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<nettime> Tanabe Hisao and Japanese Ethnomusicology [1/2]

[part 2 of 2]

Towards a Greater East Asian Musicology

What Tanabe was seeking in the study of East Asian music was
'neither scale, harmony, nor compositional methodology, but
moral virtue'.[36] In doing so he was clearly conscious that
he was proposing an alternative to Western musicology. His
Daito_a Ongakugaku [Greater East Asian Musicology] project
dealt specifically with the absolute superiority of Greater
East Asian music over Western music because of the presence
in the former of moral virtue, the essence of Confucianism.
Moral virtue was synonymous with divinity (shinsei) for
Tanabe because he, in conformity with official doctrine,
overlaid Confucianism on Shintoism, the core
philosophy-religion of state politics in modern Japan.

In a further expression of 'Japanese spirit, Western
technique', Tanabe declared 'so-called rationalism' to be
the only theoretical tool available to Western musicology--a
puny implement when compared with moral virtue--which meant
it was not qualified to contemplate Greater East Asian music
at all. Western publications 'know neither the ethnic nor
the racial soul of Greater East Asia. All they study are
surfaces'.[37] The mission of studying its music thus falls
to the Japanese because they are naturally sensitive to
'Asiatic soul'. However, when Tanabe described the scales
and instruments of each piece in To_a no Ongaku, he
(unwillingly?) borrowed the work of Western comparative
musicology. And when he came to discussing the moral virtue
of music, he merely repeated the official doctrine about
ethnic/national superiority without defining what 'moral
virtue' or 'divinity' might be. These notions were a priori
for imperial science.[38] His writings are therefore open to
the criticism that they go no farther than to combine
Western 'superficial' analysis with formulaic references to
Japanese or Asian spirit.

When describing the objectives of their study, Tanabe
explained that Greater East Asian musicology does not mean
'the discipline that researches daito_a ongaku' (that is, the
music that pertains to the Greater Eastern Asian
ethnicities/nations) but rather 'the musicology that should
exist for the construction of Greater East Asian
culture'.[39] In other words, musicology should not only
focus on individual music cultures as they currently exist,
but also on the moral and artistic foundation constituent of
the spiritual unity of East Asia. Study should not be merely
descriptive or analytical, as in Western science, but should
be moral in itself and promote the unification of East Asian

The basis of this assumption is the mono-genetic theory of
East Asian music, the hypothesis of the existence of a
proto-music that generated all the musics of East Asia. It
is the originary East Asian music and the ultimate goal of
Greater East Asian musicology. Such a music, peculiar to
'Greater East Asia' and nowhere else, would be the perfect
synthesis of all the music in the Empire. If Asia's huge
territory is to be unified by Japan, it will (or should)
have unified music dominating throughout. The search for the
origin turns into the project for the future. At this point,
ethnomusicology becomes the handmaiden of imperial science.


The internal contradiction within Greater East Asian
musicology can be interpreted as a conflict between
imperialism and nativism, a conflict characteristic to the
process of Japan's modernisation. This nativism, however,
does not draw to Japan itself but to 'China'--gagaku and
Confucianism. It is Japan's cultural debt to China that
legitimated her expansion to Korea, China and beyond and
formed her East-Asia (to_a) as a political and cultural bloc.
Therefore imperialism and nativism were complicit rather
than contrastive.

Japanese ethnomusicologists could not help but take the
contradictory position that Japan should proclaim its
Asian-ness (to the West) as well as its non-Asian-ness (to
Asia). Asia was located between 'them' and 'us', a sort of
twilight zone in Japan's epistemological map. As Tanaka
notes, 'while they recognized difference in relation to the
West, Japanese "interacted" with Asia only as an object of
their own discourse'.[40]

One of the forms of this imperial 'interaction' was the
'repatriation' of gagaku to China, Korea and Manchuria. By
doing so, Tanabe supposed that a specifically Japanese
national/imperial symbol could be converted into an
East-Asian one. Hence, the key to understand the unachieved
(or even uncommenced) project of Greater East Asian
musicology is the politics and symbolism of gagaku. Today,
the work of Tanabe becomes more meaningful when we question
how his research practice was positioned in relation to the
material, technical, political, economic and ideological
processes of his time.


