Min'yo -Japanese traditional folk songs-

conveying heart and rhythms in daily life in Japan

Min'yo -Japanese traditional folk songs-

Not so long ago, folk songs (Min’yo) were a part of everyday life in Japan. Daily rituals, work and celebrations were accompanied by Min’yo songs, which expressed the good and bad in life.  Min’yo is thus a reflection of the nature of Japanese people and their daily lives.

While popular folk songs vary from one region to another, vocalization, instruments and playing styles are also diverse. During this tour through four countries in South America, folk songs from Yamato (Honshu to Kyushu areas, including Tohoku) and Okinawa’s Yaeyama region (the southwestern-most area in Japan) will be performed by Japan’s leading Min’yo artists. Heading the team is Shigeri Kitsu, a superb singer with loyal followers from a wide range of music lovers. Supporting the act are top Min’yo musicians Katsuaki Sawada (Aomori Pref.), Tetsuhiro and Naeko Daiku (Okinawa).

Enhancing the beauty of these folk songs will be genre-straddling artist and violinist Keisuke Ohta, who will be joining the tour in Chile and Argentina. Katsuharu Sawada, apprentice of renowned tsugaru shamisen great Katsuaki Sawada and highly reputed for his unique-style kyokubiki (tsugaru shamisen with improvisation), will be joining the Uruguay and Brazil performances and also will conduct a workshop.

We hope our live Min’yo performances from the other end of the globe will deliver power and energy to Tohoku and many regions home to Japanese folk songs that were devastated by the March 2011 Tohoku Kanto Earthquake.

Folk songs of Yamato (from Honshu to Kyushu)

Various folk songs exist all over Japan. Folk songs are mainly based on work songs; some were sung collectively as chants during farming and fishing, others were sung as a way of coping with the burdens of hard labor. Many of them honestly express the hearts of people.
  Also sung at festivals and as offerings to the mountain and sea gods, folk songs were tightly entwined in people’s lives. In particular, during the Bon festival, a traditional Japanese event held during the hot August season to greet ancestors’ spirits, people form a circle and dance to the drums and songs all night. This tradition, called bon-odori (bon dance), remains in many parts of Japan today.
 Although the relationship between people and folk songs has changed with the times ― with mechanization of labor and more individual work, convenient lifestyles and the decline of traditional customs, folk songs have always been a part of Japanese people’s lives, seasonally recording the daily rhythms and souls of the people.


  Japanese lullabies are not limited to mothers singing to cradle their babies. In the old days, it was customary for small children to be hired as babysitters and sent to other households. This was called komori-boko (babysitting apprenticeship) and these children under komori-boko also often sang lullabies as a way of comforting themselves. Such lullabies still remain in many parts of Japan. The lyrics express the hardships of komori-boko and the children’s yearnings for home.

Yaeyama Islands and its folk songs

  The Yaeyama Islands are the southernmost and westernmost parts of Okinawa and consist of 10 inhabited islands, including its main island, Ishigaki Island, where Tetsuhiro and Naeko Daiku are from. The main island of Okinawa and Ishigaki Island are about 400 km apart.
  Each island and village in the Yaeyama islands has its own regional folk songs. This is said to be due to the visits by shizoku, bureaucrats during the Meiji and early Showa era. Lyrics of commoners hoping for a better life and more prosperous world, songs portraying nature, and songs in which animals are personified to express the people’s feelings for fighting tyranny are all characteristic of Yaeyama island’s songs.

Performance Schedules

Chile (Santiago)

Date: Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011, starts at 19:00
Venue: GAM (Centro Gabriela Mistral)
Guests: Francesca Ancarola, Antonio Restucci, Juan Antonio Sanchez [Japan and Chile Special Performance]
Date: Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011, starts at 20:00
Venue: Centro Cultural Chimkowe, Peñalolén Chilean performers: Francesca Ancarola, Elizabeth Morris, José Seves, Antonio Restucci, Juan Antonio Sanchez

 A country on the other end of the globe and furthest to Japan which experienced a devastating earthquake in 2010, Chile has many powerful folk songs, or folclore, that express strong emotions of the people who have overcome tough times. With the support of the Nueva cancion movement, such folk songs have been reinterpreted and continue to live on as contemporary forms of expression.
  On the first day of our performance, the Japanese Min’yo performers will showcase their powerful and spontaneous songs, joined by three Chiliean guests --- Francesca Ancarola, a nationally popular singer of the Nueva cacion movement school, Antonio Restucci, a musician renowned for his guitar and mandarin performance, and Juan Antonio Sanchez, a master of various instruments. Francesca and Kitsu’s joint performance of Chiliean masterpiece “Gracias a la Vida” is not to be missed.
  On the second day, a total of 10 Japanese and Chilean artists will hold a joint performance to express support to those who are fighting to overcome hardships, including the earthquake disasters. Joining the three Chilean artists from the first day are José Seves, an artist with exceptional knowledge about folclore and lead singer of folklore band Intiillimani, and highly acclaimed Nueva cacion musician Elizabeth Morris, who also performs with Seves as a duo. Singing performances with strong regional flavors from both Japan and Chile will send out positive vibes to work towards restoration.

