Infinite Echoes from Japan: New Directions in Traditional Japanese Music

Photo of Infinite Echoes from Japan: New Directions in Traditional Japanese Music

Logo of 80th Anniversary of Japan-Canada Relations80th Anniversary of Japan-Canada Relations

This ensemble exemplifies the rich musical traditions that are present in Japan by combining traditional dances and songs from southern islands of Okinawa and Tsugaru shamisen from northern Japan with western musical elements through piano and drums. This unique group is the crème of the crop of Japanese performing artists who have quickly risen to the top of their fields within the recent surge in popularity of traditional music in Japan.

Hailing from the north and south of Japan, this group of young performers represents the diverse musical traditions that have carried on from generation to generation, which continues to resonate in their beautiful performances. The discipline and skillfulness of the performers not only expresses their mastery and understanding, it also shows how deeply rooted they are in keeping to the authenticity of the musical traditions. This is echoed in their performance, and combined with their powerful creative energies, they are pushing the boundaries towards new directions of traditional music.

Specially brought together for the concert, this ensemble of performers will be touring across Canada to Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. This tour has been organized to celebrate the 80th Anniversary of Diplomatic relations between Canada and Japan.  

Ottawa Date: Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Venue: Auditorium, the National Gallery of Canada
Production: Japan Foundation, Embassy of Japan in Canada
Montreal Date: Thursday, April 24, 2008
Venue:Auditorium Henry-Teuscher du Jardin Botanique de Montreal / Henry Teuscher Auditorium of the Montreal Botanical Garden
Production: Japan Foundation, Consulate General of Japan at Montreal / Consulat général du Japon à Montréal
Co-production: Jardin Botanique de Montreal Logo of  Jardin Botanique de Montreal
Toronto Date: Saturday, April 26, 2008 (Performance twice)
Venue: Glenn Gould Studio
Production: Japan Foundation
Calgary Date: Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Venue: Plaza Theatre
Production: Japan Foundation, Consulate General of Japan in Calgary
Vancouver Date: Thursday, May 1, 2008
Venue: Frederic Wood Theatre, the University of British Columbia
Production: Japan Foundation, Consulate General of Japan at Vancouver



(Tsugaru shamisen [Japanese string instrument] musician)

Photo of Sho ASANO Born in Sendai city on the northeast coast of Japan, Asano began playing the Japanese drum when he was three and a half. Influenced by his grandfather, he started learning Tsugaru shamisen at age five. By the time he was 14, Asano won the prestigious All-Japan Tsugaru Shamisen Championship, becoming the competitions’ youngest champion ever in 2004, and then won it for three consecutive years.
Besides performing for various occasions such as EXPO2005 in Aichi, and concerts by enka (Japanese ballads) and J-pop (Japanese pop music) singers, he also performs for TV commercials.
Asano caught the attention of Victor Entertainment who later released his debut album “Sho-fu” (wind of Sho) in March, 2007. A few months later in September he gave a public performance in Shanghai as part of the Japan-China Exchange Year of Culture and Sports 2007. In March 2008, he presented a solo concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. His second album will be released in August 2008. Many interviews by the media have hailed Asano as the most talented and influential musician of his age.


Hajime NISHI

(Tsugaru shamisen musician)

Photo of Hajime NISHI Since his childhood, Nishi learned various musical instruments at the Warabi-za, a Japanese folk song and dance company based in Tazawako Art Village, in his home town in Akita Prefecture. As a performer of the Art Village, Nishi has gone on to collaborate with other musicians to perform across Japan.
In 1992 at the age of 17, he began to study under Chisato Yamada, a master player of Tsugaru shamisen. After four years of an intensive apprenticeship period, he returned to the Art Village. Through his numerous public performances in and outside Japan, he is now recognized as a central figure of the troop. 
After retiring from the Warabi-za company, Nishi moved to Tokyo and refined his shamisen playing skill by engaging in live street performances in many parts of Japan. In 2001, he joined a rock band Musashi as the Tsugaru shamisen player. He also joins other Japanese folk music bands such as Itanji, Chanchiki and Raijin.
In addition to performing for major events like the reception for 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics and the Japan premier of the Hollywood film “SAYURI”, he also engages in various activities including music for TV commercials. Nishi has also participated in Tokyo JAZZ 2005, which was produced by Herbie Hancock, playing as a member of the Hiromitsu Agatsuma special unit together with Marcus Miller and Gary Burton. He was also selected to participate in an international exchange program and performed in numerous public events in the U.S., Europe and Central Asia.



(shakuhachi [vertical bamboo flute] and shinobue [small bamboo flute] musician)

Photo of Koshi TSUKUDASince he was very young, Tokyo-born Tsukuda has strived to improve his skills under his father Issei Tsukuda, an accomplished shakuhachi musician. After joining Kaze (Tsugaru shamisen ensemble) led by a master Tsugaru shamisen player Yujiro Takahashi, Tsukuda gained experience through numerous domestic and overseas performances. He also played with a number of other traditional music groups such as “Oedo Sukeroku Taiko”, a Japanese drum group in Tokyo, and with Nobuyasu Okabayashi, Japan’s foremost folk singer.
His dedication towards his music involves constantly improving his skills that have won him great respect from other high level performers. Currently, Tsukuda is a member of the Tsugaru shamisen troupe Kaze, as well as the ensemble with Japanese drummers Wawon, and the Japanese folk music group Chanchiki.