I am grateful to Makita Ban, who kindly lent me some of the
Tanabe materials, and to Jennifer Milioto, the first
critical and careful reader of the early version. This paper
was presented at the 57th Meeting of the American
Anthropological Association, November 1997, Washington D.C.
Special thanks go to the panel discussants, Miriam
Silverberg and Ikeda Keiko.


Fogel, J. (1984), Politics and Sinology: The Case of Naito_ Konan 
    (1866-1934) (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press)
Garfias, R. (1975), Music of a Thousand Autumns (Berkeley, CA, 
    University of California Press)
Hosokawa, S. (1993), Minzoku ongaku [Ethnic Music], Music Magazine, 
    November 1993.
Kasuya, E. (1993), Senchu_ki no chu_goku ni okeru nihonjintachi o curosu 
    ro_do [Crossroads of Japanese intellectuals in interwar China],
    Shiso_, 21:1.
Kishibe, S. (1940a), Gendai shina ongaku ni tsuite [On music in 
    contemporary China], Record Ongaku, 15:9.
Kishibe, S. (1940b), Shinsei shina ongaku e no tenbo_ [Perspective on 
    music in newly-born China], Ongaku Kurabu, June 1940. 
Kishibe, S. (1944), To_a ongaku ko_ [Essays on East Asian Music], Tokyo: 
Kurosawa, T. (1941), Tai ni okeru gakki no cho_sa kenkyu_ [Research into 
    musical instruments in Thailand], Tokyo: Nihon tai bunka kenkyu_jo.
Murai, O. (1993), Konkistado_ru no 'seifuku kokka' [The Conquistadors' 
    'Subjugated States'], Gendai Shiso_.
Oki, M. (1941), 'To_a no Ongaku' o kiku [Listening to 'the music of 
    East Asia'], Ongaku Kurabu, 8:9.
Tanabe, H. (1906), Seiyo_ ongaku annai [A Guide to Western Music], 
    Tokyo: Kinko_do_.
Tanabe, H. (1908), Onkyo_ to ongaku [Acoustics and Music], Tokyo: 
Tanabe, H. (1921a), Cho_sen ongaku ko_ [Thoughts on Korean Music],
    Gakugei Zasshi, 478-480, July-August-September 1921 (three-part). 
Tanabe, H. (1921b), Sho_so_in gakki no cho_sa  ho_koku [Report on the 
    Musical Instruments at the Sho_so_in] (with Kami Saneyuki and Ohno 
    Tadamoto), in Teishitsu Hakubutsukan Gakuho_ [The Report of the  
    Imperial Museum], 2.
Tanabe, H. (1922), Bunmeishijo_ yori mitaru sekai no ongaku [The Music 
    of the World Seen from the History of Civilisation], Tokyo:
Tanabe, H. (1927), Gendai shina no ongaku [The Music of Contemporary 
    China], Tokyo: To_a Kenkyu_ji.
Tanabe, H. (1929), To_yo_ ongaku ron [On Asiatic Music], Tokyo: 
Tanabe, H. (1937), So_kan ni saishite [On the inauguration of the 
    journal], To_yo_ Ongaku Kenkyu_, 1:1.
Tanabe, H. (1940), To_yo_ ongakushi [History of Asiatic Music], Tokyo: 
Tanabe, H. (1941a), To_yo_ ongaku no insho_ [Impressions of Asiatic
    ], Kyoto: Jinbun Shoin.
Tanabe, H. (1941b), 'Sleevenotes for To_a no ongaku [East Asiatic Music]
    ', Columbia (re-released on CD, COCG-14342, 1997)
Tanabe, H. (1941c), Nihon ongaku no yu_shu_sei [The superiority of 
    Japanese music], Tokyo: Shakai kyo_iku kyo_kai.
Tanabe, H. (1942a), Daito_a to ongaku [Greater East Asia and Music], 
    Kyo_gaku So_sho [Educational Book Collection], Tokyo:
Tanabe, H. (1942b), Daito_a minzoku no min'yo_ ni tsuite [On the 
    folksongs of the races of Greater East Asia], Ongaku no Tomo, 2:5.
Tanabe, H. (1943), Daito_a no ongaku [Music of Greater East Asia], 
    Tokyo: Kyo_wa Shobo_.
Tanabe, H. (n.d.), Daito_a ongakugaku no kensetsu [The Construction of 
    Greater East Asian Musicology], 1943?
Tanabe, H. (1968), Nan'yo_ Taiwan Cho_sen ongaku kiko_ [Music Travels to 
    the South Pacific, Taiwan and Korea], Tokyo: Ongaku no Tomosha.
Tanabe, H. (1970), Chu_goku cho_sen ongaku cho_sa kiko_ [Music Research 
    and Travelogue in China and Korea], Tokyo: Ongaku no Tomosha, 1970.
Tanabe, H. (1981), Tanabe Hisao jijoden [Memoire of Tanabe Hisao], 
    Tokyo: Ho_gakusha.
Tanabe, H. (1982), Zoku Tanabe Hisao jijoden [Memoire of Hisao Tanabe. 
    Part 2], Tokyo: Ho_gakusha.
Tanaka, Sho_hei (1937), To_yo_ ongaku gakkai kaishi no hakkan o shukusu 
    [Celebration for the inauguration of the journal of the Society for 
    Research into Asiatic Music], To_yo_ Ongaku Kenkyu_, 1:1.
Tanaka, Stefan (1993), Japan's Orient. Rendering Pasts into History, 
    Berkeley-Los Angeles-London: University of California Press.
Yamamoto, H. (1989),Tanabe Hisao to cho_sen Li o_cho_ no gagaku [Tanabe 
    Hisao and the gagaku of the Korean Li Dynasty] (bachelor thesis, 
    Deptartment of Musicology, Tokyo Gakugei Daigaku).


