the Japanese Imperial Gagaku ensemble

History of Gagaku

Gagaku literally “elegant music” is a term originally used in contrast with Zokugaku (popular music) and denotes classical music.

Gagaku in this sense existed also in China and Korea, but that music is totally different from Japanese Gagaku.

Japanese Gagaku is Japan’s most ancient classical music. As the sum-total of Japanese music, comprising native Japanese songs and dances handed down from ancient times, instrumental music and dances introduced to Japan from the Asian continent and Japanized, as well as music newly created under the influence of such music, Gagaku evolved into its present form around the 10th century A.D. (mid-Heian period).

Gagaku has been performed mainly at the Imperial Court, in aristocratic society and at important shrines and temples.

Gagaku handed down by the Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency now sets the standard for Gagaku.