Imayo (a popular style of Japanese songs in the Heian period) (今様)

Imayo is one style of Japanese songs.


Imayo has its origins in the middle of the Heian period. In literal Japanese, imayo means 'modern-style,' and so, imayo song meant 'the modern popular song' at that time. The characteristic feature of imayo is the lyrics in which one chorus consists of eight phrases using fixed numbers of kana (Japanese syllabary characters); the numbers are, in turn, 7, 5, 7, 5, 7, 5, 7, and 5. Various lyrics for imayo were created. In the last days of the Heian period, Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa loved imayo and he became so much absorbed in it that he hurt his throat, a history book says. "Ryojin hisho" (Songs to Make the Dust Dance), a compilation of imayo by Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa, is partially handed down to us today.

Various tunes of imayo, including Etenraku Imayo (syllabic-style tunes) mentioned below, were also composed, and there existed two categories of tunes : melisma-style tunes, such as Choseiden, and syllabic-style tunes, such as the melancholy music used from 1964 to 1993 in the self-introduction announcement of Chubu-Nippon Broadcasting Co., Ltd., which was originally the music of koto (a long Japanese zither with 13 strings). Imayo was followed by many tunes composed in and after the Japanese modern age, such as "Ichigatsu Ichijitsu" (January First), "Ware wa Umi no Ko" (I Was Born by the Sea)," and "Kojo no Tsuki" (The Moon Over the Deserted Castle). There also exist some tunes applying imayo lyrics to foreign melodies, such as "Song of Firefly Glow" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Not a few children's songs and songs for school music classes are imayo of three-four time, and not a few popular songs are imayo of five-four time.

"Etenraku Imayo"

Among others, the most famous tune of imayo is "Etenraku Imayo," which set the words to the tune of "Etenraku" (literally, the music brought from heaven). Etenraku Imayo falls under utaimono (utai [Noh chant] piece for recitation) of gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music) only when accompanied with gagaku instruments; the repertoire of the Music Department of Imperial Household Agency does not include Etenraku Imayo, but that of private gagaku groups often includes Etenraku Imayo.
The most famous lyrics for Etenraku Imayo are those set by Priest Jichin, which starts with 'In March of spring.'
The dance set to this music is called 'Imayo Mai' (the dance in accord with Imayo), which is performed in a costume of Shirabyoshi (a Japanese traditional dance). In addition, various words were set to the tune. One of these was descended to the Kyushu region, and became Chikuzen Imayo, and later, this began to be called Kuroda-bushi (song of Kuroda).
Toyosaka no Mai (the dance celebrating the blessed prosperity), which was one of kagura (the sacred music and dance performed at shrines) produced in the Japanese modern age, can be said the modern version of 'Etenraku Imayo' and 'Imayo Mai.'

[Original Japanese]