6/01: Storytelling by Biwa and Performance by Nobuko Miyamoto


West Valley Regional Library presents “The Art of Storytelling & Music from Japan” on Saturday, June 1 at 1:00 pm at West Valley Regional Library, 19036 Vanowen Street, Reseda, CA 91335.

This program introduces the traditional and modern art of storytelling and music through voice and the biwa, a lute-type stringed instrument. Performance by Nobuko Fukatsu (biwa/voice) & guest musician Nobuko Miyamoto (voice/keyboard).

The program includes: Japanese traditional songs, a biwa storytelling classic, and a contemporary storytelling piece that recounts the Japanese American internment experiences, played on the biwa that survived the turmoil.

The biwa is a traditional lute-like Japanese stringed instrument, predominantly used in narrative music. This musical tradition was initially passed on by wandering blind monks, telling stories of those who would otherwise have been forgotten. The tradition has continued over the last 800 years, with various modifications made at different points in time.

This instrument and its music came to the United States in the early 20th century with Japanese immigrants.  Those who brought biwas with them played for their fellow expatriates who missed their home country.  When 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced to “relocate” in the spring of 1942, some biwas were brought to internment camps and some were left at home while the owners were away.  Those left behind were silent witnesses to vandalism fueled by war hysteria and racism.

The biwa that Nobuko Fukatsu, a biwa musician from Japan now based in Los Angeles, plays is one of those witnesses.  When she received this biwa from the Nisei whose late husband was the original owner, Fukatsu started thinking about telling the story of those Japanese Americans using the format of biwa storytelling.

It was then that she met Nobuko Miyamoto, an iconic Japanese American artist and activist who has been telling stories through the arts to create social change and forge solidarity.  Listening to Miyamoto’s song Gaman, which tells the story of the Japanese American experiences during WWII, she wondered if she could translate it into Japanese and make it into biwa music.  When Fukatsu asked her permission, Miyamoto smiled and said “Yes.”

In this performance, the two Nobukos will collaborate on this song using both formats – English and Japanese: music for social change and biwa storytelling.  Some Japanese traditional songs and a classic biwa piece from 13th century literature, The Tale of Heike, will be played as well.

This program is supported by Racial Equity Action Board (REAB).