Kiyohide URA

(piano and saxophone player)

Photo of Kiyohide URA Born in Tottori Prefecture in western Japan, Ura began learning under a jazz pianist Takeshi Shibuya at age 17, marking the start of his career as a musician. After leaving Hosei University, he dedicated himself to music in earnest. In 1994 he became a member of a massively popular rock group Mr. CHILDREN. Since then, Ura produced many works for popular musicians as an arranger for the J-Pop band Moon Child, Hitomi Yaida, and Ataru Nakamura to name a few. He has also stayed active in music through his own Piano performances and has participated in live concerts and recordings with many popular artists. He is a very versatile musician and able to switch from playing the piano, organ, saxophone, accordion and flute with perfect ease, and his sincere personality and attitude toward music has won the hearts of a great number of music fans.



(drummer) *will perform only for Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto

Photo of KATSUMI UsuiBorn in Ibaraki Prefecture, Usui first picked up how to drum as a 10 year old in her home town school brass band and marching band. By the time she was 18, she began studying under Scott Latham, and expanded her activities to drum for leading and influential singers such as Kazuhiko Kato, Judy Ongg, Hiromi Iwasaki, Hitomi Yaida, and Tsuyoshi Domoto. She also provides percussion as a solo drummer for tours and recordings of musicians and for TV programs. Her drumming performances also include collaborations with famous Tsugaru shamisen musicians such as Takeshi Kudo, Shinichi Kinoshita, and Chikudo Takahashi. Known for her delicate but aggressive drumming style for rock, funk and jazz music, Usui is known today as Japan’s top female drummer.



(Ryukyuan dancer)

Photo of Ayano NISHIMURANishimura is from Nanjo, Okinawa Prefecture, which is part of the islands that lie in the southern most part of Japan. She learned traditional Ryukyuan dance under Rieko Nishimura, who leads “Kiri no Kai” of the Tamagusuku-ryu School. Her debut performance was when she was only three. After finishing the Graduate Program in Ryukuan Theatrical Performance at the Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts, Nishimura won the Grand Prix at the Ryukyu Shimpo Classical Arts Contest in the dance category and the Excellence Award at the Okinawa Times Arts Contest in the drum category.
In 2000, she performed for the G8 Kyushu-Okinawa Summit. She has also performed with the noted Yaeyama folk singer Tetsuhiro Daiku for the grand opening of the National Theatre Okinawa. She also appeared on stages internationally in Asia, Europe and North Africa as a member of international exchange program. Up until 2005, she was an active member of the Okinawa music group called Ryukyu Chimdon Band and she extends her experiences appearing in TV programs and commercials.

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Rinsaku TERUYA

(Okinawan folk singer, sanshin or Okinawa shamisen and shimadaiko or Okinawan drum musician)

Photo of Rinsaku TERUYATeruya was born in the town of Kadena, Okinawa Prefecture. When he was in grade six, he was strongly inspired by the performance of “Acchame guwa” for the first time by master sanshin player, Seijin Noborikawa, and began playing the sanshin through self-learning.
Major prizes he has won include the Japan Folk Song Festival, the Excellence Award in the first Okinawan Folk Song Contest in 2005, and the second-place prize in a speed playing contest sponsored by Okinawa Children’s Land in 2006. He has also played together with many folk musicians including Masaharu Yamauchi, Shinyu Kuniyoshi, Seishin Taba and Mika Uchisato. In addition to playing in numerous events throughout Okinawa, Teruya has been active in various live events including charity performances. With a wide repertoire for his performances, he is also known for his genius skills in rapid sanshin playing. Combined with his rich emotional voice and powerful Kachaasii dance, (Okinawan folk dance) Teruya enlivens the atmosphere of any stage. He is a distant relative of the Rinsuke Teruya family, well known performers from Okinawa.

Itsumi HIGA

(Okinawan folk singer, sanshin musician, shima daiko drummer and Ryukyu flute player)

Photo of Itsumi HIGAHiga was born in Kitanakagusuku, Okinawa Prefecture. Since her junior high school days, she would often accompany her mother performing traditional music together for elders at senior citizens homes.
After she graduated from Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts, she won several awards at the Ryukyuan Classical Music & Performing Arts Festival. In 2004 she won the award for the best new talent in the category of Ryukyuan Classical Music & sanshin and in 2005, she won best new talent in the flute category. In addition to her performances, Higa teaches children how to play the sanshin at the local kindergartens and junior high schools. The beautiful sound of her flute and her unique singing voice always fascinates her audience.

For further info, please contact to:

Mariko Konno
Performing Arts Division, Arts Department, Japan Foundation
4-4-1 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0004, JAPAN
Tel: 03-5369-6063  Fax: 03-5369-6038

Toru Kubota
Japan Foundation, Toronto
131 Bloor Street West, Suite 213, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1R1 CANADA
Tel: (416) 966-1600 ext.228  Fax: (416) 966-9773

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