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New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi

 
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Rick Riekert
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PostPosted: 2013-03-04, 16:11    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

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This is a recent article by Martha Fabrique published in EJCJS (electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies) that should be of interest to all. There’s also a nice photo of one of my favorite shakuhachi players, the wonderful Matsushita Shunzan.

Posted with the author’s permission.

http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/ejcjs/vol12/iss2/fabrique.html
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Erin
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PostPosted: 2013-03-05, 05:10    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

An interesting read, thanks for the link Rick!
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clivebell
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PostPosted: 2013-03-11, 19:03    Post subject: Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

This is an interesting piece by Martha Fabrique. It raises the thorny topic of whether women can or should play the same as men. Can women play fierce, strong muraiki sounds? Or maybe they shouldn't be playing like that, but playing in a feminine style instead? These discussions go on in rock and jazz too. In a classical orchestra, of course, a women French horn player would not be expected to play any differently from a male one.
I was amused to see that somebody suggested a pink kimono was one way to escape gender restrictions. More male players should consider pink kimonos too.
Towards the end of Yoshikazu Iwamoto's time teaching in the UK, he announced that he would no longer teach women students. This felt like a Yukio Mishima-type gesture, a way of resisting the modern, Westernizing trend towards gender equality. Of course it had the effect that he could no longer be employed in UK universities. Shortly after that, Iwamoto stopped playing and vanished. With hindsight, his refusal to teach women appears as possibly an element in some kind of nervous breakdown.
As soon as the shakuhachi steps outside of Japan, it encounters an assumption that women have as much right to study it as men. I imagine that assumption has had a big impact on teachers and players within Japan. Ms Fabrique doesn't go into this, and no one mentions it. And of course Japanese women are invading other traditionally male areas: Noh theatre? Sumo?
Three of Fabrique's informants are members of a group called Amane. I'd like to hear that, but I can't find anything online.
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m a doherty
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PostPosted: 2013-03-11, 21:43    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

Excellent. Illuminating. My mind turns toward possible male-dominant assumptions in contemporary players outside of Japan. If evaluation of players and styles is conducted with a historical bases in mind then one can assume that this evaluation is done from the perspective of a male-dominant "blik", which in the West has less and less of a hold. Not having learned either in Japan and learning from non-Japanese teachers, I find it interesting that a male-dominant perspective may have been imported to me via this tradition. Each teacher and player will approach this differently for sure influenced by their own life experiences and expectations for sure but how much is inherent in the "tradition" and "history" is intriguing to ponder.

I for one have not considered gender to be an issue- thinking from a perspective of equanimity.
Can women make strong muraiki sounds? YES. Should they? Why set additional boundaries, create rules and roles?
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2013-03-12, 00:24    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

There are Japanese who think westerners should not be playing shakuhachi. And there are Japanese males who think females should not be playing shakuhachi. I wonder if given the choice, they would compromise first towards Japanese females or towards male Westerners?

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Hilarious question, but luckily we live in the 21st Century and most of us live in countries where people can do what they want.

I wouldn't be surprised if the next big shakuhachi innovator is female, or maybe even a western female.

There was a16 year old girl at the Sydney WSF who tore up the joint, it was very encouraging.
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Jeff Cairns
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PostPosted: 2013-03-12, 08:56    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

Though the predominant gender in my particular group, Wakanakai is male, females have not been discouraged, but the fact that older Japanese men are generally expected to be treated a certain way by Japanese females, makes it very difficult for said females to integrate in any other way than the status quo. Any who have started, soon stop and I certainly don't blame them. Perhaps there needs first to be an 'All Woman-kai' just to set up the counter-point. This is, of course inside Japan and in the provinces where I live and play.
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2013-03-12, 13:58    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

So do you think the Japanese male status quo are more offended by women playing or by westerners playing? Between Japanese females, Western males and Western females what would the most offensive be in order?
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Jeff Cairns
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PostPosted: 2013-03-12, 16:46    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

Brian Tairaku Ritchie wrote:
So do you think the Japanese male status quo are more offended by women playing or by westerners playing? Between Japanese females, Western males and Western females what would the most offensive be in order?

Where do you get the idea that offence is the overwhelming judgmental viewpoint when considering women or foreigners with the shakuhachi. I would say that the most negative perspective I've encountered is amusement. In fact, I've experienced that for years. Since, in my bullish western manner, I didn't feel that I had anything to prove, I always pushed that sentiment aside. Though I still, after 27 years, am viewed through that veil , it now comes from those who don't know me at all, or the shakuhachi for that matter. In that sense, the shakuhachi and I are cast into the same category; vaguely familiar yet unapproachable.
I have never experience offence from anybody because I play the shakuhachi. I think that is because, in general, the Japanese don't take ownership over the instrument. It is an enigma to most, and only loosely held concepts like ' san nen kubi furi' or ' the shakuhachi is very difficult to play' exist in the modern meta-mind of the Japanese. In that sense, shakuhachi/female/foreigner are not mutually exclusive to each other.
Within the ranks of shakuhachi players, I think that it is easier to continue to exist in this world as a foreign male. If one attempts to enter an existing group, that is. If one operates one on one with a teacher, it doesn't matter. Next would come foreign female followed by Japanese female.
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Kiku Day
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PostPosted: 2013-03-12, 16:53    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

Brian Tairaku Ritchie wrote:
So do you think the Japanese male status quo are more offended by women playing or by westerners playing? Between Japanese females, Western males and Western females what would the most offensive be in order?


