One accomplishment that Japan could be proud of in the world is that it had been without war for more than two hundred years and several decades. When we did not fight wars, the common people could lead stable, prosperous, and happy lives, and a peaceful, gentle, and joyful culture could naturally flourish. This was the Edo period.

It is no exaggeration to say that everything that is considered Japanese culture today is Edo culture. This is because the Kojiki, Manyoshū, and The Tale of Genji are familiar to us today thanks to long years of research conducted by Kamo no Mabuchi, Moto’ori Norinaga, and others under the stable social conditions of the Edo period. And the Edo period proved to be the world’s highest standard not only in literature, music, and other arts, but also in mathematics, medicine, and other natural sciences.

Born in the Edo period and matured and refined by its high level of education, Itchūbushi is music that enables listeners to acquire the essence of Japanese culture with sensitivity.

To play music is to clearly envision the ideal sound of the future two-tenths of a second ahead, and to realize it two-tenths of a second later without fail. Practicing Itchūbushi is an exercise in sensing the wisdom of creating an ideal future that is embedded in the essence of Japanese culture and making it a reality.

The Originality of the Itchūbushi Shamisen School Founder

Miyako Itchū I (real name: Aochi Eshun) was born in Kyoto in 1650. His birthplace is Myōfukuji Temple of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism, still located in Sakai-machi, Oike-dōri. From an early age, he was trained in Buddhism and academics by his father, the third abbot, and became the fifth abbot when his elder brother died prematurely. Eventually,

he became acquainted with true salvation by faith in Amitabha advocated by Shinran (1173–1262), and established himself as a leading scholar of Japanese and Chinese arts.

In the same generation, there were people who built the foundation of modern Japanese cultures, such as Takemoto Gidayū in music, Chikamatsu Monzaemon in literature, and Ogata Kōrin in art, and it is thought that he enjoyed a kind of salon-like atmosphere with them. In these circumstances, awakening to his prodigious musical talent, Miyako Itchū I learned all the various types of shamisen music that were very popular in the capital at that time and created a revolutionary musical system. He then sublimated them with Buddhist philosophy and traditional aesthetics to create an innovative musical system, calling himself Miyako Itchū. His music immediately captured the hearts of the people of the capital and came to be known as Itchūbushi.

“Tatsumi no Shiki,” which is said to be the origin of Ischū-bushi and is the most cherished piece of music, begins with the waka poem “harugasumi tanabiki ni keri hisakata no tsuki no katsura no hana ya sakuramu” (Gosenshū, Haru no jō, 18) by Ki no Tsurayuki, the anthologist of the Kokin Wakashū (collection of waka poems). Why did Miyako Itchū I, a representative of the musical culture of the Genroku era, begin with a waka poem by Ki no Tsurayuki, a poet from the early Heian period? Therein lies his hidden and deep thoughts that went into the creation of new revolutionary music.

“Kanajo,” the preface of the Kokin Wakashū, written by Ki no Tsurayuki, concludes with the words, “Those who know the style of poetry and understand the heart of the matter, may look up to the past as if they were looking at the moon in the vast sky; it must be impossible for them not to fall in love with this period.” Translated into modern language, it means, “How can a person of the future, who knows what waka poetry is and can feel its spirit, not respect the distant past as if looking up at the moon in the sky and longing for the present time when the Kokin Wakashū was compiled?”

Miyako Itchū I yearned for the age of the Kokin Wakashū as if he were looking up at the moon in the sky. He truly appreciated the traditional Japanese sense of beauty represented by waka poetry so he was able to establish a musical system that has been called a classic among classics by future generations. It is an homage to Tsurayuki that he placed a waka, especially one praising the moon, at the beginning of a work into which he put everything he had. And it is truly original that he took the aesthetic of waka theory as the aesthetic of music and perfected it.

Music Called Itchūbushi

Music enriches the heart and fills the world with happiness. In particular, because Itchūbushi has developed as music to be practiced, it allows us to experience the richness of the heart more deeply.

The original meaning of “practice” is to contact a sensibility that has been refined over a long history and to learn something new about what should be done now. This is what Confucius meant by saying, “Review the old and know the new.” Nietzsche said, “A truly original person is one who finds something new and valuable in something that everyone knows but no one has noticed before.”

When practicing Itchūbushi, the brain receives sufficient oxygen through an ideal breathing method; the body and mind are regulated and develop a pleasant habit of living. Itchūbushi, which was an accomplishment among the upper class in the Edo period, has therefore been handed down with care to this day.

Shamisen Tuning

Itchūbushi is music that tells a story along with shamisen.

The characteristic of shamisen tuning is that the pitch is not set to a specific note, such as G or E, but rather to the pitch suitable to the instrument. The most important priority is to put the instrument itself in a good mood with a beautiful sound.

The reason for this is that the thickest string produces a unique sound, similar to the rustling of the wind or the sound of waves. This low sound, created with a unique device called a sawari that slightly touches the top of the instrument’s neck, is the life of the shamisen.

When the frequencies of the shamisen’s three strings are tuned to the correct integer ratio, the sawari sounds beautiful. Tuning the shamisen means feeling a natural scientific value of the integer ratio of frequencies with our body and mind. This means that one should exactly attune the body and mind to the laws of Mother Nature. By doing this every day, the harmony of the body and mind will be maintained naturally.

