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Origin[]

Biwa-hoshi

Biwa Hosi plays a Bivio.

Biwa hōshi, also known as "lute priests" were travelling performers in the era of Japanese history preceding the Meiji period. They earned their income by reciting vocal literature to the accompaniment of biwa music. Often blind, they adopted the shaved heads and robes common to Buddhist monks. This occupation likely had its origin in China and India, where blind Buddhist lay-priest performers were once common. Their musical style is referred to as 平曲 (heikyoku), which literally means “Heike music.” Although these performers existed well before the events, they eventually became famous for narrating. Before biwa hoshi sang heikyoku, they were entertainers and ritual performers. They took on a broad range of roles, including poetry and song, plague prevention, and spiritual purification; actually, it was probably because of their ritualistic duties that they became the caretakers of the Heike Monogatari (平家物語). The biwa hoshi are considered the first performers of the Tale of the Heike (平家物語), which is one of Japan`s most famous epics. It details battles between two powerful clans, the Minamoto and the Taira around the 12th century. The Taira were eventually annihilated by the Minamoto (sometimes called the Genji), who systematically killed every male descendant of the Taira. Religion in Japan at the time incorporated many native animistic (Shinto) beliefs into its Buddhist theological framework, leading many court nobles and religious leaders to worry about angry Taira spirits disrupting the peace. The Great Earthquake around 1185 C.E. contributed to this sentiment. Since their rituals included placating spirits and preventing plagues, Heike music became a vehicle for placating lingering, resentful Heike spirits. Heikyoku and biwa hoshi became immensely popular for the next several hundred years.

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