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Chapter I - Family Origins

and Childhood

Akira Ifukube, 1923

Akira Ifukube, 1928

The distinguished Ifukube family has ancient roots in western Japan, particularly in the former provinces of Inaba and Izumo. Known as Ifukibe in antiquity, the origins of this family can be traced back to at least the 7th century with the birth of Ifukibe-no-Tokotarihime. This female ancestor was born in Inaba (the exact date is not known), the daughter of Kuni-no-miyatsuko, an administrator in that region. The name Inaba is no longer in use today; currently, the region is known as Iwami and is located in Tottori Prefecture. Tokotarihime served in the court of Japan's 42nd emperor, Mommu (683-707), as a lady-in-waiting. In this capacity she achieved the official court rank of Jushichii-ge (Low Seventh) for her service in 707 AD. Tokotarihime died in July 708. A little over two years later in the fall of 710, her remains were cremated and her ashes were put into cast copper urn, which itself was encased in a granite container. The urn was buried on Mount Ube in Inaba and, in 1774, during the Edo Period, Tokotarihime's remains were discovered and excavated. Engraved on the lid of the urn is a 16-line description of Tokotarihime's rank and date of death. The valuable artifact now resides in the National Museum of Tokyo. [1]


The lid of the Ifukibe-no-Tokotarihime urn. Image courtesy of N38916.

The surname Ifukibe was not exclusive to Inaba and in fact could be found in various regions where metal refinery was practiced. The folklorist Kenichi Tanigawa posits that this name might have been linked to a certain worker of the imperial court who blew on metal to refine it. In Japanese, ibuki means "breath" and iki o fuku means "to breathe" or " to blow," and these words are phonetically similar to the names Ifukibe and Ifukube. [2]

Due to the prestige of Ifukibe-no-Tokotarihime, the Ifukibe clan was able to build a palace in Inaba, a base from which members of the family could serve not only as metal refiners but also as very influential administrators.

Though the Ifukube family can very tangibly be traced back to Ifukibe-no-Tokotarihime, family legend claims decidedly older and even divine origins as well. The origins in question have their basis in a Shinto fable known as The White Rabbit of Inaba. (Shinto is the native anamist religion of Japan.) In this story, a suffering rabbit is relieved from his pain by the kindly Okuninushi-no-Mikoto. As a reward for his kindness, the rabbit helps Okuninushi marry the beautiful princess Yakami. Today, the tale of the White Rabbit of Inaba is famous all over Japan.

In Japanese mythology, Okunishushi-no-Mikoto is the son of Susanо̄, the god of sea and storms and the brother of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, who is considered one of the most important deities in all of Shinto. It is said that when Susanо̄ descended from the heavens to earth, he landed in Izumo Province (now known as the eastern part of Shimane Prefecture), an area adjacent to Inaba.

The spirit of Okuninushi-no-Mikoto resides today, according to custom, in the Izumo Shrine in Shimane Prefecture. Okuninushi is now known as the kami (deity) of marriage.

Due to the Ifukibe family's unusually strong ties to the most important line of Shinto gods, it seems natural that members this sacred clan would eventually branch out from metal work and government administration to an embrace of the calling of priesthood. At some point after the death of Ifukibe-no-Tokotarihime's death in 708, various members of the Ifukibe family began serving as priests of the Ube Shrine, which had been founded around 648 AD. [2] The shrine was built close to Mount Ube, the site where Ifukibe-no-Tokotarihime's urn was buried. The Ifukibes went on to establish a strong foothold at the shrine and this was the catalyst for a tradition in which generations of the first-born males of the family would grow up to serve as priests there.

Incidentally, there is a story connected to the Ube Shrine that adds further credence to the idea that the name Ifukibe/Ifukube has a relationship to the concept of blowing air. It is written in the Shoku Nihon Kо̄ki, a historical text officially commissioned by Emperor Saga in 869. According to this text, in 848, a fire broke out at government buildings in Inaba. The governor of the province prayed to the Ifukibes at the Ube Shrine and, immediately following this, a great wind blew and extinguished the blaze. This story demonstrates that the resdients of Inaba were well aware of the Ifukibe family's connection to the concepts of breathe and wind and prayed to the Ube Shrine in particular to conjure just the right phenomenon to blow out the destructive fire. [3]

Though the Ube Shrine had existed in Inaba for centuries, its original structures are no longer standing. The buildings that currently reside on the site were completed in 1898. The shrine is considered one of the oldest in Japan.


