The Gallery - Articles & Interviews

My Encounter with Koto

Over the last 20 years or so, there are many things I have come to enjoy about Japan - gardens, temples, food, tea ceremony, classical art, travelling the country, etc. No other country's culture has interested me as strongly as Japan's. And, without question, the thing I love best of all things Japanese is koto music.

I have always had music in my life. By 4 years of age, I began playing piano by ear and could play almost anything I heard. Throughout public and high schools, I sang with my school choirs in the annual competitions at the Kiwanis Festival. From the age of 8, I studied classical piano for over 15 years and classical flute for 5 years at the Royal Conservatory of Music. I think my family expected that I would grow up to become a concert pianist. So if anyone had told me that I would one day learn an instrument from the other side of the world, which very few people have heard of, with music written in strange characters, where I had to practise on my knees for hours, I don't think I would have believed them. If they had also told me that this instrument would change my life, I might have thought they were crazy. But as it turned out, that's exactly what happened.

My first contact with Japanese music was in the early 1970's in Japanese restaurants. (Japanese food is another thing I love.) There weren't very many in Toronto at that time. The taped music in these restaurants was not very good and the sound systems were fairly cheap ones. So my first impression of Japanese music was that it was rather terrible. But my family really enjoyed Japanese food. Every time a new restaurant opened, we'd go to try it. As Japanese food's popularity increased, the quality of the restaurants improved. So did the quality of the music. Because music has always been in my blood, I started paying attention to what was being played. Gradually, I realized that I liked the harp-sounding instrument. I discovered it was called koto and started looking for recordings of koto music in the big record stores downtown. Of course, there was almost nothing available. So I decided that, if I wanted to hear more of it, I was going to have to study koto myself. And so, about 12 years ago, that's what I did.

Learning koto has taught me many things and enhanced my life in direct and subtle ways. The koto pieces themselves gave me an entirely new sense of music appreciation. It took time for this to happen, though, and at first it was difficult to feel any sense of interpretation. Another thing koto has taught me is patience - as both a student and a teacher. My own teachers taught me in the traditional Japanese way, with few explanations, and they spoke little or no English. The answer to many of my questions was "Just play." I had no choice but to practise steadily until they said it was right. As for teaching koto, my students find many challenges that I have to help them with. For those with Western musical training, it can be frustrating to find little in common between the two systems. For those who neither speak nor read Japanese, they wonder if it's possible to ever learn to play. I have to patiently help every student to make sure that these and other problems do not stop them from enjoying the instrument.

Through koto music, I gradually discovered other aspects of Japanese culture. My interest in the religions of Japan and in Tea Ceremony grew after I started koto. Through the classical songs, I learned things about the Japanese sense of appreciation for life, which is quite different than the Western one. I also learned about history, heroes and geography of Japan through the words of these songs. One of the reasons I enjoy travelling in Japan is because I can see many of the places that I have sung or read about. During these travels, I've met many friendly people, both in and out of the music world. My students over the years have come from all walks of life and cultures. I believe that we have taught each other many things. Of course, I also meet some very pleasant people through my public performances.

Koto is in my head and my heart and has become part of who I am. Even after 12 years, I can still get excited about it and I enjoy it more than I ever enjoyed my Western music. I can't imagine what my life would have been like without it.

(By Linda Caplan. Published in the "Me and Japan" series of the Toronto Japanese Association of Commerce & Industry newsletter, July/August, 1994)

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Special koto performance in North York to honour Canadian achievement

Midtown resident achieves Grandmaster rank on Japanese floor harp; first non-Japanese person to do so

When Linda Kako Caplan began studying koto (Japanese floor harp) 25 years ago, the Eglinton Avenue and Avenue Road resident never dreamed she would one day become a master of her art.

Last July, Caplan received the rank of Grandmaster (Dai Shihan) from the Chikushikai Koto School in Fukuoka, Japan for her decades-long dedication to koto.

This marked the first time a non-Japanese koto player in North America was granted the title of Grandmaster. She is also the sole Canadian in the school's almost 70-year history to become Grandmaster.

"No one was more surprised than I and I certainly didn't go into studying this instrument with that in mind," Caplan said of her achievement.

A classically trained pianist and flautist, Caplan happened upon koto when a friend took her out for Japanese food and was intrigued by the music playing in the background.

Caplan quickly found a koto teacher and spent hours honing her skills, never thinking she would eventually teach the instrument she fell in love with, let alone master it.

"I never played a string instrument, I was a pianist and flautist," said Caplan, who is York University's Japanese music course director. "When I became Grandmaster, it was like sending notice I just won Miss America."

Becoming Grandmaster was no small feat for Caplan as it takes at least a decade to be considered for the top rank.

Contenders for Shihan (Master) at Chikushikai Koto School must successfully complete four levels of examinations and three teaching levels. The last level of exams, Grandmaster, can only be taken in Japan and is held before a jury of five to seven adjudicators. This exam includes half an hour of performing and a three-hour written theory portion.

