skip to primary navigationskip to content

Mini Symposium: Sound-culture in Early Twentieth Century Japan

This half-day symposium explores how sound – as music and as technology – has influenced and enriched the ‘silent’ arts in Japan. Time: Friday, 11 March 2016 Venue: Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Room 7

Sound-culture in Early Twentieth Century Japan

chaired by Matthew Shores 


Johan Nordström (Meiji Gakuin University)

Aesthetics and Technology: The Japanese Cinema’s Transition to Sound

During the early 1930s, Japanese cinema underwent a gradual transition from silent to sound film. Innovative sound technology gave birth to a new genre of light entertainment, infused with music and song, and sharing traits of musical style, staging and pacing with that of the vaudeville stage. This new genre was spearheaded by Japan’s first all-talkie film studio, the Tokyo-based P.C.L., with their debut work, Horoyoi jinsei (A tipsy life, 1933, Kimura Sotoji). This was the first Japanese musical film, and the genre later gained great popularity with the films of vaudeville performer-turned-movie star Enoken (Enomoto Kenichi). 

This presentation will examine the different strategies employed by filmmakers and production companies to utilize the new sound technology to its fullest potential and will explore the relationship between early Japanese musicals and the vaudeville stage. It will also seek to illuminate the aesthetic modes through which Japanese cinema incorporated and utilized the new sound film technology.


Iitomi Akihiro (Ohkura School of Noh theatre)

Noh-style Techniques in Natsume Sōseki’s Kusamakura*

Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916) was a novelist, critic and scholar of English literature. A hundred years after his death, many of his works, such as ‘I Am a Cat’ (Wagahai wa neko de aru) and ‘The Young Master’ (Botchan), continue to enjoy great popularity in Japan. His novel ‘Grass Pillow’ (Kusamakura) is based on his experience of teaching at a school in Kumamoto, and the title is a word that frequently appears in Noh plays referring to sleeping out in the open while on a journey. Kusamakura is thought to be an experimental work based on Sōseki’s theories of art that he developed while studying abroad in London. In this work, he compares and contrasts Asian arts, such as haiku, Chinese poetry, Japanese-style painting, Japanese architecture, gardens, Zen and nōgaku (Noh and Kyōgen theatre) with Western arts, such as English poetry and prose, Shakespeare’s plays, opera and the paintings of Turner. This talk will focus on Kusamakura and Sōseki’s use of Noh-style techniques in his writing.

The lecture will be held in Japanese with English translation.

Interpreter: Yongsuk Song, University of Cambridge.

(*translated into English and published as The Three-cornered World and Grass Pillow)