Ube Shrine, Tottori, as it appeared in 1907.

Over the centuries, the name Ifukibe morphed into Ifukube. The 65th generation of this family was Nobuyo Ifukube, who was born on September 15, 1839 in Tottori. As a young man he was an admirer or the arts and, at one point, tried to learn the shamisen, a traditional three-stringed instrument [3]. His ultimate destiny, however, was to carry on what was by then the already long-standing family tradition of Shinto priesthood. As an adult he married a woman named Suzu, born January 14, 1848, who was a member of a very old and respected family in Tottori. Arranged marriages were customary in Japan during this period and it was Nobuyo's father who had selected Suzu to marry his son. The exact date of their wedding does not exist in family records, but it likely would have been in 1865 or 1866. This is based on the birth date of their son Toshizo, who was born on October 18, 1866. Nobuyo and Suzu would certainly have been married before the birth of their son.


A scroll showing the Ifukube family lineage. Image courtesy of Tohru Ifukube.

n 1868, two years after the birth of Toshizo, Japan saw the start of the Meiji Restoration, a period in which imperial rule returned to the archipelago nation after over two centuries of control by an isolationist military dictatorship known as the Tokugawa Shogunate. With the newly reestablished imperial government under the rule of the young Emperor Meiji came sweeping efforts to open Japan to the rest of the world and modernize by embracing Western technology and customs.

In all of Japan, Shinto priesthood was a hereditary vocation transferred from father to son, as was the tradition at the Ube Shrine. However, on May 14, 1871, Emperor Meiji ended this practice and initiated state-controlled Shinto in order to consolidate the religion and further unify the country. Consequently, existing priests were removed from their posts and replaced by government appointments. Nobuyo Ifukube was forcibly retired, which he strongly regretted, and thus the Ifukube family's centuries-old administration of the Ube Shrine came to an abrupt end.


Nobuyo (circa 1890) and Suzu Ifukube (circa 1930)

This was only the beginning of Nobuyo's bad luck. Not long after his removal from his post at the shrine, the historical, generations-old Ifukube home where Nobuyo and his family had been living was completely decimated in a fire. (It is something of a cruel irnony that the former priest could not summon the "Ifukube wind" to blow out the blaze and save his residence.) This instilled deep feelings of shame in the ex-priest; he felt that he had become a disgrace to his community. Nobuyo, now believing that there was nothing left for him in Tottori, moved his wife and son out of the area to Kanagawa Prefcture near Tokyo.

As Toshizo grew into adulthood, it was clear that his personality was quite different from that of his father. Unlike Nobuyo, Toshizo had virtually no interest in the performing arts nor was he at all interested in carrying on the tradition of priesthood. "He, like other Japanese men of his generation, was the type who embodied the 'Meiji spirit," Akira Ifukube once said of his father. "Like the British during the Victorian Age or the French in the Revolutionary-Napoleonic Era, the Japanese during the reign of Meiji, especially men, were terribly high-minded. The aim of their lives is vividly depeicted by the famous slogan of the Meiji government: 'Enrich and Strengthen Your Nation!'" [4]

To that end, heeding the call of public service and wanting to "enrich and stregthen" his country, Toshizo, at the age of 21, joined the Imperial Japanese Army in December 1887. He would be stationed in Osaka for two years doing routine military service until his stint ended in January of 1890. He returned to Kanagawa where, thanks to his military experience, he was able to secure employment as a detective at a police station in the city of Odawara.


Toshizo Ifukube, date unknown.

Toshizo had been employed with the Odawara Police for four years when the Sino-Japanese War broke out. The young detective was drafted back into the army in August 1894 and served for less than a year, being released from duty in April 1895. Back in Kanagawa, Toshizo immediately returned to his police work.