[1]  See Kasuya Eiichi (1993), Senchu_ki no chu_goku ni
okeru nihonjintachi o curosu ro_do [Crossroads of Japanese
intellectuals in interwar China], Gendai Shiso_, 21:1; Murai
Osamu (1993), Konkistado_ru no 'seifuku kokka' [The
Conquistadors' 'Subjugated States'], Gendai Shiso_, 21:7

[2]  See Robert Garfias (1975), Music of a Thousand Autumns,
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

[3]  Tanabe Hisao (1970), Chu_goku cho_sen ongaku cho_sa
kiko_ [Music Research and Travelogue in China and Korea],
Tokyo: Ongaku no Tomosha, p. 29, italics mine. According to
Yamamoto Hanako, Korean musicologists insist on a different
theory on the revival of Li gagaku, which holds that the
Japanese gagaku office ignored the letter sent by the Li
ensemble in 1918 to solicit financial support. Meanwhile,
the Korean musicians themselves had founded an (admittedly
poorly funded) educational institution that became the
'conservatory' of Korean classical music after Tanabe took
his initiative. See Yamamoto Hanako (1989), Tanabe Hisao to
cho_sen Li o_cho_ no gagaku [Tanabe Hisao and the gagaku of
the Korean Li Dynasty] (Bachelor thesis, Department of
Musicology, Tokyo Gakugei Daigaku).

[4]  Tanabe (1970), pp. 98-189. In the postwar reprint of
his Korean diary, he modified the words naichi (mainland)
and senjin (a pejorative term for 'Korean people') to read
Nihon and Cho_senjin respectively, because he was
'embarrassed' by the colonial implication in the prewar
terminology and he felt qualms of conscience for 'my beloved
Korea' (p. 31). His sympathy with Korea is obvious. But
everything he found to praise in it was connected to the
high culture of the past, and he rarely mentioned the living
Korean culture and people.

