The survival of traditional Japanese music depends on artificial ivory

Rachel Nouvel is an award-winning journalist covering science, travel, food and adventure content for the New York Times, National Geographic and the BBC Future. She is the author of “Poaching: The Dark World of Wild Animal Trafficking.”

Sakaoka Matsue struck hard on the base of the thirteen-string guzheng, slaps the slap while the fingers dance on the strings of the long wooden instrument. Sitting in the opposite side of the Tokyo University of the Arts student, Imao Tono carefully joined in, while swaying his own kite, raising the tone and forming a harmony with the teacher’s piano.

By learning traditional Japanese music, Iino is helping to inherit a long tradition. But his performance may never be comparable to his teacher, not because of lack of talent or hard work, but because of the lack of ivory.

In order to produce the best sound, the Japanese zither requires 13 strong ivory geese and delicate ivory picks like long nails. The ukulele is a guitar-like instrument, and its sculpt and paddles also require ivory. The three-stringed picks are fan-shaped and the size is similar to that of a small notebook. Sakaoka Matsuo said: “High-level zither and three-string players use ivory. Without ivory, I am worried that traditional Japanese music will be difficult to sustain.”

In 1989, many countries (including the United States, members of the European Community and many Asian and African countries) voted against the international ivory trade for good reason. In the past ten years, the number of African elephants has been reduced by half due to poaching of ivory, and the demand for Japanese teeth is large. The ban played a role in the next few years, but poaching again rose around 2005. From 2007 to 2014, the number of grassland elephants fell by 30%, and the forest was like a smaller African elephant. The situation was even worse. From 2002 to 2013, the number dropped by 62%. Ivory is cherished in Japan.

Traditional seals account for 80% of Japanese ivory consumption, but they are easily replaced by other materials, including crystal, metal, plastic or wood. The instrument is different. The player insists that ivory can provide better sound quality than plastic, wood or ceramic materials, and that it has less impact on the body during long periods of performance. Without ivory, traditional Japanese music will be affected.

However, many famous Japanese musicians and scholars believe that there may be another option. With the cooperation and help of material scientists and environmentalists, I hope to create an artificial ivory that can save the lives of elephants without sacrificing the popular qualities of ivory products. The three-stringed performer Imaru Kotaro said: “I want to find a substitute so that we can stand with the world and maintain the charm of traditional Japanese music.”

“To me, maintaining harmony between the environment and the world is very important for me. This is the spirit of traditional Japanese music and the core concept of Japanese culture.”

Evolving tradition
The 83-year-old Imaru Kotaro has a deep memory of his childhood in the company of music. His parents are professional performers of three-stringed instruments, and the mother teaches students at home. Tatsuo Tatsuo said: “When I was very young, I was familiar with this music and could sing.” He decided to follow his parents, not only because he loves music, but also because he wants to keep the vitality of traditional music.

With the continuous improvement of the performance of Toshiyuki Taro, he is well aware of the history of this skill. He learned that ivory is not always part of the ukulele and zither. Both instruments are from China, the zither was introduced to Japan around 700 AD, and the Sanxian appeared in the 16th century Yonglu years. At first, musicians used turtle shells, wood or horns to make ivory parts, but as the instrument became popular, they began to change. The three-stringed body has become larger, and the snake skin covering the surface has been replaced with cat skin and dog skin. A musical instrument with an obvious Japanese style began to form. Mr. Imaru said: “According to the Japanese practice, Sanxian and Zheng have made a transformation that is in line with Japanese culture.”

These two instruments became popular in the Edo period (1603–1868), and Imaru Kotaro said that people of that era formed a “taste to beauty”. Fashion, literature and art are beginning to flourish, as well as kabuki. Kabuki is a form of drama with live music that has been listed by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of Japan. As time goes by, the venues continue to expand to accommodate more viewers, and musicians need to make more noise. After trial and error, they found that after using ivory, the music played can reach the farthest corner of the room. Idagi Kotaro said that the facts also prove that the ivory feels the best, “adding a sense of preciousness to the spectacular and fascinating scenes that the performers on the stage hope to create.”

Ivory is still the material of choice for most musicians today, not only because it delivers superior sound quality, but also because it allows musicians to perform for long periods of time without physical discomfort. “The ivory can protect the body of the performer. If I play with plastic picks for a long time, my shoulders will be very painful because this material is not elastic,” said Yuhiko Yoshihiko, professor of traditional Japanese music at Tokyo Ochanomizu University.

