the Japanese Imperial Gagaku ensemble

Musicians of the Imperial Household

Gakubu: the Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency, Japan

The Gakubu is the Music Department within the Emperor’s Palace, and is the modern day standard-setter for all Gagaku performances. The Gakubu consists of approximately twenty-five court musicians, half of them from centuries old hereditary families, who perform Gagaku at dozens of ceremonies at the Palace, and at the spring and autumn Garden Parties hosted by the Emperor. They invite wider sections of the public to biannual concerts at the Palace and they also perform at the National Theatre in Tokyo and local concert halls several times a year.

So far they have made seven overseas tours at the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies, beginning with the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations in New York in 1959. They toured in Europe in 1970, 1976, and 1989, and in 2000 they toured from Europe to Egypt. They visited the United States in 1959 and 1987, as well as the Republic of Korea in 2002. All in all, forty-four cities outside Japan have enjoyed their unrivalled Gagaku performances.

In 1955, Gagaku performed by Gakubu musicians was designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property of Japan. Since then they have been collectively designated as holders of Important Intangible Cultural Property, a designation that is commonly referred to as "living national treasure". In 2009, Gagaku performed by the Music Department of the Imperial Household was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in accordance with the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

They last performed in the UK at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970 and 1976.