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The roots of Joshu's Famous Yagibushi Folkmusic 


Yagibushi folkmusic dates back to ca. 1500, during thePeriod of Warring States in Japanese history. When Lord Uesugi Kenshin from Etchigo Province (now the Shinshu region of Honshu) conquered the Kanto area, he attempted to placate the peasants and re-establish peace by promoting the celebration of the Bon Festival or the Feast of Lanterns (July 15 in the lunar calendar). During this festival, peasants enjoyed singing folkmusic and dancing.

Around the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate (ca. 1800), a woman named "Osayo," who originated from Etchigo Province, was living in Kizakijuku, a village in the Nitta district of Joshu Province (now Gunma Prefecture). This woman sang Bon folkballads based on tales from the Jinpo Kodaiji Temple. These songs became known as "Kizaki Folksongs" and were sung at festivals.

Later, during the Meiji Period, Western culture was introduced in Japan. As a result, the lifestyle of the citizenry changed significantly.With the rise of republicanism came new songs celebrating regional pride. In tune with this movement, Joshu's famed bitter winds of Mt. Akagi and the rapids on the Tone River were incorporated in lively rhythm of the local folkmusic. Balladeers such as Joshu Yabasho and Noshu Horikome Genta (nee Watanabe Gentaro) would sing out these new lyrics as they drove their horsedrawn wagon between Kiryu and Ashikaga. These new ballads became known as Yagibushi folksongs.

At the beginning of the Showa Period, the Kiryu Textile Weavers Union President, Hikobe Komao (the 9th Union President) sponsored a Yagibushi contest on the plaza in front of the union headquarters in Eirakucho. He invited textile wholesalers from all over the country to attend the event who declared it a grand success. Since that time, Yagibushi folkmusic has been used all over the country to promote Kiryu textiles. (Many of the ballads tell of the kimono and obi fabrics woven in Kiryu.) 

Perhaps one of the most immediate causes for Yagibushi achieving national renown was its performance at the Osaka World's Fair in 1970. A team of Yagibushi musicians and dancers traveled to the Expo representing the city of Kiryu. Subsequently, Yagibushi has been performed both on television and overseas on numerous occasions.

Yagibushi is now the focus of Kiryu's annual summer festival and year by year it continues to grow in recognition and popularity.

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