People are not offended, I would say..... I think they get more perplexed if anything to see anything else than a retired Japanese male playing....
If I should make a list, it would be in the order of Japanese female, Western female, Western male.

I understand the point that Jeff is making. It is the social codes that are hard to break. If a group of player gather, the females would have to - according to the code - serve the men tea or what ever they may need... and they do. I was SO lucky to be so much in between that I could totally set myself out of that kind of social pressure. The youngest or most "ki ga kiku" men then did the women's job (as I was mostly the only one around). After spending years in Japan I began to feel bad about looking at these men work, well knowing that I should be the one doing it. But I didn't try to become Japanese in that sense. I knew if I did it once, I had the job for life!
It could also be the whole other aspect of how funny it is for women to play shakuhachi because of the sexual connotation....
I haven't read the article yet. have to finish one first. Deadline FRiday. But very much looking forward.
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clivebell
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PostPosted: 2013-03-12, 20:44    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

I recall talking to an American woman player who had considerable difficulty finding a shakuhachi teacher in Japan who would accept her as a student. I imagine that has changed a bit in the last 30 years, but it's easy to underestimate how tough it is for women musicians to be taken seriously.
This sense of 'being offended' by a woman player is something that runs deep. It's not a rational thing, but the kind of magical cultural thinking studied by anthropologists. I can't say what a Japanese male player might feel about women players, but it's unlikely he would ever have thought much about it. I've raised the question with Japanese friends, why is the shakuhachi played only by men? - and no one knows.
Martha Fabrique has talked to Japanese women who have a very positive, can-do attitude, so her article has an optimistic spin. Even so, for these women it looks like a struggle to achieve professional status. Three of them are members of the group Amane, which seems invisible online, not a good sign. Japanese women professional musicians have a hard time even with instruments they are encouraged to play, because of the assumption they should be raising a family and not be 'career-women'. Shino Arisawa (who used to play koto in the UK) has done some research about a woman jiuta singer, who had terrible trouble establishing herself as a professional, in spite of coming from a family of musicians (I think this research is about to be published). Fabrique doesn't go into this darker aspect of women's music in Japan, which is largely invisible to an outsider.
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Jeff Cairns
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PostPosted: 2013-03-13, 02:41    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

Clive, I would hazard a guess and say that the predominance of males in the Japanese shakuhachi world stems from the past predominance of males as wandering mendicant monks who played the shakuhachi as a spiritual practice. One thing leads to another in time and even today, the shakuhachi is seen as having unique spiritual attributes. I think that it's ingrained in this society. As for women having a hard time establishing themselves as professional musicians, it's not a problem ascribed to that profession alone. Women have a hard time establishing themselves in almost any profession for the reasons you mentioned above. For example, I have worked at a mid-sized pharmaceutical company for the past 20 years. New employees are hired every April, the majority of which are women. All men hired are immediately on a career track and have full-time status. 99% of women hired are immediately in a temporary position with a limit of 8 years. The assumption is that they will likely get married and have kids which makes a poor time investment from a training point of view for the company. They now have the option at the end of their 8 years to go through a series of testing to get onto a full-time career track. If they make it through the testing procedure, their position in terms of seniority and thus salary drops to that of men joining the company in that year. By this time, woman have little chance of making it to a managerial position in the company before compulsory retirement at the age of 60. This attitude, largely upheld by male dominance, is pervasive in Japanese society and no less in the shakuhachi world.



This picture says it all. Three women, in seclusion, sitting down for a session and what does one draw from her sleeve much to the amusement of the other two but a shakuhachi.
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Kiku Day
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PostPosted: 2013-03-13, 11:28    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

Hi Jeff. I remember the Japanese government made a new law in 1989 enabling women to enter a company on a career track on the same condition as men.... but is it still really only 99% of women who choose that?
Sorry, not very shakuhachi related... but all in all, perhaps it makes us understand a bit more about the Japanese society.


Last edited by Kiku Day on 2013-03-13, 15:54; edited 1 time in total
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2013-03-13, 13:07    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

Jeff Cairns wrote:

Where do you get the idea that offence is the overwhelming judgmental viewpoint when considering women or foreigners with the shakuhachi.


I don't think it's overwhelming. I was referring only to the people who feel that way, not the ones who don't. I know Western players who have been refused the opportunity to buy shakuhachi based on race. And according to most of the people in this thread there's some kind of tension about women playing it. But I wouldn't say it's overwhelming, probably a small minority at this point.
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clivebell
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PostPosted: 2013-03-14, 14:02    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

Thanks Jeff, that's a great picture. What is going on there?
Btw, Shino Arisawa's essay that I mentioned above has just been published in a book titled Women Singers In Global Contexts.
Shino's essay is called "Akiko Fujii: Telling the Musical Life Stories of a Hereditary Jiuta Singer of Japan".
Here's a link: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/36qeh7cc9780252037245.html

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Rick Riekert
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PostPosted: 2013-03-14, 18:06    Post subject: New Horizons- Women and the Shakuhachi Reply with quote

This chapter from the Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music makes the interesting claim that “The position of women in Japan can be seen as having been adversely affected by the adoption of Chinese (especially Confucian) cultural values, and also by the teachings of Buddhism.”

It also discusses an issue that has long puzzled me, viz. the aural quality of women’s vocals in traditional music. It seems that one performance related aspect of the suppression of women in Japan is the requirement that they sing in a low register in order to sound more like men. Oy.

http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/2987/1/ARC_to_Japanese_Music_Ch1_for_RAE.pdf
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