安来節 その一【Yasugi Bushi 1 (Song of Yasugi)】

The Yasugi Bushi is one of the most difficult and popular folksongs in Japan. It requires a special technique to sing it and singers have to go from very high tones to very low tones, at almost the same time, to sing it properly. Every year, there is a contest to determine who is most proficient at singing this famous song. It is indeed a stirring melody and the Japanese enjoy it immensely. Foreign visitors hearing it for the first time are astonished at the great range of vocal changes included in the song. They admire the singer for his or her ability.


Originally, it was sung as entertainment for boatmen from the seaports on the Japan sea during the latter part of Edo Era, from about 1830 to 1844. Many other folksongs were combined with it. Finally, a restaurant owner in Yasugi, Sahei Watanabe, a proficient musician, developed the Yasugi Bushi into thestandard Yasugi Bushi we have today. His daughter, Oito, sang the Yasugi Bushi when she was eight years old. She had a beautiful voice and it made her famous.


Later on, Tokunosuke Tomita, a popular shamisen player joined her. The background music of the shamisen is a very important part of the song and during the Meiji Era, the way of playing shamisen and singing the song used to be very free and flexible. Now it is fixed.・ As the song and Oito’s singing to Tokunosuke’s playing became more popular, they felt the need to protect the original character of the song, and formed the “Orthodox Yasugi Bushi Preservation Society” in 1911. At that time, formal rankings were established for the singers.


From that time, after the Taisho Era, it became fixed and is now taught and sung in a standard way. However, it is still flexible to some extent and the emotions of the singer can affect the song. Sadness, humor, happiness and almost any other feeling can be expressed by the person singing it.


Shimane Prefecture had a Cultural Fair in New York City in June, and the Yasugi Bushi was played there. My friend Mr. Randy Quinby, attended to the performances and told me that he had became homesick for Shimane. He also told me that the exhibition hall was so full that no more people could get in. Many were standing, but all of them were charmed by the fantastic culture of Shimane Prefecture. Maybe some of them will visit us. I hope so.


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