Biwa Hoshi

Biwa Hoshi:


Biwa hōshi , also known as “lute priests”, were travelling performers in the era of Japanese history preceding the Meiji period. They earned their income by reciting vocal literature to the accompaniment of biwa music. Often blind, they adopted the shaved heads and robes common to Buddhist monks. It arrived in Japan in two forms. Since that time, the number of biwa types has more than quadrupled. Guilds supporting biwa players, particularly the biwa hoshi, helped proliferate biwa musical development for hundreds of years. Biwa hōshi performances overlapped with performances by other biwa players many years before heikyoko and continued until today.

By the late 1940s, the biwa, a thoroughly Japanese tradition, was nearly completely abandoned for Western instruments; however, thanks to collaborative efforts by Japanese musicians, interest in the biwa is being revived. Japanese and foreign musicians alike have begun embracing traditional Japanese instruments, particularly the biwa, in their compositions. While blind biwa singers no longer dominate the biwa, many performers continue to use the instrument in traditional and modern ways.


The biwa came to Japan in the 7th century and it was evolved from the Chinese instrument pipa, while the pipa itself was derived from similar instruments in Western Asia. This type of biwa is called the gaku-biwa and was used in gagaku ensembles and is the most commonly known type.Before long, as the Ritsuryō state collapsed, the court music musicians were faced with the reconstruction and sought asylum in Buddhist temples. There they assumed the role of Buddhist monks and encountered the mōsō-biwa. They incorporated the convenient aspects of mōsō-biwa, its small size and portability, into their large and heavy gaku-biwa, and created the heike-biwa, which, as indicated by its namesake, was used primarily for recitations of The Tale of the Heike.

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  • Hogaku – Japanese Traditional Music:
  • Gagaku – Japanese Court Music:
  • Shomyo– Buddhist Chanting:
  • Biwa Aesthetics:


Notable Artist:

  • Yukio Tanaka:
  • Kumiko Shoto:


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