Music of Imperial Japan

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 12654

Generations and sects have fought over what they believe is good and bad music. Some would say certain genres aren't "real" music. Step outside your cultural box and discover Gagaku music from Japan!


Musical Arts, World

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


We keep ancient works of art in museums. We preserve ancient buildings and try to rebuild them.

  • What can be done to protect music, dance, and other traditions of the past?

12-string sanjo gayageum

Photo by PARK Hyoung-Won, via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the CC BY 1.0 license

Here’s a depressing thought: As you read this, there are languages going extinct, languages that no one has ever had the chance to record or write down for posterity.

There are many products of human culture, physical and non-physical, that have been lost to time. It is easier to preserve the physical things, like great buildings, sculptures, pottery, and paintings, than it is to preserve the non-physical things like dances and songs.

Happily, there are people whose life work it is to preserve non-physical cultural heritage before it is lost. You will learn more about intangible cultural heritage by reading an informational pamphlet. As you read, write down the information and ideas that answer the following questions:

  • What does intangible cultural heritage include?
  • How is this kind of heritage generally learned?
  • How can intangible cultural heritage be safeguarded?

Now, read the pamphlet, What is Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)?, created by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador and made available courtesy of (You may need to sign in to download the PDF). Collect your information and ideas, then reflect on the following questions and record your thoughts in a journal entry:

  • Why are various kinds of cultural heritage under threat?
  • What value is there in documenting or preserving such traditions?
  • What are some examples of intangible cultural heritage in your family or community?

One of the reasons to preserve the musical and other traditions of the past is that they very often challenge our most basic assumptions and ideas about “the way things should be.”

In the Got It? section, explore one special tradition that will test your understanding of music: Japanese imperial music.

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