The music culture of Japan following the Meiji Restoration of 1868 is characterized by the coexistence and interdependent development of three types of music: (1) traditional music passed down from the Edo period (1603–1867) as exemplified by gagaku (court music); (2) the Western music that entered the country and became established after it was opened to the outside world; and (3) modern songs that were the first to be created in East Asia, such as shōka and gunka (school and military songs). These three types of music each played the role required of them by the Meiji state, and they became indispensable elements of the music culture of modern Japan. Traditional music is an irreplaceable fund of original musical expression intrinsic to Japan, Western music offers a common language facilitating musical contact in international society, especially with countries of the West, and modern songs are an essential tool for unifying the Japanese people through the act of ‘singing together in Japanese’.
This article examines the way in which the coexistence of these three types of music began, from the perspective of the musical expression of national identity in the state ceremonies of the Meiji era, namely imperial rites, military ceremonies and school ceremonies. Gagaku was reorganized and strengthened in the 1870s as the music of Japan's imperial rites, and it was given priority both within Japan and overseas, as the most intrinsic of Japan's genres of traditional music. The gagaku scales, defined clearly only from 1878 onwards, were used to amalgamate the musical language of Japan's state ceremonies by their use in ceremonial pieces for military and school ceremonies. This article clarifies the special role played by gagaku in post-Restoration nineteenth-century Japan.