Miyagi Michio's

    Life and Achievements

Birth

Miyagi Michio was born as Suga Michio, the first son of Suga Kunijirō and Asa, in the foreign sector of Sannomiya in Kobe on April 7, 1894. He suffered from an eye disease 7 months after his birth. Around the age of 4 his mother left the family and he was raised by his grandmother, Mine.

Embarking on the Road to Koto Master
Miyagi became totally blind by the age of 8 and was apprenticed to Ikuta School Koto Master Nakajima Kengyō II. At the age of 11 he received a teaching license from Nakajima Kengyō III and was allowed to adopt the professional name of Nakasuga Michio, taking the first character, “naka”, from his master’s name and adding it to his own name, “suga”.

Mizu no Hentai (Transformations of Water)
For family reasons, the summer Miyagi was 13, he moved to Jinsen (now Inchon) in Chosen (now South Korea). He supported his family by teaching koto during the day and shakuhachi at night. He composed his first work, Mizu no Hentai, when he was 14 years old. This work was favorably received by Itō Hirobumi, who pledged to support Michio should he move to Tokyo. Soon after, though, Itō was assassinated and was unable to fulfill his promise.

Move to Tokyo
Miyagi’s career allowed him to move to Keijo (the name for Seoul under the Japanese occupation) and through marriage he adopted his wife’s name, Miyagi. Soon after he became widely known in the koto world in Chosen, and at the age of 22 he achieved the top koto rank of Dai-Kengyō. However, Miyagi was not satisfied with this, and in April 1917 he moved to Tokyo with lofty ambitions. Soon after he moved to Tokyo, his wife died from an illness.

New Start
In 1918, Yoshimura Sadako married the destitute Michio. Before long, Sadako’s nieces Makise Kiyoko (later Miyagi Kiyoko) and Makise Kazue (later Miyagi Kazue) began studying with Miyagi.

First Concert of His Own Compositions
With the support of Kuzuhara Shigeru, in 1919 Miyagi realized his dream of holding the first concert of his own compositions when he made his debut as a composer at the age of 25 at the Chūō Kaidō in Tokyo.

Invention of and Modification to Musical Instruments

Miyagi dedicated much energy to modifying traditional musical instruments and inventing new ones in order to open up new musical worlds for himself, resulting in the 17-string bass koto, the 80-string koto, the tan-goto (short koto), and the dai-kokyū (large kokyū).

17-string bass koto (jūshichigen)
A large 17-string koto invented as a low-pitched instrument.

 

80-string koto

The 80-string koto was invented to take advantage of the koto’s unique characteristics as well as to be able to perform both Japanese and Western works.
 

Tan-goto 

This small-sized koto was invented to appeal to the masses as well as to make it easier to handle

Dai-Kokyū 

The large-size kokyū was created to increase the volume and range of the existing instrument.

Miyagi the Composer
Miyagi Michio was a trailblazer who opened up new musical worlds and revitalized traditional Japanese music by utilizing elements of Western music. Later know at the New Japanese movement, his work triggered the development of contemporary music for traditional Japanese instruments. In particular, Miyagi’s 1932 performance of his famous work “Haru no Umi” with the French violinist Renee Chemet was critically acclaimed. After that, recordings of this work in Japan, the U.S. and France led him to become well-known throughout the world.

Miyagi the Performer

Miyagi dearly loved the classical repertoire, but he was also a talented composer who used his sensitivity, virtuosity and energy to establish a modernized and revitalized repertoire. Today we can appreciate and understand this through CDs and other sound recordings.

Miyagi as an Educator
Miyagi not only taught his own private students, in 1930 he became a professor at the Tokyo School of Music (now Tokyo University of the Arts).  He implemented new pedagogical methods for traditional Japanese music, using both the five-line and koto notation systems. He wrote and published manuals for beginning koto and shamisen students, and conducted radio koto lessons.

Miyagi on the Air
Miyagi performed on the radio on the first day of broadcasting tests in Japan in 1925. After that, he performed on New Year’s Day programs and also participated in shows transmitted internationally. He was also the first person to broadcast radio koto lessons. In recognition of his great achievements in broadcasting, in 1950 he received the first Broadcast Culture Award.

European Trip
In the summer of 1953 Miyagi traveled to Biarritz, France and Pamplona, Spain as the Japanese representative to the UNESCO International Folk Music and Dance Festival, where he took first place. He also premiered his composition “A Rainy Night in London” on BBC radio in England on that trip.

