Less than a century after the introduction of the violin to Japan, in the late nineteenth century, Japan offers the highest level of training on the instrument and has produced many internationally successful violinists. Although one can hardly imagine it from the current role of the violin in modern Japan, in the early twentieth century the instrument played a significant role, not in the development there of Western classical music, but in the survival of the indigenous Japanese music that we call today ‘traditional Japanese music’.
With the flood of Western culture into Japan after the Meiji Restoration, of 1868, the Japanese government reconsidered whether their native music was worthy of Japan as a civilized country. In fact, except for court music, native Japanese music was held in low esteem by society and the government alike. The music of the shamisen was particularly problematic, due to the vulgar texts of shamisen songs and the low class status of shamisen consumers. Shakuhachi had until recently been restricted to Fuke monks, and was still establishing a new role in the musical culture. Thus, the whole world of ‘traditional Japanese music’ was entering a new age.
It was during this period that many Japanese became acquainted with the violin, by playing it in ensemble with koto, shamisen and shakuhachi. Young Japanese professional musicians began to learn the violin. The principles of Western music they learned in this way gradually made their way into Japanese music. At one time, the ‘traditional Japanese music’ ensemble of violin with Japanese instruments seemed to have become firmly rooted in Japan as ‘home music’; but this has not turned out to be the case. As Japanese violinists have become increasingly dedicated to Western classical music, traditional Japanese music has once again become the exclusive use of native instruments.