The Last Biwa Singer: A Blind Musician in History, Imagination and Performance

Series: Cornell East Asia (143)
This work is an exposition of the traditions of Japanese blind singers who accompanied themselves on the biwa, and of the complex identity of Yamashika Yoshiyuki (1901-1996), a man widely portrayed as the last such living relic of the medieval bards called biwa hoshi. The author draws upon approaches from Japanese historical and literature studies, performance studies and ethnomusicology in an examination of history, which yielded on the one hand images of blind singers that still circulate in Japan, and on the other a particular tradition of musical story-telling and rites in regional Kyushu, of representations of Yamashika in diverse media, of his experience training for and making a living as a professional performer and rituals from the 1920s on, and of the oral compositional process in performances made between 1989 and 1992.