Following Shihan, it takes 10 to 23 years to qualify for a nomination as a Grandmaster and must be approved by the school's board of directors. In celebration of Caplan's Grandmaster rank, she will take part in a special performance Aug. 6 at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, 6 Garamond Crt., at 7:30 p.m.

Caplan will share the stage with Iemoto Junko Chikushi of Chikushikai Koto School in Japan and Chikushikai koto Grandmaster Kazuko Muramoto of California at the Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue venue.

(By Fannie Sunshine. Published in the North York Mirror, July 8, 2008. Also published in the Etobicoke Guardian and

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Linda Kako Caplan

リンダ 歌香 カプラン
琴演奏家 2008年の新春は、伝統楽器の音色に遊ぶ

箏曲『春の海』や『さくら さくら』などで馴染み深い琴の音色。日本の伝統が感じられる雅やかな音で、新年の雰囲気を盛り上げてくれる楽器だ。
今回は、琴を演奏して25年、昨年7月には日系以外の外国人としては初、もちろんカナダ人としても唯一の大師範の称号を与えられた琴演奏家のリンダ 歌香 カプランさんにお話を伺った。

「今はもうないけれど、トロントに最初にできた日本食レストランのひとつで、クイーン通り沿いにミチという日本食レストランがあったの。そこで初めて日本 食”テリヤキ・白いご飯・緑茶“を食べた。日本料理は私にとっては未知のもので、ユニークだった。だから、ちょっとお金に余裕ができたらその店に通ってい たの。そのうち、店内で流れる音楽が気になり始めたのが琴との最初の出会いね。
実は、最初はあまり琴の音を好きになれなかった。でも、2回、3回と繰り返し聞き、店で流れる音楽の録音の質も良くなったりしたことで、だんだん『そんな に悪くないじゃない』と思い始めたの。それで、琴のレコードを買おうと思って世界の音楽を扱っているレコード店に足を運んだ。その頃ビートルズが全盛期 で、彼らの最新アルバムが5ドル99セント。でも、琴のレコードは15ドル99セント。高いな…と思ったわ。だから、自分で弾いてしまおうと思ったの (笑)」
「そうですね。でも私の所属する筑紫会は、細かいことを指摘することはなく、『あれはこうした方がよかったわね…』と教えてくれる。リラックスしたという か、フレンドリーな雰囲気なので気は楽ですね。作法を少し間違えてしまって正していただいたら、『すみません』と以後、気をつける(笑)。
それに、筑紫会を創設した筑紫歌都子(ちくしかつこ)先生はすごく西洋音楽への理解があったの。彼女は邦楽を現代化させなければこのまま絶えてしまうので はないかと懸念されて、学校の試験の一つに西洋音楽セオリーを取り入れたのよ」
それに、西洋の音楽を知っていることが琴を習う時には必ずしも有利に働かないこともあるのよ。例えば、ギターを弾く時には習慣的に行っている演奏テクニッ クなのに、琴ではやってはいけなかったり…。一度習ったことを習い戻すのは大変。反対に何も楽器を習ったことのない人は真っ白な状態から学べるので、戸惑 うことは少ないわ」
「”弾ける“というのをどのレベルで考えているかにもよるけど、『さくらさくら』だけを弾きたいのなら一日で教えることはできるわ。でも、それ以上は個人 差があるから一概には言えないわね。琴の弾き方を学ぶ過程では、日本の文化を知らなければいけないから、ひと言で”弾けるようになる“といっても、その意 味は深いのよ(笑)。 特に、古曲は古今集とか古今和歌集の詩を元にして書かれているから、意味を知ることも大切。本を読んだり、先生が『この部分の詩 は、ロマンティックな意味を持ってます』と教えてくれれば、その感情を音に反映させたり…。音楽を通じて、その国の文化をより深く知ることができる。だか ら、04年から日本では、教育省が邦楽の学習(和楽器活用)を中学校の必須科目のひとつに組み込まれたのだと思うわ」

「できる限り日本の教室様式に合わせているの。ご挨拶も日本語だし、琴のテクニックも日本語のまま教えます。演奏用語以外には英語を使うけれど、生徒さん が日本語を理解するかどうかは関係なく、用語は日本語のみ。だって、いつ、どんな機会があって、生徒さんたちが日本の先生(宗家)とお会いするか分らない でしょ?」

〈インタビュー/西尾 裕美〉

りんだ かこう かぷらん
トロント在住。福岡市に本部を置く筝曲生田流筑紫会の大師範。『歌香』は名取名。琴演奏家として活躍する傍ら、ヨーク大学で邦楽科の責任者を務める。また トロント市内で琴、三味線の個人指導を行う。3月1日(土)に日系文化会館の『春祭り』で演奏予定(詳細は次回号以降のbits日系ニュースを参照)。

(By Hiromi Nishio. Published in Bits Magazine and at, January 4, 2008)

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