kobatake's collection appear in Giacomo Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly. For a list of these songs and where they appear in the opera, see Japanese Songs in Puccini's Madama Butterfly on this website. The song "Miyasan" was used both in Madama Butterfly and in Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado.
From the introduction to the book:
To ForeignersIt was for so long time since I thought myself to restore the value of Japanese music in general, which was trusted by a great many foreigners who recognized that it is nothing else but a mere melody.
In the meantime, the success attending the introduction of foreign musics into this country and their rapidly increasing popularity has created a demand for a book of instruction which should serve as a guide to foreigners of developing the true beauties of Japanese music.
I shall be therefore much proud, should artists and learners find through this means, additional light upon an art which has been the honor and joy of our life.
PrefaceThe work of Japanese Popular Music to a class of both foreign and Japanese amateurs is doubtless a new type to many into whose hands this book may fall.
All the Musics in this book have been so attentively edited by Mr. Y. Nagai, the Military Band-master, and arranged by Mr. K. Kobatake, renowned saxophone player in Japan, that the most of which, of course have not heretofore appeared in any other works. The experience of those who have undertaken them, proves that they are entirely and invaluable and ne plus ultra collection, ever since some of the kinds have been offered to the Musical World.
The author has also given in this volume a great prize to all who study faithfully its technical difficulties, which, when once conquered, natural talent becomes free, takes wing and may arrive as high as genius can reach.
As for those who wish to acquire what is to be played in Japanese social circles, this book will by any means suit to them, to whom our desire is this that, if great economy would render and long felt requirement might meet, we trust, the extent of these distributions, should more or less enabled them to study with advantage the charming and melodious études.
We here tender our acknowledgments for the valuable assistance of Mr. W. C. Sakai, and of Mr. J. Inowye.
Besides the 1892 book by Nagai and Kobatake, I have also consulted the following work:
Nagai, Iwai and Obata, Kenhachiro, Seiyo gakufu Nihon zokkyokushu, pub. Miki Shoten, Osaka, 1895 (in Japanese; the cover displays an English title, A Collection of Japanese Popular Music).
Note that author Kobatake has been replaced by Kenhachiro Obata in this version. The 1895 work contains the songs from the 1891 and 1892 version, and 16 other songs as well, all of which are published on this Daisyfield.com website. While the 1892 edition was targeted for both Japanese and foreigners, the 1895 version was intended for Japanese consumption alone, and contained no English.
Look on the right side of this webpage and examine the fanciful artwork on the cover of the 1895 book. Do you see a pheasant playing accordion, a dog playing violin, a monkey playing pump organ, and a Japanese boy with a sword and furry armor? These are characters from the folk tale "Momotarō", or "Peach Boy" (桃太郎), whimsically depicted in the role of musicians. Possibly this means that one of the songs in the book is about Momotarō.
The earliest edition of the collection apparently was published in 1891 and also has a slightly different selection of songs. One song, "Miyasan", from the 1891 edition is included here in the Daisyfield Music Archive. The song "Takai-Yama" is from the 1895 work.
By re-publishing on the Internet the lovely melodies from these collections, my hope is that these songs will continue to win new admirers for "the art which has been the honor and joy of our life".
Many thanks to Toshie Miyake for providing Romaji renderings and English translations for the titles of songs in the 1895 collection by Nagai and Obata.
I am grateful to Prof. Milan Mihal for interpreting some of the dates appearing in the 1895 collection and for pointing out to me the reference to the Momotarō story in the cover art.