[5]  Ibid., pp. 172ff. See also Tanabe Hisao (1921b),
'Sho_so_in gakki no cho_sa ho_koku' ['Report on the Musical
Instruments at the Sho_so_in'] (with Kami Saneyuki and Ohno
Tadamoto), in Teishitsu Hakubutsukan Gakuho_ [The Report of
the  Imperial Museum], 2.

[6]   Keijo_ Nippo_, 8-13 April 1921.

[7]  The symbolism of gagaku as a cultural 'loan' is an
issue that goes far beyond the scope of the present paper.
The other problematic that I will not deal with is Tanabe's
fieldwork in Taiwan and Okinawa, Karafuto (southern
Sakhalin, 1923), and Micronesia (1934). See Tanabe Hisao
(1968), Nan'yo_ Taiwan Cho_sen ongaku kiko_ [Music Travels
to the South Pacific, Taiwan and Korea], Tokyo: Ongaku no

[8]  Tanabe Hisao (1940), To_yo_ ongakushi [History of
Asiatic Music], Tokyo: Yu_zankaku.

[9]  In another book, Tanabe Hisao (1927), Gendai shina no
ongaku [The Music of Contemporary China], Tokyo: To_a
Kenkyu_ji, he proposed a five-step history for Chinese
music: 1) Ancient period; 2) Hellenism; 3) Great orchestra
period (the Sui and the Tang); 4) the rise of national music
(the Sung); 5) the completion of national music (the Ming
and the Ching). The title of this book, The Music of
Contemporary China, is misleading since Tanabe does not deal
with 'contemporary' music in the 20th century except for a
three-page sketch of voices of street vendors that he came
across in Pekin.

[10]  Tanabe Hisao (1941b), 'Sleeve notes for To_a no ongaku
[East Asiatic Music]', Columbia (re-released on CD,
COCG-14342, 1997), p. 18; Tanabe (1927), pp. 10ff.

[11]  Tanabe Hisao (1929), To_yo_ ongaku ron [On Asiatic
Music], Tokyo: Shunju_sha, p. 33.

[12]  Tanabe Hisao (1921a), 'Cho_sen ongaku ko_' ['Thoughts
on Korean Music'], To_yo_ Gakugei Zasshi, 478-480,
July-August-September 1921.

[13]  Kishibe Shigeo (1940a), 'Gendai shina ongaku ni
tsuite' ['On music in contemporary China'], Record Ongaku,
15:9; Kishibe Shigeo (1944), To_a ongaku ko_ [Essays on East
Asian Music], Tokyo: Ryu_ginsha, pp. 8-11.

[14]  Tanabe Hisao (1941a), To_yo_ ongaku no insho_
[Impressions of Asiatic Music], Kyoto: Jinbun Shoin, pp.

[15]  Tanabe Hisao (1982), Zoku Tanabe Hisao jijoden
[Memoire of Hisao Tanabe. Part 2], Tokyo: Ho_gakusha, p.

[16]  Tanabe (1941), p. 92.

[17]  Ibid. p. 91, emphasis mine. The postwar rewriting of
this text (see f.n. 4) erased the passage of gratitude:
Tanabe (1970), p. 317

[18]  Tanabe (1941), p. 16.

[19]  Tanabe's disciple Kishibe Shigeo, the author of
several standard books on Japanese music, agreed with
Japan's role as a protector of Chinese tradition and a guide
in modernisation. 'China', he notes, 'only partly accepts
Western music; it has not experienced a true awakening [to
it]. We [the Japanese] have an obligation to guide them, to
bring them quickly to a realisation [of the necessity of
cultural change] and to steer their [musical] innovation in
the right direction. Japan and China are countries with a
naturally close relationship, and I have no doubt that, if
such guidance is implemented correctly and effectively, we
will soon be raising the [cultural] level of Asian music and
contributing to world music [sekai ongaku]' (1941, p. 26ff).
Rhetorically Japan and China represent 'Asian music' and
their contribution to 'world' music connotes the cultural
ascendancy of Japan and China in (or conquest of?) the

[20]  Tanabe (1941), p. 90.

