From SamuraiWiki
Jump to navigationJump to search
  • Japanese: 御座楽 (uzagaku)

Uzagaku (lit. "seated music") was the chief form of court music in the Ryûkyû Kingdom used for formal court ceremonies including seasonal observances such as celebrations of New Year's and Mid-Autumn Festival; enthronement and investiture ceremonies; and the like.

Like the kingdom's formal processional music tradition, known as rujigaku (lit. "street music"), uzagaku was based heavily upon Ming and Qing musical traditions. However, where rujigaku closely emulated the comparable formal, courtly, ritual processions of the Ming and Qing courts, and where Korean aak, Japanese gagaku, and Vietnamese nha nhac court music traditions similarly borrowed from the ancient, highly ritualized yǎyuè music of Tang and Song dynasty court ceremonies (based in turn on traditions said to stretch back to the Zhou dynasty), uzagaku instead took Ming and Qing folk, popular, theatrical, banquet, and entertainment music and elevated them in Ryûkyû into formal ritual music of the royal court.[1][2]

Employing an array of Chinese musical instruments such as pipa, erhu, and Chinese types of flutes, dulcimers, zithers, drums, gongs, and chimes; Chinese language lyrics; and Ming and Qing dynasty melodies, it is not to be confused with the Ryukyuan uta sanshin tradition, which features Ryukyuan language lyrics; and distinctively Ryukyuan tuning, scales, and melodies. The uzagaku tradition died out following the 1879 abolition and annexation of the Ryûkyû Kingdom, leading to the uta sanshin tradition becoming the core of what is today considered "classical Okinawan music" or "Ryukyuan classical music" (古典音楽, koten ongaku). However, while uta sanshin songs were certainly performed within the royal court and related contexts, they were most likely performed only for banquets, entertainments, and other somewhat less ritualized contexts; historical records strongly suggest that at court ceremonies conducted as part of official ritual court business, such as formal audiences granted by the king to his officials, it was uzagaku and not uta sanshin music that was performed as part of the ceremonies themselves.

The uzagaku ensemble at a New Year's ceremonial celebration at Shuri castle, Jan 1, 2017.


Whereas ceremonial audiences and most other formal political ceremonies conducted by the Tokugawa shogunate involved no music at all, the Confucian classics state that music and ritual are inseparable, and accordingly music played an essential part in formal court ceremonies in every Chinese dynasty. As in Beijing and Seoul, formal court ceremonies at Shuri such as those involving the king's obeisances to Heaven on New Year's, the scholar-officials' obeisances to the king, and/or the welcoming of Chinese or Japanese envoys, involved uzagaku music being played almost throughout the ceremony, halting whenever a figure was to speak or conduct another important action, and then starting up again afterwards.[1] After the end of such ceremonies, banquets and entertainments were often held, depending on the occasion, in one of the palace's secondary halls, accompanied by uta sanshin music, dances in the tradition today known simply as "Ryukyuan dance" (Ryûkyû buyô), and performances of kumi udui or other theatre forms.[1]

Though originally based on Ming music, by the 1660s members of the royal court began to worry that over the centuries the tradition passed down within Ryûkyû may have deviated from the "true" "correct" forms of Chinese music. Members of the 1663 Qing investiture embassy to Ryûkyû, including an official named Chen Yi, were thus invited to teach Qing music to members of the court, thus "correcting" or updating their style and repertoire. Qing music thus came to be incorporated into the uzagaku style and canon. The first performance of Qing-style music by Ryukyuan musicians for a formal court occasion then came in 1670, at a celebration for the accession of Shô Tei to the throne.[3]

Uzagaku was also performed by Ryukyuan officials on embassies to Kagoshima and to Edo, chiefly at Kagoshima castle, Shimazu clan mansions in various cities, and Edo castle, but also occasionally at other castles (such as Nagoya castle) or at the Edo mansions of other daimyo. Due to fires in Kagoshima and elsewhere, the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, and other circumstances and developments, no sets of uzagaku instruments in Ryukyuan or Kagoshima collections are known to have survived down to the present day.[4] However, a set of musical instruments gifted to the Owari Tokugawa clan lords of Nagoya in 1796 remains today in the Tokugawa Art Museum, and another set gifted by a Ryukyuan Edo embassy at some point to the lords of Tsuwano han similarly survived and has since been donated to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum by the inheritors of the Tsuwano collections.[5]

Within the Shuri court, the youngest uzagaku performers were pages known as koakukabe; they were taught and directed by older officials with titles such as gaku keiko bugyô ("music practice magistrate") and zagaku shihan bugyô ("chamber music instruction magistrate").[6] When traveling on embassies to Edo, uzagaku performers included teenage boys known as gakudôji and master musicians known as gakushi, overseen by a single gakusei, the leader of the entire ensemble. When playing together, gakushi typically played only suǒnà (a reed instrument), while gakudôji played all other instruments.

