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Jiuta(地歌, 地唄, ぢうた) is a style of Japanese traditional music. In Edo period, pieces which has this style was played by the shamisen[1] in Kamigata region mainly. The name 'Jiuta' means "song ('歌' uta) of local ('地' ji = Kamigata in this case)", and suggests "not a song from Edo". At that period, Jiuta was performed, composed and instructed by Tōdōza, group of blind men, hence Jiuta is also called 'Houshiuta'('法師唄' song of monk). Jiuta, as well as Nagauta, is a typical 'Utaimono' - '歌いもの' vocal music in Japanese traditional music.

'Jiuta' has oldest origin in the area of shamisen music, it is identified as ancestor of many shamisen music and had great influence to that genre throughout Edo period. It can be regarded that Jōruri and Nagauta stem from Jiuta. Nowadays Jiuta has spread across Japan, and in its course it has been integrated to Soukyoku (musical piece for Koto) and has strong tie with shakuhachi and kokyū.

Despite that many other form of shamisen music has been developed along with performing arts, such as Bunraku and kabuki, the form of Jiuta has strong character as pure instrumental music and is relatively independent from performing arts.



As a form of shamisen music, Jiuta was established in Kamigata region in its early stage, then it was performed in Edo around Genroku era. Later Jiuta changed its form as musical accompaniment of Kabuki in Edo, then the new form was called Nagauta. Moreover, due to popularization of the music of Bunraku, the original Jiuta came to have less occasion to be performed. Until the end of Edo period, Jiuta had spread around not only Kamigata but also, to the east, Nagoya, and to the west, Chūgoku region, and Kyusyu region. After Meiji period, again Jiuta was promoted toward Tokyo (formerly Edo), then spread out rapidly. Today Jiuta is popular in traditional music field across Japan except Okinawa. However, in Tokyo, the impression of Jiuta is musical accompaniment of Jiutamai ('地歌舞' Jiuta dance), it is regarded that the music is composed according to the character of Jiutamai; elegant and quiet feeling. However, the truth is that Jiutamai was created as dance accompaniment of Jiuta, not opposite. The repertory of Jiutamai is only a part of Jiuta repertory, and Jiuta music itself requires more technical playing than other shamisen music, so that there are a lot of pieces which has strong character as instrumental music. Having said that, Jiuta also has character as a part of traditional vocal music and developed along with it.


Early years in Edo periodEdit

Introduction of shamisen and origin of JiutaEdit

It can be regarded that introduction of shamisen and the birth of Jiuta occurred at the almost same time, therefore Jiuta has longest history among shamisen music. Sanxian (Chinese lute) arrived at Sakai, Osaka via Ryukyu when Sengoku period was about to end, then blind musicians (Biwa hōshi) at Tōdōza improved the instrument and created shamisen. They used the plectrum of Japanese biwa to play shamisen, and it was the beginning of Jiuta as shamisen music. Ishimura-Kengyo is particularly regarded as originator of shamisen music. After that, musicians, mainly at Tōdōza, performed, composed and handed down Jiuta. The existing oldest piece is considered as a work of the early years of Edo period.

Mid Edo periodEdit

Emergence of NagautaEdit

Around Genroku era, Nagauta ('長歌' long song), which has consistent story, appeared. Apparently, Kengyo ('検校' blind official often engaged in music) started to compose Nagauta in Edo. The famous composers are Asari-kengyo and Sayama-Kengyo, and it seems that before long composers in Kamigata also took this style for their work. In the course of time, Nagauta came to be used as musical accompaniment of Kabuki.

Emergence of TegotomonoEdit

Another tide around this era, instrumental aspect was focused intensively as well as vocal composition, so that pieces took an instrumental part without vocal, typically it was located in the middle part of a song. This musical interlude, instrumental part between singing is called 'Tegoto' ('手事' performed by hand, not vocal), and this style is called 'Tegotomono' ('手事もの' thing of Tegoto). In early stage of this emergence of Tegotomono, simple works were common, however this style developed hugely in late Edo period and got status as mainstream of Jiuta.