At some point in the years following his return to the Odawara police, Toshizo met and married his wife Kiwa, who was born on November 15, 1878. Kiwa, a full decade younger than Toshizo, was the daughter of Kyubei and Kuma Suzuki, a family originally from Fukushima Prefecture in the Tо̄hо̄ku region of Japan. Little is known today of how Toshizo and Kiwa came to be married; there is a story in the Ifukube family that the marriage was arranged. It is said that Kiwa was the sister of one of Toshizo's police colleagues and the bride and groom did not meet each other until their wedding day. The story goes on to describe that upon Toshizo's first encounter with Kiwa at the ceremony, in an effort to impress her, he presented an heirloom scroll showing his long and distinguished family tree. He also brought along a bottle of sake, it seems, in case he needed more than the proof of his proud lineage to impress his bride to be!


Kiwa Ifukube, 1927

As is the case with Nobuyo and Suzu Ifukube, the exact date of Toshizo and Kiwa's wedding does not exist in Ifukube family records. It is a safe assumption, though, that the two were probably married in 1900 or 1901. This is based on the birth or their first child, a daughter named Sayoko, who was born in 1901. Tragically, Sayoko would die five years later in April 1906. Three more daughters - Kikuyo, Katsuko and Tokiko - would follow Sayoko, each of whom survived into adulthood.

Febraury 8, 1904 saw the breakout of the Russo-Japanese War. In December of that year, Toshizo was again drafted back into the army. His conscription papers for this conflict are extant and show that his rank was sargeant. It is known that Toshizo fought in the famous Siege of Port Arthur, which is often considered the most brutal episode of the entire war. Toshizo's service lasted exactly one year; he was discharged in December 1905, some three month's after the conclusion of the war.


Toshizo's draft notice.

Toshizo again returned to his post at the Odawara police department. Not long after having come back, the enterprising public servant began to think of the possibility of moving his entire family, including his parents, to the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Mountainous Hokkaido was a sparsely populated "northern frontier" known for vast forests and a cold and wet climate. Starting in the late 19th century, the Japanese government encouraged its citizens to move to Hokkaido to exploit its agricultural potential and avoid overpopulation on the other islands of the archipelago. Also, the government figured that increasing Hokkaido's population would prevent an invasion from the nearby Russians. Toshizo was not particularly interested in farming but his military service and police experience was in demand on the island; because Hokkaido's population was increasing, the need for capable officers of the law was also on the rise; Toshizo believed that he was just the man to fill that need. Therefore, in May 1907, Toshizo, Kiwa, their three daughters, Nobuyo and Suzu packed their belongings and ventured far to the north to begin a completely new life.

Upon their arrival to Hokkaido, Toshizo and his family settled in Kushiro, a moderately sized, industrialized port town located within the greater Tokachi Plain on the southern side of the island. It did not take long for the Ifukubes to find a home. The house was located on a hill called Shussezaka Slope, which enjoyed a completely unobstructed view to the Kushiro River. Today, Shussezaka Slope is home to Nusamai Park. Sadly, there are no traces of the Ifukube house that once stood on the grounds and, curiously, no mention is made within the park of the Ifukube family's connection to the location.


Kushiro, Hokkaido


Shussezaka Slope. Photo by Erik Homenick

Just as quickly as the Ifukubes were able to find their home, Toshizo found the work that he had desired: He was promptly hired into the Kushiro Police Department as an officer. In Kushiro, Toshizo and Kiwa produced two more children, this time two sons. Muneo Ifukube was born in 1909 and Isao Ifukube in 1912.


The year 1914 had a bittersweet beginning. On February 19, Nobuyo Ifukube passed away at the age of seventy-five. In March, however, opportunity came knocking at Toshizo's door. Kushiro's police chief had recently died and his post needed to be filled right away. Due to the exemplary work that Toshizo had become known for since his arrival to the police force seven years ago, he was promoted to fill the vacant chief position.


Kushiro police station

Not long after becoming Kushiro's chief of police, Toshizo and Kiwa's third son and final child, Akira Ifukube, was born on May 31, 1914 at 6:30 PM in Kushiro, Hokkaido in the family home.


