Kumoi Jishi

Kumoi Jishi  雲井獅子

Like Azuma No Kyoku, this is a gikyoku, which means a playful piece not to be played by Zen monks in the morning for meditation. Rather, performing it is reserved for the less serious afternoon times or as a performance piece while begging for alms. These pieces were called hiru-kana, “from noon.” Kumoi-jishi was played at Itcho-ken, a branch of Kyoto’s famous Meian temple located on the island of Kyushu.

Japan has many forms shishi-mai, or lion dances, ranging from formal high art to children’s performance at folk festivals. This, like all jishi-related pieces, retains the lively, spirited feeling of the traditional lion dance. It is a joyous piece, suited to celebrations and congratulatory occasions. Shakuhachi versions of Kumoi Jishi are not actually lion dance music meant to accompany actual dancing; instead, they are meant to evoke the mood of this dance. In this piece, the lion is seen playing about in the clouds. The Lion is a symbol of power and success so Kumoi Jishi also means brilliant success. It is associated with the Shishimai Dance, and played on festive occasions.

Kumoi refers to the sky, and may symbolize the heavens and / or the rarified heights of the imperial court. The jishi, or shishi, is a mythical beast from China; according to tradition, they lived on a mythical mountain called Seiryozan. Jishi are variously depicted as doglike lions, dragons or deer. These felicitous creatures are said to especially enjoy dancing playfully among clouds or peony flowers, accompanied with butterflies that sometimes tease them. Jishi have magical properties, and can repel evil spirits. Monju Bosatsu, the Buddha of Wisdom, is often depicted riding through the heavens mounted on a jishi. Pairs of guardian jishi statues are often found at entrances to buildings, especially temples and banks, with the male and the female on either side of the entrance door. The male jishi has a globe under his paw, the female, a puppy, symbolizing their respective dominions, the earth and the family.

Today, this piece is played on joyous occasions, such as weddings.

It is sometimes performed in a slow, stately manner, and at other times, with a very light, playful feeling. The whole second section may be played twice; if this is done, the second repetition is generally performed at a faster tempo.

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