Emergence of Hauta and its boomEdit

Miscellaneous pieces which are not categorized as above were also composed. These kind of pieces are called 'Hauta' ('端歌' marginal song). Hauta contains some elements of popular music and light music, this character of the style became the contact points between Jiuta and popular songs. Not only professional blind musicians, but also amateur musicians composed this kind of pieces, and those works were generally lyrical piece. In the middle of 18th century, great number of Hauta were composed therefore sophisticated, and the center of that boom was Osaka. Notable pieces were 'Yuki' ('雪' snow), 'Kurokami' ('黒髪' black hair),[2] 'Tsuru no koe' ('鶴の声' voice of crane).

Sankyoku and Sankyoku ensembleEdit

Originally, blind musicians were engaged in three instruments used in Jiuta - shamisen, koto and kokyū - from early years of Edo period, and all-inclusive term for those three instruments is 'Sankyoku' ('三曲' piece for three). Those three instruments developed its own course and musical genre individually (shamisen for Jiuta, koto for Soukyoku, kokyu for Kokyugaku), then ensemble including the three did not exist in early years. In Genroku era, Ikuta-kengyou in Kyoto initiated the ensemble with shamisen and koto, hence Jiuta and 'Soukyoku' ('筝曲' piece for koto) developed concurrently afterward. Most of existing pieces are composed by shamisen then added koto part, so it can be regarded that Jiuta initially created as shamisen music, then Soukyoku came to develop with Jiuta concurrently or afterward. In that course, kokyu was often used together with others, finally three instruments - shamisen, koto, kokyu - namely Sankyoku ensemble ('三曲合奏') was born here.

Emergence of Utaimono and influence from Noh and JōruriEdit

At the end of the 18th century, Fujio-koutou (’勾当’ koutou is blind official, lower class than kengyo) composed a lot of pieces which contains lyrics and stories from Noh. This was called Utaimono. And From Genroku era to the end of 18th century, musical elements from Jōruri was introduced into Jiuta. Thus Jiuta has some relation with performing arts such as Noh and Jōruri.

Emergence of SakumonoEdit

Around same time, a genre called 'Sakumono' ('作もの') emerged. This genre has comical contents. For example, animals such as rat, snail and raccoon dog are protagonists and make effort to escape from difficult situations. Narrativity dominates this genre and sound effects are used. Thus Sakumono is referred to special category within Jiuta field, and requires variety of highly trained technical skill.

Late years in Edo periodEdit

Maturity of TegotomonoEdit

As written above, from the middle to the end of Edo period, pieces which have high musical achievement were composed. Long interlude, instrumental part between blocks of vocal part called Tegoto especially developed and a lot of pieces in this field, called Tegotomono, have been handed down. Minesaki-koutou, active in the end of 18th century in Osaka, achieved success in the Tegotomono field. He defined Tegoto as long and technical instrumental part within a piece and composed great number of pieces which focused on shamisen's technical playing. His follower, Mitsuhashi-koutou, increased Tegoto part within a piece then Tegoto became longer and full of variety than ever; thus Jiuta came to have emphasized instrumental part in the course of its development.

Beginning of polyphonic composition and development of ensembleEdit

Around Bunka era, Ichiura-kengyo from Osaka elaborated the ensemble playing of koto. Most compositions had been almost unison in koto ensemble, then he started polyphonic composition. Polyphonic part (or rather, it should be called counterpoint, maybe) is called 'Kaete' ('替手' to change hand). Yaezaki-kengyo sophisticated this style. Ensemble playing of shamisen was also popular in that era, and Kaete for shamisen was also composed. Another similar style was 'uchiawase'; composition of another piece based on original piece to play at the same time.