Akira Ifukube, aged two

Toshizo had long been an avid scholar of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (570 - 490 BC), the founder of Taoism. Certainly, Taoism's emphasis on pragmatism, humility and intellectual growth struck a personal chord with the publicl servant and, when the time came to name his newest son, he referenced the 20th chapter of the Tao Te Ching, the classical text of Taoism:


A classic 1947 translation by R. B. Blakney reveals the meaning of the text accordingly:

Be done with rote learning and its attendant vexations; for is there distinction of a “yes” from a “yea” comparable now to the gulf between evil and good? What all men fear, I too must fear... how barren and pointless a thought!

The reveling of multitudes at the feast of Great Sacrifice, or up on the terrace at carnival in spring, leave me, alas, unmoved, alone, like a child that has never smiled. Lazily, I drift as though I had no home. All others have enough to spare; I am the one left out. I have the mind of a fool, muddled and confused! When common people scintillate I alone make shadows. Vulgar folks are sharp and knowing: Only I am melancholy. Restless like the ocean, blown about, I cannot stop. Other men can find employment, but I am stubborn; I am mean. Alone I am and different, because I prize and seek my sustenance from the mother!

The overall, somewhat esoteric message of this text can possibly be summed up in the first line: Be done with rote learning. In other words, it is preferable to learn and grow one's intellect without traditional, orthodox learning.

In the third sentence of the second paragraph of the the original Chinese text we see the character 昭. This particular character also happens to be one of the possible representations the name "Akira" in modern Japanese kanji. (Kanji is one of the primary "alphabets" used in the written Japanese language. It is directly adapted from written Chinese.) Because Toshizo was particularly impressed by the wisdom contained in this text, he chose one of its characters, 昭, to represent the name "Akira" for his newest son.


In October 1914, roughly four months after Akira's birth, and a mere seven months after becoming the Kushiro chief of police, Toshizo was contacted by the town of Nemuro, which is located on the extreme eastern tip of Hokkaido. That town was now in need of a police chief and Toshizo accepted the job.

After a stint of four years in Nemuro the town of Abashiri, which is located to the north of Nemuro on the frigid waters of the Sea of Okhotsk, reached out to Toshizo. Abashiri was the latest Hokkaido municipality in need of a new police chief and, certainly by now, Toshizo had just the experience needed for the job and, apparently, the willingness to accept it. Therefore, in June 1918, the Ifukubes relocated.


Muneo, Akira and Isao Ifukube, Abashiri, 1919.

In September 1920, little Akira began his schooling at the Abashiri Elementary School at the age of six. Toshizo had been concerned that Akira might have been considered too young to be accepted into the school for the new year, therefore he doctored his son's birth records to show a slightly earlier birth date of March 5, 1914, which placed his son's age closer to 7.* (Certainly, this was a very brazen action for the local police chief!) Akira was enrolled, but his time at the school would be short-lived. Very quickly after his enrollment, Toshizo was offered a position to become the head of a police school in Sapporo, the largest city and capital of Hokkaido. Toshizo accepted the position and moved his family yet again. His tenure as the head of the school lasted a mere several weeks; another, apparently more alluring opportunity presented itself in a town located near Kushiro: It was now Obihiro that needed a new chief of police. Toshizo and his (exasperated?) family up and relocated to that town in November 1920.


Obihiro, Hokkaido, early 20th century.


Muneo (left) and Akira (right) Ifukube, Obihiro, 1921.


Muneo (top) and Akira (bottom), Obihiro, 1921.


Muneo, Toshizo, Akira, Obihiro, 1921.

By this time, Toshizo Ifukube had gained a very favorable regional reputation as a tireless and committed publicservant, having served as the police chief of several municipalities. The town assembly of Otofuke, aware of Toshizo's renown and impressed by his leadership qualities, reached out the the Obihiro police chief him the important job as their town's mayor. Feeling that this opportunity represented a step forward for his career, Toshizo accepted the mayorship and moved to Otofuke in July 1923 with his wife Kiwa and his two youngest children, Isao and Akira. The eldest daughter Kikuyo was already married by this time and the other children, Katsuko, Tokiko and Muneo, were pursuing their studies in Sapporo under the adult supervision of their grandmother Suzu and a live-in maidservant. Akira himself was to start the fourth grade at the beginning of the school year.