What Is “Jōruri”?

Itchūbushi is music that tells a story, and the storytelling is called jōruri (literally: clean lapis lazuli). In the Buddhist world, lapis lazuli (ruri) is one of the “seven treasures” that are believed to adorn the Pure Land of Paradise. It has long been loved by people as a “lucky charm” stone. It is said that jōruri makes one’s mind as pure and clear as lapis lazuli and enables one to see the future correctly with a cloudless mind. This is the true meaning of telling jōruri stories.

What Is “Ma”?

Itchūbushi music is composed of delicate pauses, so practicing it seems to refine one’s sensitivity to gauge pauses and naturally make one a person with good “ma” (timing). To proceed with one’s work, having a good sense of “ma” is essential. Good or bad “timing” in everything, including meeting with people and weather, affects work progress. To be blessed with “good timing” means that you can also control coincidences, which means you have good luck.

Itchūbushi and the Economy

Music enriches the mind, and when the mind is enriched, life naturally becomes more affluent and the economy more prosperous. Because “economy” includes “governing a nation and providing relief to people,” music has the power to benefit the economy in the true sense of the word, enriching the people and enriching the country.

About six hundred years ago, Zeami said, “The performing arts are to soften people’s hearts and minds, and to make them feel good about their lives and happiness, and to prolong their lives.” (“Performing arts and other arts enrich the hearts of all people and move both the upper and lower classes equally. They are the basis of happiness. It is the secret of longevity. In short, all art forms are meant to bring happiness.” —quoted from the fifth chapter, “Ōgisantanden,” of Fūshikaden, modern translation by Mizuno Satoshi)

Zeami further states, “If you think you have a taste for longevity and happiness, but you are only concerned with the world’s common sense and dwell in greed, this is the cause of the demise of the Way. If you practice it for the Way, it will bring happiness and longevity. If you are doing it for the sake of longevity and happiness, the Way must be abolished. If the path is abandoned, longevity and happiness will perish.” (“If we seek only profit and greed, even though it is a means to happiness, it will be the first cause of abandoning the Way. Happiness is found in striving for the path. If you strive only for your own happiness, the path will become obsolete. Why would there be happiness where there is no path?” —modern translation by Mizuno Satoshi)

No matter how rich you become, you will never be happy unless you have wealth that results naturally from the richness of your heart.

Information Processing Capability of Itchūbushi

Today, we can say that we are inundated with a variety of information. Judging whether the information is accurate or not is an extremely important and difficult task. It is essential to verify information repeatedly, but before that, we need to have the ability to make intuitive judgments.

The ability to process information through the senses allows for the instantaneous processing of vast amounts of information. Itchūbushi provides training to instantly and accurately judge the meaning of the sound of each note, which naturally sharpens our ability to process information with our senses.

Itchūbushi and AI

Dr. Tomonobu Imamichi, professor emeritus of aesthetics at the University of Tokyo, wrote, “The condition of a leader in the 21st century is to be constantly in touch with the sublime arts. In the Itchūbushi school of shamisen, we define a well-educated person as one who unconsciously does nothing but acts in ways that make both himself and others happy, and that is the purpose of the practice. It is the state described by Confucius as the purpose of learning: ‘Follow your heart’s desire at the age of seventy and never deviate from the norm.’ (Even if you behave as you wish, it is only an ideal behavior for a human being. A truly cultured person is one who can act only in ways that naturally make him or herself happy and make others happy as well.)”

AI (artificial intelligence) will evolve and become more sophisticated by automatically learning human behavior, psychology, and thinking. Therefore, we can say that whether AI becomes a threat to mankind or becomes an ideal existence depends upon who we are. The development of AI has grown to reveal serious problems for the survival of the human race and to show a clear-cut solution.

I hope that the leaders of the 21st century will especially come into touch with Itchūbushi.

Itchūbushi and Society 6.0

Society 5.0 is a new future society that combines economic development with solutions to social issues through a system that highly integrates cyberspace (virtual space) and physical space (real space). It is a new society following the hunting society (Society 1.0), agricultural society (Society 2.0), industrial society (Society 3.0), and information society (Society 4.0), and was identified in the Fifth Science and Technology Basic Plan issued by the Japanese Cabinet in 2016 as the type of future society that Japan should aim for. For the past 300 years, Itchūbushi has been working toward the next society, Society 6.0 (cultured society).

From the Edo period (1603–1867) to the present, leaders of each era have practiced Itchūbushi. Practicing Itchūbushi has been a taste for a truly cultured person. One of the most famous modern-day lovers of Itchūbushi is Mr. Sazō Idemitsu, founder of Idemitsu Kosan Co., Ltd. He said, “Idemitsu Kosan is not a company doing trivial things like making money by selling oil, but instead is showing the world the beauty of the human condition at work.” Thus, their business management was positioned as the creation of art in the service of beauty.

Itchūbushi and University Education

On June 19, 2008, the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (JFEO) announced the following statement regarding the future of university reform in Japan: “Regardless of whether they have a liberal arts or science background, people with diverse and extensive knowledge acquired by good education are required in society, so they can think deeply on their own and present solutions in their own words—in other words, innovative human resources are needed.”

From now on, we hope that Itchūbushi will be useful in liberal arts education at each university, as the essence of Japanese culture for the development of human resources that will create an ideal future for mankind.

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