Major development of KyoumonoEdit

Later, major stream of Tegotomono composition moved to Kyoto. At first, Matsuura-kengyo composed number of sophisticated Tegotomono in a Kyoto-style, since then, Tegotomono which was composed in Kyoto was called 'Kyoumono' ('京もの' thing of Kyoto) or 'Kyouryu Tegotomono' ('京流手事もの' Tegotomono in Kyoto-style). Moreover, Kikuoka-kengyo (1792 - 1847) composed Tegotomono and contributed its development in Kyoto. Yaezaki-kengyo (1776–1848), who was also active in same era, composed koto part of most pieces and arranged Kikuoka's composition. Those two musician contributed greatly to the development. It is not too much to say they created the best days of Jiuta, and at the same time, they integrated Jiuta and Soukyoku together. Here Jiuta reached the perfection of its craft as to shamisen-used music.

Improvement of shamisen plectrumEdit

Around this era, Tsuyama-kengyo from Osaka invented an improved plectrum used in Jiuta playing.

Emergence of independent SoukyokuEdit

Mitsusaki-kengyo, junior fellow of Kikuoka-kengyo, was active then. He was also a pupil of Yaezaki-kengyo. He focused on the koto because it had possibility to develop more than Jiuta, which had developed very enough and seemed there had been a little room to develop further. He composed some pieces featuring koto solo, and this became a trigger to develop Soukyoku independently. Yoshizawa-kengyo took over and promoted this movement, then began to develop gradually.

Integrated partsEdit

Mitsusaki-kengyo composed traditional Jiuta, and in his original works, he composed both parts of shamisen and koto by him, only one composer, it was first time in the history. Thus the instrumental parts were integrated and refined. His junior followers also took over this method. One of his follower, Yoshizawa-kengyo went further; he composed three instrumental parts of shamisen, koto and kokyu by only himself. In the last years of Edo period, Jiuta became popular across Japan and each local style was introduced to.

After Meiji periodEdit

Disorder after the Meiji Restoration and popularization of JiutaEdit

In Meiji era, Soukyoku developed independently, and composition of Jiuta declined. Obviously, all the jiuta composition did not disappeared, some composers existed created their own works, however tunes composed only for koto increased overwhelmingly. The reasons for this trend can be described as following: Jiuta music then had already reached its perfection and Koto could easily deal with the tonal scale elements from western music and Chinese music. And cheerful and fresh spirit of that era was suitable for the tone of koto better than shamisen, whose tone then reminded people of love affair and pleasure districts.

And also, since the new government dissolved Todoza, musicians there lost their status, protected by privileged system, and musical activity accordingly. This was a big change in that era.

Thus kengyos who lost their authority faced hardship, they had to earn their living by appearing in popular theater. Meanwhile, jiuta music had a chance again to be well known by general people specifically in eastern part of Japan such as Tokyo, where jiuta was not so much performed. Many musicians from western part of Japan, such as Kyusyu region and Osaka, found their way to Tokyo.

Later, after the period that western things were valued exclusively had gone, jiuta became a popular music spread whole of country as well as soukyoku and shakuhachi, and got wide range of listeners. Meanwhile, new composition of jiuta reduced. However, koto has been engaged in a major role instead of shamisen, and pieces in jiuta-style accompanied by shamisen has been composed not a few. Notable composer is Michio Miyagi.

Up to today, composers has tried to introduce various forms (such as western classical music sonata) to jiuta style. Today Sankyoku ensemble consists of shamisen, koto and shakuhachi. Shakuhachi has replaced major role of kokyū in Sankyoku ensemble nowadays. Obviously, Sankyoku ensemble with kokyu did not disappeared at all, kokyu is also used today as well.

Musical featureEdit

Introspective piecesEdit

Most pieces has been composed by blind musicians, thus jiuta is regarded as expression of emotion, not visual impression. And jiuta has developed as pure musical style without relation with performing arts, general expression accordingly is introspective and delicate, dramatic expression is less.

Polyphonic and diverse ensemble playingEdit

Jiuta has strongest aspects as instrumental ensemble among modern Japanese traditional music, most of the pieces are played in ensemble. Along with the progress of Tegotomono, polyphonic and complex ensemble playing has developed. Most pieces have parts for shamisen, koto and shakuhachi, with some including a "kaete" (counterpoint) part for shamisen.

