Japanese Music and Dance for Children

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Every year at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum families are invited to “ring” in the New Year Japanese style, by participating in the auspicious Japanese tradition of striking a temple bell. According to Japanese custom, striking the bell symbolically welcomes the New Year. It is hoped that with each reverberation, the bad experiences and ill luck of the past will be wiped away, giving space to a joyous and fresh New Year.

I was inspired by this community event and decided to have the children and families in my classes participate in our very own New Year tradition. So during our first 2013 classes children sang a Good Morning song I learned from Doug Goodkin; then each took a turn striking a bell and listening to the sound reverberate in the room. It’s a very calming ceremony and the perfect introduction to the music and dance of Japan.

Traditional Japanese music is quite different from Western music. With a sparse rhythm and periods of silence, the music tends to calm and tries to inspire feelings of nature. I am personally fascinated by the sounds of the Koto and the Taiko drums and the dreamy sounds of Japanese folk music.

In this article I would like to share with you some songs and a dance I introduce to all my preschool classes. The very first Japanese song I learned is called Moshi Moshi, and it is sometimes referred to as The Telephone Song. The song is sung to the tune of London Bridge and here are the lyrics:

<i)Moshi Moshi a no ne, a no ne, a no ne,

Moshi Moshi a no ne, ah so desu ka!

Children really enjoy the song and it’s fun to sing it as a call and response. Another song I really like is called Okina Taiko. This song is great played with drums or sticks and teaches beat as well as the difference between big drums and small drums.

Okina Taiko don, don

Chiisana Taiko ton, ton, ton

Okina Taiko, Chiisana Taiko

Okina Taiko don don.

Last but not least, I would like to leave you with one of my favorite folk dances called Tanko Bushi. This dance is traditionally performed during the Bon Festival and depicts the actions of coal miners, i.e., digging, pushing a cart, etc.

You can find a nice rendition on youtube.

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