Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

August 1, 2011

Singing Strings - Miyagi Michio Museum, Tokyo (Museums)

Miyagi Michio (1894-1956) was a composer and performer of music for the koto. He also crossed cultures, because he made the traditional koto into a modern concert instrument and wrote many pieces for it that fuse the Japanese and Western traditions.

From his childhood, Miyagi Michio had a series of misfortunes, of which the most serious was the loss of his eyesight by age seven. When he was eight, he began to study the koto under Ikuta school master Nakajima Kengyo II. This led to a successful career as composer and as concert and recording artist. In these efforts he was supported by the shakuhachi master Yoshida Seifu (1891-1950), who often played together with him in traditional ensembles.

Miyagi Michio composed in a style that fused elements from Western art music with the Japanese tradition (born in Kobe, he had at an early age been exposed to Western music). His style was modern for the time. Most works are for the koto and other Japanese instruments, although occasionally Western instruments are used as well (in the nineteen thirties he played together with a famous French violinist).

Miyagi also invented larger types of koto to give expression to his orchestral flights of fantasy, such as the 80 stringed koto on display in the museum. His most famous piece is Haru no Umi, the Spring Sea.

[Miyagi Michio Museum]

Miyagi Michio was increasingly sought after as performing artist in the years after the war. In 1956, while on a concert tour, he died after a mysterious fall from a train. Did he fall out by accident (he was after all blind) or was it a premeditated step? His cheerful personality - also evident in the photo's and other displays in the museum - seems to preclude that last circumstance.

The museum exhibits Miyagi's favorite instrument, the koto 'Etenraku;' other instruments he possessed, such as shakuhachi; his braille type writer; examples of the music he wrote in braille (as well as examples of his prose - he was also a noted essayist); his personal effects such as a manual braille punching plate, pocket watch (with the glass removed); walking stick; and a tie pin in the shape of a koto; many photos and a short video, the only one showing Miyagi in actual performance.

In the garden is the "Kengyo no ma," Miyagi's study, a tea house style detached room where he composed and wrote since 1948 (Miyagi lived on the site of the museum during his last years). Miyagi Michio taught many students and the 'Miyagi family tradition' was carried on by his adopted daughter.

Miyagi's music is still being performed. In the end, it is best to let the music speak, either by enjoying the videos and tapes the museum provides in its listening room or by buying a CD of his koto music (besides the items provided in the small museum shop, his koto pieces are normally available in the better CD stores).
Address: 35 Nakamachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo Tel. 03-3269-0208

Access: 10-min. walk from Kagurazaka Station on the Tozai Subway Line or Iidabashi Station on the Yurakucho Subway Line.

Hours: 10:00-16:30; Cl. Mondays and Tuesdays; 2nd, 4t and 5th Sundays; national holidays; March 25-27; August 1-10; December 25-January 5; occasional special days.