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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Performing as One: Translating Pedagogy, Rhythm, and Social Relations in Diasporic Japanese Minyo

  • Author(s): Kaneko, Nana
  • Advisor(s): Wong, Deborah
  • et al.

This thesis addresses music transmission and pedagogy in a diasporic, transnational setting. In 1966, Matsutoyo Sato Sensei, my Japanese minyo folk singing and shamisen teacher, left Japan and her position as next in line to inherit and run her teacher's iemoto (a formalized, hierarchical master student) school. Seeking a fresh start, she moved to California at the age of twenty-five, and decided to cultivate minyo abroad. Using a participant-observer ethnographic methodology, my research addressed how Matsutoyo Sensei's pedagogical methods are both maintained and changed in diaspora. I focus on three areas: (1) Matsutoyo Sensei's emphasis on nami (wave, as in the waves of the ocean), which is her metaphor for rhythmic intricacies, an internal pulse, and social relations, (2) the ways that Matsutoyo Sensei's charismatic authority informs her pedagogy, and (3) how Matsutoyo Sensei reconfigures Japanese musical aesthetics and social expectations. By tracing how Matsutoyo Sensei employs nami and the idiosyncrasies of her pedagogical methods, which are based in Japanese aesthetics and adjusted to American sensibilities, I illustrate how she instills oneness for the group and mutual respect, and demonstrate the contributing factors to her success as a music teacher in diaspora. Using Slobin's model of a "diasporic interculture" (1993), I argue that Matsutoyo Sensei's pedagogical work is situated at the intersection of transnational connections between Japan and the United States. Lastly, I argue for the importance of person-centered ethnographies by suggesting that they offer a close, particularized look at how culture is made, sustained, and transmitted.

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