From time to time, Japanese elites took an interest in uzagaku, instructing their own subordinates or court musicians to learn and practice this style of music. This can be mostly seen within the Shimazu house of Kagoshima; uzagaku was frequently performed before the Shimazu, and it surely was passed along from time to time. One documented instance of such transmission took place in 1767, when Shimazu Shigehide invited Gen Teihô and two other Ryukyuan court musicians to instruct his pages in uzagaku and in Chinese language.[7] Whether this was an exceptional instance or but one of many is unclear. Emperor Go-Mizunoo suggested in 1626 that his court musicians should learn uzagaku, but courtiers complained that incorporating such "barbarian" music into the imperial court would cause the downfall of the realm. Tokugawa shoguns, similarly, likely suggested that uzagaku be learned, if only as an entertainment, but nothing came of this; if uzagaku ever came to be performed regularly or expertly by anyone in Japan, it was almost certainly only in Kagoshima.

Uzagaku was primarily an oral tradition, passed on from masters to students through direct in-person instruction without the use of any written notation. The only written records of uzagaku music - that is, the melodies and not just the lyrics - come from a 1913 interview of Kokuba Kôken, at that time one of the last surviving court musicians from the time of the kingdom, conducted by scholar Yamauchi Seihin.[8]


The restoration of the central structures of the palace complex at Shuri castle, following their destruction in 1945, was completed in 1992. Though efforts to reconstruct and revive uzagaku are generally said to have only just begun at that time, an uzagaku performance accompanied the first kaimon shiki (gate-opening ceremony) at the newly-restored castle on November 3, 1992.[9] The piece performed at that time, Taiheika 太平歌, is the only one for which Yamauchi documented the melodies (musical notation) and lyrics based on direct interviews with surviving court musicians, and which therefore did not need to be reconstructed as extensively as other pieces.[10]

Prof. Higa Etsuko of the Okinawa Prefectural University of the Arts, with government funding and the help of Prof. Wang Yaohua and others, began in 1993 to visit museums and other collections across Japan to investigate historical musical instruments and other materials held at such institutions. Yamauchi Seihin passed away in 1986 and was never able to witness the restoration of Shuri castle, or of uzagaku; his work, however, was published in a "collected works" in 1993.[11] Following continued research in Nagasaki, Fujian province, and Taiwan in the late 1990s, they worked with a Chinese luthier to have new sets of uzagaku instruments made.[12] They also formed the Uzagaku Fukugen Ensô Kenkyûkai ("Uzagaku Restoration and Performance Research Association") in 1997.[13]

Though there were many pieces in the court repertoire, only ten pieces have been reconstructed and revived (they are known by the Japanese language readings of their titles today): Gaseichou 賀聖朝, Taiheika 太平歌, Shidaikei 四大景, Renkaraku 蓮花落, Suitaihei 酔太平, Sasougai 紗窓外, Dogenshou 閙元宵, Ichikouri 一更裡, Soushibyo 相思病, and Kujiseikasan 孔子世家贊.[14] While some of these songs (e.g. Taiheika and Gaseichou) have lyrics that evoke an auspicious or ritual mood, e.g. praising the emperor, celebrating a safe return journey from paying tribute, and hoping for long life ("ten thousand years," C: wansui, J: banzai) for the king/emperor and prosperity for the kingdom, other songs such as Shidaikai, Renkaraku, and Sasougai speak of the beauty of nature, romantic love, and other less ritually-oriented, less court-centered, content; while the former may have been the centerpieces of formal court rituals, the latter may have been played more heavily in banquets and other entertainment contexts.[15]