[21]  Stefan Tanaka (1993), Japan's Orient: Rendering Pasts
into History, Berkeley, University of California Press, p.

[22]  Two issues (October 1936 and June 1937) of Gekkan
Gakufu, an established music magazine mainly for Western
music, were edited especially for the Society prior to the
opening issue of the Journal.

[23]  The affiliation of Asian music study with official
oriental history is shown in Tanabe's acquaintance with
Shiratori Kurakichi, the influential founder of the
Department of Oriental History at the Tokyo Imperial
University who took on the role of consultant to the Society
for Research into Asiatic Music, and also with Naito_ Konan,
the academic rival of Shiratori at the Kyoto Imperial
University, who corrected Tanabe's misunderstandings about
Li gagaku: Tanabe (1970), p. 189.

[24]  The first Japanese expert in Islamic music was Iida
Tadasumi, who graduated from the Department of Western
History at Keio_ University ('Eastern History' or to_yo_shi
was dominated by sinology) but died prematurely in 1936. His
knowledge mainly came from German sources. The apparent
simplicity of his writings--a summary of earlier
work--conceals the complexity of the 'trajectory of
knowledge' from the Near East to the Far East via Germany.
The history of Japan's Islamic study will shed new light on
what Said exhaustively argued in his Orientalism. Iida's
publications include 'To_zai ongaku bunka no ko_ryu_' ['The
Cultural Exchange of Oriental and Occidental Music'], Gekkan
Gakufu Nov. 1935-Oct. 1936; 'Arabia ongaku no sekaishiteki
igi' ['The significance of Arabian music in world history'],
Ongaku Hyo_ron, 2:5, Feb.-March, 1934; 'To_zai ongaku bunka
no ko_ryu_' ['The intercourse of western and eastern music
cultures'], Gekkan Gakufu, 24:11, Nov. 1935; 'Kaikyo_ to
chirika Ibn Khurdadhbih no kiji ni mietaru to_ho_ gakki ni
tsuite' ['On the oriental instruments described in the
writings of Islamic geographer Ibn Khurdadhbih'], Ongaku
Hyo_ron, 4, June 1936; 'Chu_sei arabiajin no ongakukan'
['The sense of music in medieval Arabia'], Gekkan Gakufu,
25:10, Oct. 1936. Kurosawa Takatomo was the first Japanese
musicologist who conducted fieldwork outside the Japanese
empire (Thailand, 1939). Two years later he published a
report on Thai organology (Kurosawa 1941). Masu Genjiro_ was
regarded as the first specialist in Indian music because of
his 1932 trip to India. He became a board member of the
Japan-Indonesian Association around 1940.

[25]  Tanabe Hisao (1937), So_kan ni saishite, To_yo_ Ongaku
Kenkyu_, 1:1, p. 3, emphasis mine.

[26]  Tanaka Sho_hei (1937), To_yo_ ongaku gakkai kaishi no
hakkan o shukusu, To_yo_ Ongaku Kenkyu_ 1:1, p. 2.

[27]  Hornbostel himself notes in his foreword to the
collection: 'Widely varying interests--among the musical and
educational, no less than the general, public--are calling
for examples of Exotic Music' (sleevenotes of Folkways
re-release, capitalised in original).

[28]  Tanaka, pp. 107ff.

[29]  Tanabe (1941b), p. 25.