Akira (fourth row from the front, sixth from the left) and his Otofuke classmates.

There was no railroad from Obihiro to the more rural Otofuke; train service was limited in general in Hokkaido. Consequently, the Ifukubes rode a horse-drawn carriage to their new destination. During this ride young Akira, aged nine, received his first substantive glimpse into the world of the Ainu, northern Japan's indigenous population. Just outside of the town limits, the carriage passed through an Ainu village, known in their language as a kotan. Akira was at once fascinated and a little frightened by the exotic features and dress of these people as they milled about in front of their strange grass structures. Once the carriage arrived in the center of the village and he saw Japanese people and modern buildings, Akira felt a sense of relief that he and his family had not moved to some completely alien world. The boy would soon discover, however, that these peculiar Ainu people, who made up about half of Otofuke's population, would play an important role in the development of his persona.


Ainu man and woman from Hokkaido.

The Ainu are an animist, hunter-gatherer people indigenous to northern Japan (Hokkaido and northern Honshu) and the Russian Far East (Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, and southern Kamchatka).

The exact origins of the Ainu are not known, but it had long been believed that they are of Caucasian/European origin due to their decidedly "non-Asian" features and thick body hair. More recent theories suggest that the Ainu are modern-day ancestors of the prehistoric Jomon Japanese (who lived from about 14000 BC until about 300 BC) or perhaps a genetic offshoot of the ancient Okinawan people. Probably the most accurate clue pertaining to the origins of the Ainu comes from modern DNA research; this shows that the Ainu have genetic commonalties with peoples from Tibet and the Adaman Islands in the Indian Ocean.

Whatever their origins, the Ainu have probably lived in northern Japan since about 1200 AD. The hub of their activities in the Japanese archipelago had always been Hokkaido, or Ezo, as the island was known until it was officially annexed by Japan in 1868 at the start of the Meiji Restoration. Prior to the annexation, the ethnic Japanese - or wajin, as they call themselves - enjoyed centuries of trade and commerce with their northern Ainu neighbors. With the absorption of Hokkaido, however, came the redistribution of land to Japanese farmers to kick-start Japan's agricultural infrastructure. Also, the Japanese government proclaimed that living on Japanese soil meant you were Japanese regardless of your ethnic origin; this inaugurated a policy of banning the use of the Ainu language and forcing the Ainu to attend Japanese schools. Even Ainu names were forbidden in favor of Japanese ones.

This policy of forced and complete assimilation came to its apex in 1899 when the government passed an act which decreed that the Ainu were "former aborigines." With the passage of this act, Japan could proclaim that there were no ethnic minorities in Japan and thus anything representative or attached to traditional Ainu culture was severely repressed. It was not until 1997 that the Japanese government began taking measures to overturn the act of 1899 and recognize the Ainu as a separate ethnic group whose culture should be acknowledged and preserved.

Regardless of the severe restrictions imposed by the act of 1899, the Ainu of Hokkaido continued to practice their culture rather vigorously and openly: Traditional dress was proudly worn, the men grew their trademark beards and the women continued to tattoo their lips. Of course, Ainu song and dance were overtly performed as well as the ritual bear sacrifice ceremony, one of the cornerstones of Ainu culture.

Because of a perceived ethnic superiority, it was not uncommon for Otofuke's wajin to discriminate against their fellow Ainu citizens and voluntarily segregate themselves from them. Despite this rather unfortunate and common practice by many of Hokkaido's ethnic Japanese, the Ifukube family enjoyed a very warm association with the Ainu from the moment they arrived in Otofuke.

This attitude of tolerance can certainly be attributed to the progressive, humanist ideals that Toshizo absorbed through his lifelong studies of Taoism; his personal Taoist philosophy filled him with a sense of duty to fairly represent every citizen of his town, regardless of their ethnicity.

Mayor Ifukube actively encouraged his family to socialize with the Ainu as much as possible and, to promote such interactions, often invited the Ainu citizens of his town to dine at his home. Akira Ifukube often told a story that, during one of these dinners, the invited Ainu guest could not believe than an ethnic Japanese such as Toshizo was capable of his exceedingly rare cross-ethnic kindness and hospitality. Observing Toshizo's trademark fully grown beard, the Ainu guest declared that Toshizo must have been in reality Ainu himself, not Japanese.