Strong instrumental featureEdit

Tegotomono, which has a long instrumental interlude without a vocal part, is the most common and most often performed style of jiuta. This is because Tegoto, the instrumental part, is takes precedence over the vocal part. Some pieces make full use of the three octave range of the shamisen, which has led to the development of technically challenging shamisen parts. Few pieces are purely instrumental; most include a vocal part. Some instrumental pieces for koto, called 'Danmono' ('段もの' things of parts and verses), are arranged for shamisen. Most pieces in this style are considered to be highly artistic as pure instrumental music, not as a simple description of nature and emotion.

Shamisen techniqueEdit

Wide range of octavesEdit

There exists some Tegotomono which requires up to use of 3 octaves, or 3 octaves and 3 degree in a most extreme case.

Techniques that requires high and fine skillEdit

There are extensive use of ornament techniques such as portamento, tremolo in Tegoto, and some other special techniques to express the nature sound such as sound of wind or insects. Meanwhile, percussive technique, which creates dramatic effect in playing for performing arts, is rare.

Frequent modulation and tuning changeEdit

Most pieces have modulation at least once even if the piece is short, and pieces more than medium duration have frequent modulation. Common modulations are dominant key and sub-dominant key, however not always. Most pieces more than medium duration have tuning change in middle of the tune at least once. Long pieces change tuning almost twice, and three times is not a few. The purpose of tuning change is for modulation and to change the mood of sound.

Vocal techniqueEdit


Singing usually uses stretch of each one note and its long vowel tone accompanies certain articulation. Hautamono especially features skill of articulation. And also, some Tegotomono pieces focus on the articulation of singing. Vocal melody is based on the intonation of dialect of Kansai, where Jiuta was born in.

Vocal melody employs wide range of octavesEdit

Usually about 2 octaves. Character of piece decides whether to use high tones more often or low tones, it depends on the intent of the song, for example, a song for woman, or for requiem.


Piece which contains narrative vocal part is very rare.

Less dramatic expressionEdit

Jiuta has developed without having relation with performing arts, thus dramatic expression is less used.


In early modern Japanese music which involve the use of shamisen, one of the feature is to sing to player's own shamisen accompaniment. Jiuta flourished in Kyoto and Osaka region, thus called 'Kamigatauta'('上方唄' song of Kamigata) or 'Houshiuta'('法師唄' song of monk) played by group of blind man, see Tōdōza.

After Middle Ages of Edo period, Sankyoku - Jiuta, soukyoku, kokyugaku - started to contain common pieces to play in ensemble, then integrated themselves gradually, finally consolidated each other. After last ages of Edo period, Soukyoku, which had been developing along with Jiuta, marked advanced development, thus Jiuta sometimes is included to Soukyoku. However original Jiuta was created for shamisen music, early koto oriented music such as 'Rokudan no shirabe' accordingly is not a Jiuta in origin.

Classification of piecesEdit

Great number of pieces and long history make Jiuta have many sub-styles. Thus classification is done by not only musical style, but also variety of viewpoint, accordingly a piece can belong to different class. Below are some examples.

  • Class for musical style
    • Nagauta ('長歌' songs with solid story, long pieces are common)
    • Hauta ('端歌' miscellaneous pieces, relatively short and lyrical pieces)
    • Tegotomono ('手事物' pieces with Tegoto part)
    • Instrumental piece (without vocal part)
  • Class for musical content and feeling
    • Sakumono ('作もの' pieces with comical stories, often employs Tegoto)
    • Shishimono ('獅子もの' pieces which has postfix 'shishi', which means lion, to its title, features solemn and splendour feeling. All the pieces of this type belong to Tegotomono)
  • Class for location
    • Osakamono ('大阪もの' Tegotomono composed in Osaka)
    • Kyomono ('京もの' Tegotomono composed in Kyoto)
    • Nagoyamono ('名古屋もの' pieces composed by Yoshizawa-kengyo and his followers)
    • Kyusyumono ('九州もの' pieces composed in Kyusyu)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Johnson, Henry. The shamisen: Tradition and diversity. Leiden/Boston: Brill (2010), 145pp. ISBN 978 90 04 18137 3
  2. ^ Performance of Kurokami with English explanation on YouTube:[1].