The role of music in the politics and performing arts as evidenced in a crucial musical treatise of the Japanese medieval period, the Kyōkunshō 教訓抄
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/12/2100
Gagaku, ancient Japanese court music and dance, known today as a traditional performing art, has over a thousand years of history since its introduction from the East Asian mainland. Despite the fact that the study of Japanese musicology, history and classical literature has attracted scholarly attention for many years, much fundamental research in the historical records and documents still remains to be done. In fact, the most important primary source used in this study, the Kyōkunshō, composed in 1233 by Koma no Chikazane (1177–1242) is known as the oldest Japanese synthetic treatise on music and one of the three major treatises that relate to Japanese court music. Although the Kyōkunshō is such a valuable resource, detailed research has commenced recently, but it has produced noteworthy achievements in the field of Japanese traditional music and its history. Nevertheless, the study of gagaku in the Insei period (from the late eleventh to the late twelfth century CE) has not yet fully succeeded in clarifying the nature of Japanese medieval music, and the lack of analysis of its role in the body politic needs to be addressed. Against this background, this study aims at answering the relations between gagaku and politics from the late Heian to the early Kamakura era. Building on existing studies, this thesis adopts a quantitative method of textual analysis combined with a close reading of the Kyōkunshō and pertinent texts. The methods used for this research entail abstracting data pertaining to historical performances that are described in the Kyōkunshō and analysing this corpus both quantitatively and in the context of contemporary textual and other sources. This reading of the Kyōkunshō reveals that gagaku had an important ritual function as shōgon 荘厳 (“adornment, embellishment, spectacle”) of the nation; that is, throughout the period in question performances of music and dance in gagaku are an integral part of the body politic, both its political activity and its understanding of itself as a metaphysical entity. The study further indicates that the significance of gagaku developed from the political sphere to the social and popular spheres. Study of the pertinent textual corpus has shown that Kyōkunshō was composed during a transitional period when two further understandings of gagaku developed. Firstly, a concept known a posteriori as ‘ongaku ōjōshisō 音楽往生思想, the concept of attaining heaven by playing music’ (Minamitani, 2001). Here, gagaku functioned as a medium for bonding the person who has mastered the music, to the Buddhist Pure Land (jōdo, understood as a kind of paradise); popular belief in the power of music played an important role. Secondly, there evolved the (similarly a posteriori) concept of ‘geidōshisō 芸道思想, the philosophy of the way of performance’ (Ogi, 1977). In this understanding, music was regarded as independent of any political or religious influence and mastered for its own sake. Certainly, a critical reading of key episodes in the Kyōkunshō furnishes evidence that it had been performed as musical amusement since the middle of the Heian period at the latest. Thus the thesis demonstrates that gagaku retained a strong connection to politics during the period in question but surely fulfilled other functions outside the political framework, and that these non-political functions also had their roots prior to the medieval period. The thesis’s critical apparatus includes a transcription of the whole text, rendering the mainly classical Chinese (kanbun) original into modern Japanese readings (kakikudashibun 書き下 し文), an exercise which requires crucial interpretations of Chinese syntax. An English translation of the first scroll of the Kyōkunshō is also provided.