Since the 1990s or so, the Uzagaku Fukugen Ensô Kenkyûkai has regularly performed as part of Shurijô Matsuri (Shuri Castle Festival), held around the first week of November each year, and for other regular and special events, as well as performing uzagaku for the filming in 2011 of a TV drama series Tempest, set in 1850s Shuri. The group also participated in 2011 in performances reenacting or inspired by the 17th-19th century Ryukyuan embassies to Edo, in which embassy members would perform uzagaku at Edo castle before the shogun, as well as at the Shimazu family's Edo mansions and elsewhere. In the early 2010s, this involved a number of performances in Okinawa and Tokyo, with various aspects of the preparations and performances being filmed for a documentary film, Yomigaeru Ryûkyû geinô Edo nobori よみがえる琉球芸能 江戸上り.[1] Meanwhile, a separate group of musicians, the Rojigaku hozonkai, has come to perform regularly for the New Year's celebrations and certain other events at Shuri castle; trained in minshingaku (a tradition of Ming/Qing music that has developed since the 17th or 18th century in Nagasaki into its own particular genre of Chinese-style Japanese music), they perform in a rather different style and have been critiqued by members of the Uzagaku Kenkyûkai.[16]

While the Uzagaku Kenkyûkai has had several sets of uzagaku instruments made for the purposes of performance, the Churashima Foundation which oversees the operations of Shuri castle and several other sites in Okinawa had a separate set of instruments - some 20 instruments, plus a nagamochi box for storing some of them - produced, based on those held by the Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya. These replicas of the instruments from the collection of the Owari Tokugawa clan, produced over the course of some five years from 2002-2007, were produced primarily for display and not for performance. Extensive efforts were made to reproduce the instruments as faithfully as possible; some materials, including cassia wood, whale baleen, elephant ivory, and tortoiseshell, were difficult to obtain due to environmental regulations, but in the end the Foundation was able to obtain sufficient amounts of most of these materials, and to avoid having to substitute more modern materials. The Foundation then had a second set produced for performance purposes.[17]


Instruments employed in uzagaku include (most given by their Chinese names):


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kaneshiro Atsumi 金城厚, “Ryūkyū no gaikō girei ni okeru gakki ensō no imi” 「琉球の外交儀礼における楽器演奏の意味」, Musa ムーサ 14 (2013), 58-59.
  2. Chia-Ying Yeh, "The Revival and Restoration of Ryukyuan Court Music, Uzagaku: Classification and Performance Techniques, Language Usage, and Transmission," PhD thesis, University of Sheffield (2018), 14-21.
  3. Liao Zhenpei 廖真珮, "Ryûkyû kyûtei ni okeru Chûgoku kei ongaku no ensô to denshô" 琉球宮廷における中国系音楽の演奏と伝承, in Uzagaku no fukugen ni mukete 御座楽の復元に向けて, Naha, Okinawa: Uzagaku fukugen ensô kenkyûkai 御座楽復元演奏研究会 (2007), 109-110, citing Naha shishi 那覇市史, vol 7, Naha City Office (1980), pp552-553.
  4. Some number of instruments, costumes and other accoutrements, and textual records of lyrics and musical notation (tablature), are believed to have survived within Shuri castle, Nakagusuku udun, or nearby storehouses until 1945; however, these were all lost in the Battle of Okinawa. Yeh, 38.
  5. Sanshin no chikara, Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum (2013), 75.
  6. Liao, 122.
  7. Watanabe Miki 渡辺美季, "Nihon no naka no Kumemura jin"「日本のなかの久米村人」, in Kuninda: Ryûkyû to Chûgoku no kakehashi 久米村・琉球と中国の架け橋, Okinawa Prefectual Museum, p49.
  8. Kina Moriaki and Okazaki Ikuko, Okinawa to Chûgoku geinô, Naha: Hirugi-sha (1984), 52.
  9. Advertisement for Shuri Bunka Sai (Shuri Culture Festival), Ryukyu Shimpo, 2 Nov 1992.
  10. Yeh, 40.
  11. Yamauchi Seihin, Yamauchi Seihin chosaku shû 山内盛彬著作集, 3 vols., Naha: Okinawa Times, 1993.
  12. Yeh, 38-40.
  13. Yeh, 43.
  14. Yeh, 44.
  15. Yeh, 106-107.
  16. Yeh, 72-73.
  17. "Ryûkyû gakki no fukugen ni tsuite" 琉球楽器の復元について, Fee nu kaji 南ぬ風 3 (2007/4-6), 14-15.; Yeh, 276.