Shocking Death

Miyagi was headed for Osaka to perform his work “Variations on Etenraku” when, in the early morning on June 25, 1956, he fell from the express train “Ginga” near Kariya Station on the Tokaido Line. He died at 7:15 that morning at Toyoda Hospital in Kariya. He was 62 years old.

​Principal Works

1908 

水の変態 “Mizu no Hentai”(Transformations of Water)    

1913 

唐砧 “Karaginuta” 

1914 

春の夜 “Haru no Yo”(Spring Evening)    

初鶯 “Hatsu Uguisu”(First Nightingale) 

 

1918 

秋の調 “Aki no Shirabe”

1919 

尾上の松 (箏手付)“Onoe no Matsu”(Counter Melody) 

秋の夜  “Aki no Yo”(Autumn Evening) 

1920 

こんかい “Konkai” 

紅薔薇 “Beni sōubi”(Crimson Rose)

あひる “Ahiru”(Duck)

 

1921 

落葉の踊 “Ochiba no Odori”Dance of the Falling Leaves)

こすもす “Cosmos” 

むら竹 “Muratake”(Bamboo Grove) 

せきれい “Sekirei”(Wagtail bird) 

1923 

薤露調 “Kairochō” 

さくら変奏曲 “Sakura Hensōkyoku”

       (Variations on Sakura)

瀬音 “Seoto”

谷間の水車 “Tanima no Suisha”

     (Water Wheel in the Vallay) 

比良 “Hira” 

1924 

春の訪れ “Haru no Otozure”(Arrival of Spring) 

お山の細道 “O-yama no Hosomichi”

      (Narrow Mountain Path) 

 

1926 

軒の雫 “Noki no Shizuku”(Dripping Water from the Eaves) 

夜の大工さん “Yoru no Daikusan”(Mr.Night Carpenter) 

 

1927 

花紅葉 “Hana Momiji”(AutumnFlowers) 

1928 

越天楽変奏曲 “Etenraku Hensoukyoku”

       (Variations on Etenraku)

砧 “Kinuta” 

小鳥の歌 “Kotori no Uta”(Little Bird's Song) 

花園 “Hanazono”(Flower Garden) 

 

1929 

春の海 “Haru no Umi”(Spring Sea)      

遠砧 “Tōginuta”          

ピョンピョコリン “Pyonpyokorin” 

1931 

秋韻 “Aki no Hibiki”          

高麗の春 “Koma no Haru”          

ワンワンニャオニャオ “Wan-wan Nyao-nyao”

          (Ruff-ruff  Meow-meow) 

虫の武蔵野 “Mushi no Musashino”(Insects of Musashino) 

 

1934

さしそう光“Sashisō Hikari”

御代の祝 “Miyo no Iwai” 

 

1937

壱越調箏協奏曲

“Ichikotsuchō Koto Kyōsōkyoku”

(Koto Concerto in Ichikotsu Mode) 

 

1940

祝典箏協奏曲 “Syukuten Koto Kyōsōkyoku” 

数え唄変奏曲 “Kazoeuta Hensōkyoku”

    (Variations on a Counting Song) 

1941

風鈴 “Fūrin”(Wind Chime) 

線香花火 “Senkō Hanabi”(Sparklers) 

 

1943

虫の歌 “Mushi no Uta”(Song of the Insects) 

三つの遊び “Mitsu no Asobi”(Three Pla Songs) 

1947

手事 “Tegoto” 

1948

五十鈴川 “Isuzugawa”(Isuzu River) 

祭の太鼓 “Matsuri no Taiko”(Festival Drums) 

 

1952

編曲八千代獅子 “Henkyoku Yachiyo Jishi” 

さらし風手事 “Sarashifū Tegoto” 

1953

日蓮 “Nichiren” 

ロンドンの夜の雨 “London no Yoru no Ame”

​        (Rainy Night in London)

中空砧 “Nakazoraginuta” 

1954

四季の柳 “Shiki no Yanagi”(The Willow in Four Seasons) 

秋の初風 “Aki no Hatsukaze”(First Autumn Breeze) 

衛兵の交替 “Eihei no Koutai”(Changing of the Guard)

 

1955

松 “Matsu”(Pine)

奈良の四季 “Nara no Shiki”(Four Seasons of Nara) 

1956

浜木綿 “Hamayū”(Crinum)