The taming of the harp

Interesting aside in Japanese Wikipedia regarding Beethoven:

... [I]n Japan, he is sometimes referred to as gakusei (楽聖, "saint of music"). In modern times, [this word] has come to be applied to other musicians as well, simply meaning "master musician," but originally it referred to Beethoven. For example, gakusei-ki ("anniversary of the death of the gakusei") is observed on March 26, the day of Beethoven's death.

No idea whether this claim is true, although even if it is gakusei can't have been exclusive for all that long; no later than 1929, MURAOKA Hiroshi 村岡博 was using it in the most general sense possible in his Japanese translation of OKAKURA Kakuzō 岡倉覚三's Book of Tea was using it in the most general sense possible:




Have you heard the Taoist tale of the Taming of the Harp?

Once in the hoary ages in the Ravine of Lungmen stood a Kiri tree, a veritable king of the forest. It reared its head to talk to the stars; its roots struck deep into the earth, mingling their bronzed coils with those of the silver dragon that slept beneath. And it came to pass that a mighty wizard made of this tree a wondrous harp, whose stubborn spirit should be tamed but by the greatest of musicians.

In any case, the argument from ki is particularly unconvincing. Akutagawa's deathday is known as kappa-ki (河童忌), but as far as I know he's not even personally considered a kappa, let alone the kappa.

Popularity factor: 11


It sounds like the article needs the a few more "(citation needed)" added.


Japanese Wikipedia doesn't tend to have "(citation needed)"s, or even citations. Instead, it seems to be written from the perspective of an all-knowing authority. In case of a dispute, the editors may decide to write a prologue to the article explaining that they cannot reach a neutral consensus. I have an example of that but cannot present it here due to fear of the Akismet Lord.

myriam belfer:

beethoven or not, it's a beautiful tale...


at the risk of sounding obvious..didn't Akutagawa write a work 'Kappa'? perhaps this is why...his day is known as kappa day...a bit like calling Poe's day, Raven's Day


Well, yah. I linked to it, dude! I just mean that no-one would claim based on that that "kappa" originally (or ever) was a term for the writer himself (alone).

language hat:

"Japanese Wikipedia doesn't tend to have '(citation needed)'s, or even citations. Instead, it seems to be written from the perspective of an all-knowing authority."

How bizarre! Has it been this way from the beginning? It seems completely contrary to the whole idea of Wikipedia. (Does Jimmy know about this??)


(Odd thing I just noticed is that there are more Google hits for misspellings of his name than there are sites for people named Kazuko Okakura.)

I am reminded of Symphony Hall in Boston, (incidentally built in 1900, when Okakura was himself in Boston as one of the curators for the Museum of Fine Arts) where they had originally intended for plaques for different legendary composers, but eventually decided that only one name would be used to adorn the proscenium arch above the stage, and that name was BEETHOVEN.

My first concert in that hall, more than 20 years ago included Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto, and at the time I just assumed that they changed the plaque for each concert...


D'oh! Fixed.

That's a great story. I wonder if Beethoven would still be the Musical Saint of choice, though. He's still hipper than Mozart, but Bach's star has certainly risen since 1900.


P.S. Languagehat: That's a good question. Let me look into that and see if I can find anything out. I can tell you right now, though, writing in Japan (even scholarly work) is often not footnoted as closely as it is in the Indo-European-speaking lands. It's one of the frustrating things about reading Japanese non-fiction, right up there with the almost total absence of the index.


Beethoven in 1900 must have been to music what Babe Ruth is to baseball.

To me too, Bach is more of a musical god (楽神??) than Ludwig Van. But perhaps the context is more that of the concert hall for symphony orchestras than a "Hall of Fame" for composers.


Oh, right, SYMPHONY Hall. So I guess the choices were, like, Beethoven, Bruckner, or... early Mahler. Or maybe "Haydn" in smaller letters but written 100-odd times.

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