Naturally, interactions such as these provided young Akira the opportuity to become closer himself to the Ainu children who lived in his neighborhood. His admiration for his Ainu friends was deep; so profound was it, in fact, that in an article that Ifukube wrote in 1953 entitled The Beauty of Everyday Life, the composer described an episode in which his Ainu playmates desired to give the young wajin honorary Ainu status - something that young Ifukube enthusiastically wanted to accept. The Ainu children prepared a "beverage," kanancho water as it is referred to in the Ainu language, by placing a frog, a lizard and earthworms into a bottle. These "ingredients" were then crushed and liquified by the repeated jamming of a stick into the bottle opening. Despite the unsavory (to say the least) nature of this liquid, Ifukube readily partook of this "strange holy water," as he described it, and attained, it seems, his honoray Ainu status. [5]

The Ainu are great admirers of the natural world. According to them, all things in nature possess their own kamui, or spirit (this is not unlike the concept of the similarly named kami in the Shinto tradition) and are deserving of mankind's utmost respect. It was very likely due to the constant influence of his earth-conscious Ainu "bretheren" that Ifukube began to develop his own wide-ranging curiosity for Hoakkaido's abundant flora and fauna. Ifukube loved spending his free time out of doors among the innumerbale trees, rivers and lakes of Otofuke and he took to collecting various reptiles and insects; he often referred to these "pets" as his best friends!


Akira Ifukube (left) and Isao Ifukube (right),1923. The two girls are unknown.

Another subject that was quick to captivate young Akira's mind was music. Otofuke afforded the boy the unique opportunity to be exposed to an unexpectedly rich variety of folk song. Since the annexation of Hokkaido into the Japanese empire in the mid-19th century, the pioneers who trekked to the northern island from the Japanese mainland, particularly from the Tôhoku region of northeastern Honshu, brought with them their regional folk melodies. Akira heard much of this everywhere in the town from the local workers and their families and even from his own father; when drunk, Toshizo had the habit of singing Yasugi-Bushi, a folk song from the Shimane region that he learned in his youth. [6] Traditional Ainu music surrounded the youngster just as much. Akira marveled at the strange repetitive chanting and odd rhythms of Ainu singing; the extraordinary mixture of this tribal weirdness with the sentimental lyricism of Japanese song instilled within the child a fierce desire to become a musician himself.

Assuredly, young Ifukube's drive to learn more about music, and aspiration to perform it, were intensified by his first encounter with a violin at, of all places, a local Otofuke barber shop. At the time, it was common for businesses to have instruments such as violins or mandolins available in their waiting rooms so that musically inclined customers could entertain themselves with a little practice while standing by for service. One day, while waiting for a haircut, Ifukube began playing with his barber's violin and was instantly taken by the instrument. He knew immediately that he had to get one of his own. With a shorter coiffure, he ran home and enthusiastically asked his parents to purchase him his own violin.

Toshizo, the ever-pragmatic father, believed that musical pursuits were frivolous and certainly not to be taken up by boys; he initially refused to buy a violin for his son. Akira pleaded incessantly until his father gave in and bought the instrument. Despite Akira's small victory, his father did not allow him to take music lessons. This left the would-be violinist no recourse but to attempt to learn the instrument on his own. Although Akira was allowed to play with the instrument, the draconian Toshizo only allowed his son only one hour per day to practice it. [7]

Ifukube once described his father's attitude toward music: "Toshizo [...] did not care much about music...or more precisely, he did not like it. [...] To that type of personality, things like music or dance were depravity of the soul. [...] [H]e did not like his sons to make sound, [play] instrument[s] or SP records. [...] About reading and writing, however, my father didn't care. As a Meiji man, again his value of culture was based mostly on letters. [...] Whenever I returned home from elementary school, my father let me sit in front of the book of Lao Tzu and had me do sadoku, the reading and reciting of Chinese text without comprehending its meaning. After doing this for a while, my father always began to doze off...then I would escape to do my homework, finger my violin, or run outside and play with my Ainu friends. Sometimes he would wake up and catch me escaping and say, 'No Akira, not yet!'" [8]