[30]  Tanabe (1970), pp. 380, 403. These were 'Banto_kai'
['Pantanhui' or 'Peach Gathering'], by the Jilin Gagaku
Kenkyu_sha, an amateur traditional music group, and 'Sanso
shungyo_' [Shan zhuang chun xiao' or 'Mountain Mansion in
the Spring Dawn'], by the Rehe Shengping Club, an ensemble
of the Rehe Hermitage with a long tradition. They were
classified as 'Manchurian gagaku'. In Tanabe's words, the
former sounds 'so refined, elegant and beautiful that it
reminds me of our gagaku' (1941b, p. 37), while the latter
uses a lute-like instrument with a decorative motif of
playing kimono girls that was presented by Japan as a gift
to a Ching emperor toward the end of the seventeenth century
(ibid., p. 39). Certainly, these remarks strengthened the
cultural bond between Japan and Manchuria (not China). On
various occasions around 1940, he referred to the Japanese
misconception that Manchurian music was no more than a rural
variant of the Chinese (1941a, p. 10). This prejudice, in
his view, overlooked the distinct development of Manchurian
music in spite of constant influence from (Han) China. He
recommended to the Manchurian puppet government that the
court music of Bohai, a dynasty (698-926) located around the
then-territory of Manchuria, be transferred from the
Japanese shrines that preserved it to Manchuria in order to
found Manchurian gagaku (1941, pp. 92ff). According to him,
the Bohai music was in fact medieval Manchurian gagaku. Just
as with his opinion on the Tang gagaku mentioned above, he
believes the repatriation of Manchurian gagaku to its
birthplace would display Japan's patronage of and
benevolence toward to the 'newborn state' as well as
Manchuria's historical legitimacy (this country was not born
in 1936 with Japan's intervention, however, but in the
'Middle Ages'!).

[31]  Oki Masayuki (1941), 'To_a no Ongaku' o kiku
[Listening to 'the music of East Asia'], Ongaku Kurabu, 8:9,
p. 55.

[32]  Tanabe (1941a), p. 2, not reprinted in the CD sleeve

[33]  Tanabe (1941b), pp. 31-32.

[34]  Tanabe (1940), p. 60.

[35]  From 1942 on, with the enlargement of the theatre of
war to southeast Asia, nanpo_ [the South] became the main
arena for Japan's propaganda. This was shown in Nanpo_ no
Ongaku [Music of the South], an anthology of southeast Asian
music (Thai, Javanese, Sumatran, Burmese, Indochinese, Malay
etc.), that was released in June 1942 by Nippon Columbia
(supervised by Tanabe, of course). In the same month, Victor
released Daito_a Ongaku Shu_sei [The Greater-East-Asian
Music Compilation] with similar materials. In 1943, Victor
founded the short-lived Institute for Cultural Research into
Southern Music. There were some hundreds of references to
'South' music between 1942 and 1945.

[36]  Tanabe (1941b), p. 32.

[37]   Tanabe (1942b), Daito_a minzoku no min'yo_ ni tsuite
[On the folksongs of the races of Greater East Asia], Ongaku
no Tomo, 2:5, p. 29.

[38]  'The music culture of our country, as the master of
East Asia, has an obligation to guide the music culture of
the whole Greater East Asia; this is nothing less than a
historically necessary consequence. To create our New
Japanese Music should mean not only the construction of
Japanese music for Japan but also an appropriate music for
East Asia. Hence, we ought to study not only the heritage of
Japanese music that exists today, but also investigate
traditional music in various places in East Asia and seize
the spirit of Co-prosperity in it. This spirit should be the
spirit of construction that guides New Japanese Music',
Kishibe 1940b, p. 12. This is one of the clearest statements
of the imperial implications of Japanese ethnomusicology
during the war.

[39]  Tanabe, Hisao (n.d.), Daito_a ongakugaku no kensetsu
[The Construction of Greater East Asian Musicology], 1943?;
see also Hosokawa Shuhei, 'Minzoku Ongaku' ['Ethnic Music'],
Music Magazine, November 1993.

[40]  Stefan Tanaka (1993), p. 190.

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