Miyagi Michio thinks of the children

Asian Music, Volume 36 has an excellent article by Anne Prescott on MIYAGI Michio 宮城道雄's koto works for children. Turns out that Miyagi not only revolutionized koto performance and composition, he also redesigned koto pedagogy from the ground up. Why? Compassion.

The first koto piece that Miyagi learned was reportedly "Shiki no Hana" 四季の花 (Flowers of the Four Seasons) (Kikkawa 1990: 62), a short, easy piece with the following lyrics: "Spring is sakura, Summer is citrus, Autumn is chrysanthemum, Winter is daffodil and plum blossoms."

Although this earliest recollection of learning to play the koto was pleasant, Miyagi’s experiences soon turned painful. Miyagi found the piece "Musume Dōjoji" 娘道女寺 to be so difficult that regardless of the threatened consequences, he was unable to memorize the lyrics. After finally admitting to his teacher that it was impossible for him to recall this piece, his teacher replied, "You can’t remember it because you don’t understand the meaning" (Kikkawa 1990: 67). This is a portion of the lyrics with which Miyagi struggled: "The great temple bell harbors myriad malices. Struck at midnight, the bell echoes the evanescence of all things. Struck at the ghost hour, the bell echoes the birth and death of all beings. Struck at daybreak, the bell echoes supreme enlightenment. Struck at sunset, the bell echoes the gospel of Nirvana" (Tsuge 1983: 77).

The English version is clearer than the original Japanese, but even in English it requires some effort to understand. Imagine then a ten-year-old child who, because he was blind, had never attended school, had never studied classical literature and archaic language, and had never seen the kabuki play from which this jiuta piece is thought to have been taken. No wonder Miyagi had difficulty remembering the lyrics. Miyagi often mentioned this particular experience in his writings and conversations, and he cited this as one of the main reasons he took to composing simple works with lyrics that were attractive to and easily understood by children.

Lyrics for Musume Dōjoji variants are all over the internet, but here's one version of the Japanese corresponding to the English above:


Eventually, Japanese temples learned to tone their bells down a bit. Today, struck at daybreak, they mostly just echo breakfast.

And can you hear Miyagi's "little songs" online? You can! here are some recordings of the koto songs, and here are some of the partially overlapping sangen set. (Sangen:Shamisen::Violin:Fiddle.) I like "Yuki no penkiya" 雪のペンキ屋 (Snow, the painter):

Snow the painter paints the roof,
The gate roof, the storehouse roof, the temple roof,
He paints the roads, he paints the fields, he paints the mountains too,
He must have a big, big, brush!

Popularity factor: 4


Sorry for being picky, but isn't it 「娘道成寺」instead of 「娘道女寺」?
(I could be wrong; I had 0.00 % alcohol beer a few hours ago)


You must be drunk as one of those new, Lordship-bought-from-the-government-for-political-services-rendered Lords.

Yeah, I would expect 道成寺, and it's what the lyrics page I link to says, but Prescott seems very careful with her sources and orthography. I think it must be either an error in the source, or (more likely) a variant spelling.


なるほど。Point understood.
And I am sober today.

Still, my Kiyohime-like-persistence (not so dreadful as to smother a man caught in the temple bell to death) has found another "?".
It is 「水の変体」in p.28.
It's supposed to be 「水の変態」as it is "transformations of water." So,「道女寺」and 「変体」are just some typos when trasferring E to J, I guess.
(道成寺 http://www.dojoji.com/)

Another thing that made me ponder was that, although the wordings were literally difficult to understand for a young boy, the reason Miyagi coundn't remember the tune might have been partially due to some kind of psychological barrier; it could have been the fear for the "unknown," in this case, grudge of a heartbroken woman...
Well, it's got too psudo-Freudian and I have to stop here.

As usual, I learned a lot from the entry. Looking forwared to your next one.


Ah! I didn't even notice that 水の変態 thing. Excellent catch. You're right, that does ratchet up the dubiosity.

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