Matsuribayashi (祭囃子)

Matsuribayashi' (festival music) is music that is performed at festival time and forms a particular genre of musical accompaniment. Matsuribayashi is often simply referred to as 'Hayashi'; musical accompaniment. However, elements of musical performances associated with Kabuki, Noh and Shinto are not included within this classification. Matsuribayashi describes music that is incidental to festivals.


Matsuribayashi is a general term that refers to music associated with festivals and as such, its development is closely linked with festivals of various regions in Japan. For that reason, it does not refer an identical nation-wide repertoire or use of instruments, nor is it possible to trace its roots back to one sole source. Repertoire relates to the aims, character and performance space at each festival.
Repertoire is not limited to lively pieces that are evocative of children's songs 'village fairs.'
In contrast, slow and peaceful pieces also exist. In some regions the performance style of playing Japanese 'taiko' drums from both sides is included as part of Matsuribayashi. The word Matsuribayashi has come to refer to an extremely diverse range of musical compositions.


As opposed to other forms of traditional Japanese music, performers of Matsuribayashi are in many cases members of the general public drawn from parishioners and supporters of the temple or shrine hosting the festival. Professionals are common in many branches of traditional Japanese music and some also participate in Matsuribayashi performances; however, there are few professional performers who limit themselves to Matsuribayashi. Instrumentalists often perform roles in more than one genre as temple or shrine musicians, traditional Japanese music performers or as Shinto priests etc. Much as there are no professionals amongst the ranks of individuals who carry Mikoshi (portable shrines) at festivals or those who pull festival floats, parishioners and supporters practice for festivals and in many cases limit perform only to those festivals. As such, a particular feature of such music is its regional roots and handing down to others. Also, depending on the region, performers are in some cases limited to being young boys and girls.


The instruments used are traditional Japanese instruments. Even amongst these, three types of instrument are prevalent: the flute (high and medium pitched transverse bamboo flutes, Noh flutes etc), traditional drums (mid-range 'Taiko' drums keeping beat as well as other large drums, fan drums and carried drums etc), and gongs, (made of metal, percussion instruments with a high register). However, depending on the region, stringed instruments etc are also incorporated. Also, the drum is closely linked with Mikoshi portable festival shrines and is in some cases the only drum used. Furthermore, in cases when Noh chanting is an element and incorporated along with Kiyari (workman's work chants) (Tekomai (float leading dance)), shouts of encouragement are sometimes included in proceedings.

Performance Structures and Dress

Matsuribayashi is designed to be performed with festival events and as such, the shape of performances and performers' costumes can vary depending on the nature of the event.

For festivals taking place within shrines, performances take place on stage areas within the temple grounds and in dedicated temple halls used for music. Also, in some cases performances take place on a stage that is built in the local community. For festival events that require participants to stand in lines, performers sometimes play while walking along and blending in. When festival float and carts appear, these are in some cases ridden and performed upon.

Performers often wear gaudy traditional Japanese 'happi' coats when performing. Also, depending on the region, some performers wear heavy makeup. As mentioned before, this may also depend on the instrument being played as well as the type of employment concurrently held by the performer.


The origions of each type of Matsuribayashi varies depending on the traditions in regions and organizations involved. It is noted as having originated in Kamakura (in the Kanto region of Japan) and Ise; however, neither explanation stands up to definite scrutiny.

[Original Japanese]