Argentina (Buenos Aires)

Date: Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011, starts at 17:30
Venue: Ateneo Theater Date: Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, starts at 19:30
Venue: Ateneo Theater
Guests (only on Sept. 20): Suna Rocha, Pedro Furió, Raúl Trujillo

  In Argentina, a country of vast land, there is a variety of folclore rooted in each region and loved by its people. To note one of Argentinean music’s features, a number of musicians use these folclore as a basis of their music and develop them further by taking a contemporary approach. On Sept. 20, Suna Rocha, a veteran singer admired by so many musicians for her singing skills and expressiveness, will join the show. Supporting her are guitarist Pedro Furió and percussionist Raúl Trujillo. We will deliver the sounds and rhythms of Japan, keeping in mind many of those Japanese-Argentines.

Uruguay (Montevideo)

Date: Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, starts at 19:30
Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011, starts at 19:30
Venue: Auditorio Nelly Goitinõ
Guests: Edu Pitufo Lombardo, Ney Peraza, Martin Ibarburu

  Marking the 200th year since the country’s foundation and the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Japan, Uruguay is a country where a distinctive music culture has taken root: namely, Candombe, which originated in Africa and features drum and dance, and Murga, a type of opera derived from Spain and developed in Uruguay to take its own form.
  The performances will be joined by Edu Pitufo Lombardo, a Uruguayan pop star whose name inseparable from contemporary Murga, guitarist Ney Peraza and percussionist Martin Ibarburu. Pitufo and Kitsu will together sing the legendary singer-songwriter Eduardo Mateo’s masterpiece “Y Hoy Te Vi.”


[Rio de Janeiro]
Date: Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, starts at 19:00
Venue: Teatro Nelson Rodrigues

[Santos Workshop]
Date: Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, starts at 15:00
Venue: SESC Satos (SALA1)

[Santos Performance]
Date: Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, starts at 18:00
Venue: SECS Santos

[São Paulo]
Date: Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011, starts at 16:00
Venue: Espaco Cachuera!

Brazil, with its many Japanese-Brazilians, has deep associations with Japan. Not to mention the country’s rich music. We will hold workshops along with the performances in Rio de Janeiro, Santos and São Paulo.

Artist Profile

Shigeri Kitsu (Vocal, Drums)

Official Website

Shigeri KITSU (voz, taikoⅰ)Daughter of a Min’yo shakuhachi player, Shigeri Kitsu learned folk songs from her father. She mastered shamisen under leading shamisen player Hidetaro Honjoh, and drums with Tsukimi Yamada. As a child she acted on stage and made numerous appearances on Min’yo shows on TV and radio. In 1997, representing Japan at the inaugural World Folk Music Festival in Uzbekistan, she was awarded the jury’s special prize. She formed the duo act Tsuru to Kame with tsugaru shamisen player Katsuaki Sawada in 2002. Their stunning renditions have won enthusiastic support not only from Min’yo lovers but also from western style artists and critics, including Haruomi Hosono and Akira Sakata. Their “Awa odori” soundtrack was used by the Japanese synchronized swimming team at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Tsuru to Kame have so far released three albums: “Tsuru to Kame” (2002), “Ai no Kaze (Kita no Kuni)” (2003), and “Shakkitose” (2007). In “Shakkitose,” numerous musicians as Hosono and Motoya Hamaguchi (per) have participated as guest performers. The duo’s 2008 tour of Central Asian countries, hosted by The Japan Foundation, was a huge success.
Also an acclaimed solo artist, Kitsu actively participates in collaboration performances with artists from various music genres. Famous works include singing the theme song during the BioLung Symphony multimedia show at the 2005 World Expo, a “kobushi (tremolo) jazz” performance on the music program “Daimei no nai Ongakukai,” and other numerous joint performances with western-style artists as Haruomi Hosono, Ryudo Uzaki, Akira Sakata, and Kazumi Watanabe.
Performances outside of Japan include tours in Los Angeles (upon invitation from the Japanese American Association) in 2002, Singapore and Indonesia in 2003, New York in 2004, Italy and Germany with Jazz musician Akira Sakata in 2008, Shanghai during the world expo in 2010, central Asia, and Russia in 2011 (all hosted by The Japan Foundation.)