With the help of his older brother Isao, who was already familiar with Western classical music and was proficient on the guitar (how did Toshizo ever allow that?), Akira was able to find and purchase 78 RPM records of classical violin music in local shops, which he studied very intently. He did his best to learn to play what he heard on the recordings by ear. He was particularly enthralled by an SP record of music by the famed Austrian virtuoso Fritz Kreisler on which he performed pieces by Antonin Dvorak, Cesar Cui and Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

Through these recordings, Akira discovered yet another type of music that captured his imagination just as much as the Japanese and Ainu folk material that he already adored: Western classical music. With his tastes widening and his resolve to become a musician growing exponentially - and despite the seemingly impossible conditions imposed upon him by his father - Akira became increasingly capable on the violin and, with much confidence, he decided he should also branch out to the guitar. With his knowledge of the violin, and certainly with Isao's guidance, Akira's skills on that instrument progressed rapidly.

In the summer of 1926 Akira, aged 12, transferred to his grandmother's house in Sapporo to begin studies at the Hokkaido Sapporo Nishi Junior High School the following fall; Isao had already been studying at the same school since 1924. This environment at the school offered much to satisfy Akira's budding artistic talents and curiosities and he enthusiastically joined the institution's art club. Ifukube began to dabble in painting and thought for a while that he might want to become painter like Picasso.

By imbedding himself in such an art-intensive environment, Akira had the occasion to meet another artistically-minded student, Atsushi Miura. Born in 1913, the somewhat frail and introverted Miura came from a highly educated family; his father was a professor of Metallurgy in the Faculty of Engineering at Hokkaido Imperial University. From an early age, Miura was taught to appreciate art, culture and language; he was highly proficient in English and French. Ifukube found much in common with Miura and a friendship quickly developed between them.

Ifukube was not initially aware, however, that Miura was also heavily interested in music. During a visit to Miura's home, Ifukube noted that his friend had an unusually varied collection of classical music recordings and scores. After Ifukube discovered that his new friend was just as passionate about music as he was, the primary focus of their friendship quickly shifted from the visual arts to the aural.


Akira Ifukube, 1927.

Miura regularly hosted Akira and Isao Ifukube at his home. The three would pore over specially ordered musical scores and listen to recordings of famous European composers. The Ifukube brothers had not been extensively aware of music outside of the German/Austrian tradition; in Japan at the time, the most popular and well respected Western classical composers included Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and so on.** Miura, however, had an uncommonly wide-ranging collection of French, Spanish and Russian music and he took great pleasure in introducing Akira and Isao to this new and remarkably diverse musical world. Akira counted Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and, most of all, Igor Stravinsky as his most exciting discoveries.

Miura sensed great potential in Akira and continuously attempted to convince his violinist friend to try his skills at composition. Indeed, young Ifukube had entertained thoughts about writing his own music in the recent past but he had yet to make the effort. Ifukube's exposure to French, Spanish and Russian composers, though, gave him a rush of inspiration that he had not previously felt. In his mind, the French, Spanish and Russians displayed a much more flexible aesthetic than that of the rigid Germans; that is, their works contained what the Germans lacked: The wider range of expressive potential and instrumental color that music was truly capable of. For Ifukube, the piece that exemplified the wonderful sounds that a breakaway from Austro-German tradition could produce was Petrushka (1911) by Igor Stravinsky.

By the early 1930s Stravinsky (1888 - 1971) was already a world-famous Russian composer who, early in his career, had written works based on traditional Russian subjects that were endowed with melodies directly influenced by Russian folk music. Stravinsky's Petrushka takes its inspiration from Russian folk puppetry. The score employs a bevvy of Russian folk tunes, often colorfully dissonant and energetically rhythmic, to tell the fanciful story of the puppet-come-to-life and his misadventures during the Shrovetide Fair.

