Tenrikyo Kawaramachi Grand Church organized gagaku (traditional Japanese court music) performances in Germany and Holland from October 27 to November 9. Under the auspices of the cities of Kyoto and Cologne as well as with substantial support from the followers in the region, the group sought to promote cultural exchange through gagaku performances and received much praise after each performance.
Kawaramachi Grand Church established the Tenri Germany-Japan Cultural Studio in Cologne in 2006 for the purpose of promoting cultural exchange. Mr. Yoshiro Shimizu, director of the studio as well as head of Cologne Mission Station, has been serving as an instructor for the Cologne Gagaku Ensemble at the University of Cologne. In addition, Gainkai, the gagaku music society of Kawaramachi Grand Church, has been coaching the students and helping with the maintenance of their musical instruments.
The church organized the performances as part of its culture-promoting activities. The gagaku music society was invited by the city of Cologne, which has a sister city relationship with Kyoto, where the church is located. The group also carried a message from the mayor of Kyoto. In addition, the group was sponsored by Tenri University, which has an academic exchange agreement with the University of Cologne. Thanks to the local followers belonging to different grand churches who worked hard on negotiations and preparations for the performances, the group was also able to perform in Dusseldorf, Germany, and Eindhoven, Holland.
Mr. Motohiro Fukaya, leader of the ensemble and staff minister of Kawaramachi Grand Church, shared his impressions: “I am amazed that things turned out much better than we expected. I believe that the seeds sown by the second Shinbashira and tended by God the Parent, Oyasama, the successive Shinbashiras, and many of our predecessors of the path have sprouted after 50 years, making it possible for us to carry out this activity.”
It was in 1960 that the second Shinbashira attended the 10th Conference of the International Association for the History of Religions held at Marburg University. At the opening ceremony of the conference, there was a scene in which Professor Friedrich Heiler of Marburg University expressed his gratitude to the second Shinbashira while giving opening remarks. Two years prior to the conference, the association had held a conference in Tokyo, and a party of 215 participants visited the Home of the Parent after the conference to do research on Tenrikyo. The second Shinbashira welcomed the scholars of religion from different countries with warm hospitality as well as sought to help them understand Tenrikyo.
Since then, Tenrikyo and Marburg University have continued their exchanges. In 1973, when the former Shinbashira stopped by at the university during his visits to Tenrikyo communities in Europe, the two parties talked about holding a Tenrikyo exhibition and eventually held the “Tenrikyo Exhibition: For the Joyous Life of Human Beings” in 1975. They further continued their exchanges by co-hosting a symposium and exchanging visiting scholars between Tenri University and Marburg University. In September this year, the present Shinbashira visited the Tenri Germany-Japan Cultural Studio during his trip to attend the International Meeting of Prayer for Peace held in Krakow, Poland, and encouraged the local followers who came to attend the opening of an art exhibition at the studio.
The ensemble, going under the name “Tenri Kawaramachi Gagaku Music Society,” left Japan on October 27 and gave a performance at Marburg Castle on the next day. Coincidentally, they performed at the same auditorium used for the opening ceremony of the conference of the International Association for the History of Religions that the second Shinbashira attended. In front of about 280 people, the ensemble performed the instrumental piece Etenraku, the vocal piece Koromogae, and the dance pieces Nasori and Konju. Seated at the very front of the audience was Dr. Martin Kraatz, who has had a close relationship with Tenrikyo since the Tenrikyo Exhibition and is currently serving as vice director of the Tenri Germany-Japan Cultural Studio. “I understand that this is the third time that gagaku has been performed here (previous performances were given by the Gagaku Division of Tenrikyo Institute of Music in 1988 and by Tenri University Gagaku Music Society in 1995),” says Dr. Kraatz. “So I assume that quite a few members of the audience, including myself, have some knowledge about gagaku. My hope is that we will be able to maintain the friendship between Tenri and Marburg through cultural exchanges like this as well as exchanges of visiting scholars.”
On October 31, the ensemble gave a performance at Saint Catherine’s Church in Eindhoven, Holland. The concert at this church was made possible by a musician couple: Mr. Takahiro Kitazato and Mrs. Rei Kitazato, both of whom are Yoboku belonging to Nikkyo Branch Church. They live in the Hague and are friends with the church’s organist. Local people seemed to be highly interested in the performance as an announcement of the performance had appeared even in a local newspaper. In front of about 550 people who crowded into the church, the ensemble performed the dance pieces entitled Ranryo-O and Bairo on top of several instrumental and vocal pieces. The elegant sound of gagaku echoed inside the church, which is usually filled with the sound of the pipe organ and the voices of the choir. When the last piece was finished, a moment of silence filled the church, followed by a hail of applause that eventually grew into a standing ovation.
The ensemble later gave performances in Dusseldorf and at the University of Cologne.