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Music plays a key role in life which is why many people want to pursue a career in music. Japan is home to some great music schools and programs. Venturing between the mix of traditional and modern, they equip students with an advantageous education in music.
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There are a lot of Japanese musicians that have graduated from famous music schools in Japan, and here are just some of them.
Yamada is known as the very first Japanese man that composed an orchestral symphony, titled "Kachidoki to Heiwa (Triumph and Peace)". After studying in Berlin, he returned to Japan with the purpose of westernizing Japanese music and thus released pieces that were very different from traditional Japanese music at the time; his works and composition style resulted in what we came to know as today's Japanese music. His life story and compositions - numbering over 1600 - continue to inspire Japanese musicians to not just play already composed music but to also create it. He is an alumni of Tokyo University of the Arts, one of if not the top music universities of Japan.
※The Tokyo University of the Arts Archive Center, "Rhapsody of Youth (Wakakihi no Kyoushikyoku) by Yamada Kōsaku, the Handwritten Manuscript"
A renowned conductor who worked with major theatres, orchestras, and operas both in Japan and overseas. He was the music director at the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 29 years. He also conducted at the Vienna State Opera, where it is considered as the most prestigious job for conductors in the world. He is also an alumni of one of Japan's top music universities, Toho Gakuen School of Music, and even founded the Seiji Ozawa Music Academy as well as continuing to found and oversee many other educational music programs around the world.
Official website: https://www.universal-music.co.jp/seiji-ozawa/
Sekai no Owari (End of the World) is a popular Japanese pop (J-pop) group known for their creative and unique performances. There are 4 members in the band: Nakajin (guitar), Fukase (vocalist), Saori (piano), and DJ L.O.V.E (DJ). You can hear their hit songs used in a variety of media, including anime, dramas and films. In 2017, they released their first international single under the name End of the World. Saori, the pianist, is an alumni of Senzoku Gakuen College of Music, a renowned school for musicians. She has even written songs for other bands.
King Gnu became a huge hit when their song 白日 (Hakujitsu) was released in 2019.
Tsunata Daiki is the frontman of the group. He plays multiple instruments, including piano, cello, and contrabass. He is not only involved in King Gnu but also writes music for other artists, has his own music project called millennium parade as well as heads a music production team called PERIMETRON. He attended but dropped out of Tokyo University of the Arts (he was a cello major), but ultimately continued to pursue music on his own terms.
Iguchi Satoru is the other vocalist in King Gnu. He and Tsuneta Daiki have been friends since middle school, and he also attended and went on to graduate from Tokyo University of the Arts as a vocal music major. He plays the keyboard in their performances.
Official website: https://kinggnu.jp/
The following are considered among the top music schools in Japan:
1. Tokyo University of the Arts
Tokyo University of the Arts is often considered the top music school in Japan. It has two faculties and 3 graduate schools. The faculty of Music has eight courses: composition, vocal music, instrumental music, conducting, traditional Japanese music, musicology, musical creativity, and the environment, and special graduate courses. In addition, the school sometimes conducts stage performances abroad like in Paris and the United Kingdom to give students opportunities to have exposure internationally.
Official website: Tokyo University of the Arts
2. Toho Gakuen School of Music
Toho Gakuen has an extensive music course that allows students to major on instruments of their own choice (e.g. harp, percussion and wind instruments), composition, musicology, conducting and voice training. Teaching methods of music in Toho Gakuen vary from hands-on training, playing with other students, and performing on stage. They also offer non-degree programs for students who come from abroad; they last between 90 days to a year only. They also have a Graduate School, High School, Orchestra Academy, among others.
Official website: Toho Gakuen School of Music
3. Kunitachi College of Music
Kunitachi has a unique curriculum they call the College Modular System that takes 4 years to finish. In this system, they let students choose from Foundation Modules (core classes) they offer while also taking special electives. They have two departments namely, the Department of Performance and Composition and the Department of Music Cultures and Education. The former has 6 Foundation Modules: Vocal Music, Keyboard, String, Wind & Percussion Instruments, Jazz Music, Composition, and Computer Music. On the other hand, the latter has 4 Foundation Modules: Music Education, Music Therapy, Music Information, and Early Childhood Music Education.
Official website: Kunitachi College of Music
Aside from the three schools mentioned, there are others that are considered top schools, colleges and programs to study music in Japan including:
Similar to other universities and colleges, to get admitted to music schools, you have to finish at least high school to get in. Fill out their application form and submit it to respective universities or colleges and pay the necessary application fee. There are also entrance examinations that you have to take; the examinations vary depending on the course. If you apply for practical skill courses, then you have to audition. This may involve recording yourself and sending in clips, or auditioning in person, depending on the school.
Some universities and conservatories set a number of international students that they accept every year. For example, Senzoku Gakuen accepted 66 international students in 2019. Also music education can be done in 2 to 4 years, depending on the course, but some may only accept international students for 3 months up to a year. It’s best to check the music schools of your choice first to see your chances to reserve your slot.
※ Japan Study Support, "洗足学園音楽大学 | Senzoku Gakuen College of Music"
Schools and other organizations offer a variety of scholarship programs to both Japanese and international students, both in general and also specifically for music. An example is the Rohm Music Foundation scholarship where they give their scholars a maximum stipend of 300,000 yen per month for a year or until the scholars graduate. Check to see if the school offers scholarships for international students; if not, Jasso is a good resource for scholarships.
※ Japan Study Support, "Rohm Music Foundation Scholarship"
After getting your degree in music, there are a lot of opportunities awaiting you not just in Japan, but in other countries. You can start your music career to be a singer, composer, lyricist, conductor, instrumentalist, and even teach music. Or maybe start small by playing your music to live houses or music bars in Japan. You never know - a gig can be your good luck charm for the future. And of course, with the rise of social media, a viral performance clip and a strong social media presence are both great factors that launch many budding musicians' careers.
Japan is the second-largest market of music after the United States, and houses one of the 3 remaining music companies, the well-known Sony Music Entertainment agency. There are a lot of favorable opportunities in the music industry in Japan alone. Japanese artists and foreign musicians do not need to necessarily break into the international market, since Japan already has a big market on their own, depending of course,on the artists’ goal. Moreover, there are good chances internationally like in the US too since it has the biggest music industry in the world.
※ International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, "Global Music Report The Industry In 2019," p.13
According to Henry Longfellow, "Music is the universal language of mankind." Japan has a lot of amazing music schools that cater both to Japanese and international students. This can be your chance to acquire your music skills. Some schools have close cooperation with the local music industries in Japan already, which can be used as a great advantage both to the Japanese and foreign students who wish to study music in Japan, and realize your dream of becoming a musician!
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