Katsuaki Sawada (Vocal, Tsugaru Shamisen)

Katsuaki SAWADA (voz, tsugaru shamisen)Aomori native and tsugaru shamisen master Katsuaki Sawada began learning Tsugaru Teodori dances at the age of six, and tsugaru shamisen at 15. At 19 years of age he moved to Tokyo, where he sharpened his art at Min’yo pubs. He is highly regarded as one of very few artists that can perform “Utazuke,” the mainstream Tsugaru Min’yo art that requires a high-level technique of tsugaru shamisen playing and improvisation. Since releasing his first album in 1970 from Teichiku Records, Sawada has released a multitude of albums to this day.
As Min’yo duoTsuru to Kame, he toured the United States in 2002 and 2004, Indonesia and Singapore in 2003, Italy and Germany in 2008, central Asia in 2010 and Russia in 2011. To honor his long-time contributions and accomplishments, the Nihon Kyodo Min’yo Association awarded Sawada the Min’yo Honor Award in 2010.
As current head of the nationwide Sawadakai (Sawada school), he strives to develop the younger generation of artists while actively continuing his part in Min’yo art

Tetsuhiro Daiku (Vocal, Sanshin)

Official Website

Tetsuhiro DAIKU (voz, sanshinⅵ)Born in Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, Tetsuhiro Daiku is a leading Yaeyama Min’yo artist, specializing in a wide range of traditional Shimauta (songs of Okinawa) of the Yaeyama region, He won top awards for the fue (flute) and sanshin categories at the Ryukyu Shinpo classical performing arts competition in 1977 and 1980, respectively. Master of Ryukyu Min’yo Ongaku Kyokai (Ryukyu Folk Song Association) and classical music school Nomuraryu (Nomura school) Dento Ongaku Kyokai (Nomura Association of Traditional Song Musicians), Daiku was designated as an intangible cultural asset in 1998. Actively performing at home and abroad, countries he has so far visited include southwestern African nations (organized by The Japan Foundation), Switzerland, Britain, Finland, Hungary, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Chile and the U.S. In 1998 he participated in the Asian Fantasy concert tour organized by The Japan Foundation. He enjoys collaborative performances with artists from diverse genres of music, ie. jazz, rock, and worldwide folk musicians, while holding lectures at numerous Min’yo schools for the promotion of Ryukyu Min’yo and development of young artists.

Naeko Daiku (Vocal, Koto)

Naeko DAIKU (voz, kotoⅶ, sanbaⅷ)Born in Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, Naeko Daiku was awarded a teaching license from the Ryukyu Sokyoku Koyokai in 1991. At the 1993 Ryukyu classical performing arts competition she won top prize in the Koto performance category. In the same year, she was granted the master’s license for the Ryukyu Min’yo Ongaku Kyokai (Ryukyu Folk Song Association.) As vocal and Koto player she has supported Tetsuhiro Daiku in every one of his recordings or performances home and abroad. An invaluable presence for the preservation and diffusion of Yaeyama folk music, in 1993 she toured around India, Vietnam and the Philippines during the Asian Fantasy concert tour organized by The Japan Foundation.

Keisuke Ota (violin)

*Performing only at shows in Chile and Argentina

Official Website

Keisuke OTA (violín) Keisuke Ota specializes in jazz and ethnic music (Turkish, Indian, eastern European, Irish) and is well known for his improvisation skills. He has an established reputation for his unique and distinct vocal and performance. As composer, he has produced a number of works for commercials, movies, stages, fashion shows and a planetarium. Also a film and stage actor, he earned the Yomiuri drama award and Mainichi art award for his role as a Jewish violinist in the drama “Ghetto” (directed by Tamiya Kuriyama).
Currently playing for a number of bands, he has performed around the world and has worked together with many different overseas artists from a broad range of musical genres. He formed his first ever own band “Yolcu-Yoldaş” in 2008 with Tsuneo Imahori (g) and Yoichi Okabe (per).

Katsuharu Sawada (Tsugaru Shamisen)

*Performing only at shows in Uruguay and Brazil

Official Website

Katsuharu SAWADA (Tsugaru shamisen)

Katsuharu Sawada began playing the tsugaru shamisen in seventh grade. He became an apprentice for Sawada Katsuaki, joining tsugaru shamisen’s top school in 1981, and went on to pass the NHK Japanese music audition in 1985. He formed his own group in 1986 under the Sawada name. In 1993, He won the fifth Aomori prefecture Tsugaru Shamisen national contest. He has received high acclaim for his performances with Yoko Nagayama, Takashi Hosokawa and Korokke’s U.S. tour. His forte is spectacular kyokubiki performances. Performances outside Japan include the 2009 Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia tour and the 2011 Far East Russian tour, both hosted by the Japan Foundation.

Stage Director: Haruo Mita
Sound Director: Tetsuji Inoue
Lighting Director: Tomoji Yamagata

Leaflets, posters, brochure design: Tadashi Kitagawa
Artist photos: Toshiya Suzuki

[Contact Us]

Performing Arts Section, Arts and Culture Department
The Japan Foundation
Yoshiko Maeda
Tel. 03-5369-6063 Fax. 03-5369-6038

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