Upon Ifukube's first encounter with Petrushka, courtesy of Miura's record collection, the young man was floored. He was immediately overwhelmed and taken by Stravinsky's ethnically-tinged sonorities and the exciting rhythmic drive. The acerbic Slavic exoticism of Petrushka convinced Ifukube that music could (and should) strongly evoke a national or ethnic character. Thus, should he compose himself - and now he knew that he could - his own music would be rooted in Japanese and even Ainu aesthetics. Ifukube proclaimed: "Yes, I can do that!" [9]

Having devoured Petrushka, Ifukube sought out more of Stravinsky's work. This led him to hear a recording of The Rite of Spring, music that was so modern and violent that it caused a riot at its Paris premiere in 1913. Hearing The Rite, a "primitivist" ballet dealing with human sacrifice in pagan Russia, cemented Ifukube's already deep admiration for the wildly innovative Russian. "I got an electric shock when I listened to The Rite of Spring and Petrushka," Ifukube once explained. "I felt that Stravinsky's musical vision was not European but close to ours. My afterthought was that this was because of the aesthetic sympathy coming from the [shared] blood. Stravinsky appealed to me directly. I felt sympathy because I already had it. Rather than receiving inspiration from him, I found him doing exactly what I wanted. Stravinsky let me know an alternative form of European music." [10] ***


Akira and Isao, 1928.


Akira, Isao and Muneo Ifukube in Sapporo, 1930.

In March 1931, the sixteen-year old Akira graduated from junior high school. After his graduation, the young man was not immediately certain what he wanted to do with his life. He had a fleeting thought that he might follow in his father's footsteps and join the military but his fear of being killed in battle sufficiently dissuaded him taking that option. He eventually decided, rather, that he should study at Hokkaido Imperial University. Being a lover of nature, he determined that he could major in Forestry, a discipline that would hold his interest and provide him with practical, real-world skills.

Although Ifukube had settled on going to university, he would have to wait an entire year before beginning his studies. He took advantage of his year's worth of free time to further hone his skills as a violinist and begin to make sketches for several original musical compositions. Although he was slow to start as a composer, Ifukube would find that, once he arrived at Hokkaido Imperial University, his creativity would blossom like never before and yield some remarkable fruit.

* When Ifukube began his career as a composer in the early 1930s, he would sometimes use the false date of March 5, 1914 to represent his birth. This was at the suggestion of his musical friend, Atsushi Miura. The date of March 5 was close to the birthday of the French composer Maurice Ravel, whom Ifukube adored. Ravel's birthday was on March 7. Miura suggested it would be good luck to have a birthday very close to Ravel's.

** This was a result of the Meiji Restoration; when Japan had begun importing Western culture onto its shores, classical music from Germany and Austria was considered to be the best of the best, the most worthy of study and appreaciation. This attitude only aided its prevelance. Ifukube himself had an especial love for the music of Bach. He described often being moved to tears while listening to Bach's works.

*** A popular belief in Japan is that the Japanese are decendants from the Mongols. The Mongols invaded and conquered Russia in 1237. During their rule, the Mongols interbred--often forcibly--with the Russians and consequently produced the "shared blood" Ifukube references; therefore, in Ifukube's thinking, the Japanese and the Russians were related by way of the Mongols and thus shared, among other things, aesthetic values. The Mongols were eventually expelled from Russia 200 years later in 1480 under the leadership of Ivan III of Moscow.

[1] Godziszewski, Ed, "Ifukube on Ifukube," G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995, page 29.
[2] Katayama, Morihide. Akira Ifukube: Symphonic Ode, Gotama the Buddha in Full Score. "The Ifukube Clan and Shintoism, Buddhism, Tao Te Ching." Page 12. Taisho University Press.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Godziszewski, Ed, "Ifukube on Ifukube," G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995, page 32.
[5] Ifukube, Akira. "The Beauty of Everyday Life." Iwanami Shoten Tokyo. No. 96. Pages 52-54. 1953.
[6] Godziszewski, Ed, "Ifukube on Ifukube," G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995. Page 31
[6] Ibid., page 31
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Hosokawa, Shuhei. Off the Planet: Music, Sound and Science Fiction Cinema. Page 51. Indiana University Press. Bloomington, IN. 2004.


© Erik Homenick. All rights reserved.

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