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A comprehensive celebration of Japanese arts and culture that’s part of the lead-up to this year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the ongoing Japan Cultural Expo features everything from art exhibitions to performing arts events taking place throughout the country. The expo offers something for everyone, but the vast number of happenings held under its umbrella can make choosing what to see a bit challenging. In this series, we’re checking in with six experts to get an insider’s take on the Japan Cultural Expo events that definitely shouldn’t be missed.
Our fourth curator is Noh singer Ryoko Aoki, who has worked with noted composers around the world in pioneering a new artistic form: a combination of Noh and contemporary music. She employs the language of music when discussing the meaning of “Humanity and Nature” – the overarching theme of the Japan Cultural Expo. ‘The differences between Western and Japanese music include the approach to the quality of sound,’ she says. ‘With Japanese instruments, a sound that reflects the material is appreciated, while purer tones are pursued in the West.’
‘For example, the shakuhachi flute produces both tones and noise-like sounds, the mixture of which is considered the true sound of the instrument. Western instruments, on the other hand, have been refined to eliminate noise and produce as pure a sound as possible. In contemporary Western music, however, the pursuit of noise-like sounds like those of the shakuhachi has become desirable, and this is leading people to rediscover Japanese music. I think it’s interesting how new attention is being paid to this sort of “natural” sound.’
Aoki says that most of her listeners abroad are simply music enthusiasts, rather than fans of Noh or Japanese music in particular. ‘For me, art and culture are things you create rather than protect,’ she says. ‘I think it’s important to build on traditions by creating something new.’ In terms of continuity between the traditional and the contemporary, Aoki found the following five events particularly noteworthy at the ongoing Japan Cultural Expo.