The demand for teeth in the music industry is unlikely to disappear in the short term. Although the kites and the three strings are not as popular as they used to be, more and more young musicians, including Iwano, have begun to accept them. Some people are interested in old songs from the Edo period, while others are shaping new characters for these instruments, including using them in jazz. Although the new members are not as much as the number of lost, the older generation of musicians see the hope of the future among these young people.

Although Japan allowed domestic ivory transactions, the 1989 international trade ban brought many difficulties to these musicians. First of all, those who want to bring Sanxian or Zheng to abroad face customs inspections, which may lead to the confiscation of musical instruments. Sakai Yoshihiko said: “Even if an ivory pick is made 200 years ago, foreign governments may confiscate it.”

Sakumaru Yoshihiko believes that in order to solve this problem, an internationally recognized ivory passport program for licensed instruments can be developed. In January of this year, the Japanese Culture Agency responded positively to his letter to the plan. However, at present, musicians must carry plastic or wooden substitutes when they go abroad. “If you want to appreciate the original Japanese traditional music, you have to come to Japan.”

However, even musicians who do not perform overseas are worried. Environmental lawyer, Japanese tiger and elephant conservation foundation A non-profit organization in Tokyo, advocates the ivory ban, executive director Yuan Yuanya said that if Japan decides to follow most countries and close the domestic ivory market, musical instruments are likely to become the most complicated in the new law. The most controversial part. He also said that if Japan really shut down the ivory market, it should learn the practice of the United States and the United States and issue passes to certain instruments. He said: “We have no intention of killing the culture associated with it. If musicians show an understanding of elephant protection and promise to phase out the use of ivory in the future, Japan should allow them to enjoy certain exemptions.”

Even if Japan does not ban ivory, this material will not be used for too long. No one knows how many uncarved ivory is stored in this country, and unless new ivory is illegally smuggled in, the ivory dealer will eventually run out of ivory. With the decline in the supply of ivory, musicians predict that this otherwise expensive material will become more difficult to afford. In the years before the ivory reserve was really used up, in addition to the rich musicians, the average person could not afford it.

a zither using ivory picks and ivory geese

In other words, change is inevitable. Idagi Kotaro pointed out that this is not necessarily a bad thing, because traditional Japanese music is not static. He said: “As time goes on, the instrument itself is changing, and so is the appreciation of beautiful sounds.” For example, cat skins and dog skins traditionally used to make a ukulele have begun to be used by kangaroo and faux leather. Instead, this is more in line with current beliefs in animal rights and is expected to produce high quality sound. He said that ivory may also follow a similar path – as long as there are good alternatives.

The intersection of art and science
Many of Ijiro’s colleagues know about ivory-related issues. But they are not scientists and lack the expertise needed to come up with a solution. Fortunately, they are not the only ones who consider the future of Japanese ivory.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s environmental researcher Nishihara Hiroshi has been living in the Republic of the Congo and Gabon for the past 30 years and has witnessed the survival crisis of forest elephants. He learned that his country should be responsible for most of the hunting in the 1980s, and Japan still uses forest ivory as a raw material today. With the deep research of Nishihara, he realized that in all ivory uses in Japan, including seals, art and accessories, musicians are the only people who really need this material. He felt that action must be taken.

He said: “We must stop accusing Japanese ivory users only from an emotional perspective, including traditional musicians. We need to find a more scientific way to solve the elephant crisis and bring concrete solutions to the future of traditional culture. Program.”

Nishihara Zhizhao contacted the “Bonle Magazine”, which focuses on traditional Japanese music. Through them, he has established contacts with some of Japan’s most influential performers, including Imaru Kotaro. He explained to these musicians the impact of poaching on the area, including the impact of elephants on the entire ecosystem.

In order to expand the scope of the dialogue, Nishihara Wisaki organized a seminar in 2014, and invited more than 50 musicians and scholars to discuss the future of ivory in Japan. Professor Masako of Japan at the Musashino Music University in Tokyo said: “At the seminar, I listened to different opinions and opinions of different professionals. I realized that although I have different opinions on the use of ivory, we agree that this It is a problem.”

Nishihara Wisaki also contacted materials scientists and asked them to use Japan’s “world-class technology” to help find solutions. Professor Nagoya University, who specializes in artificial bones, took over his phone. Daxie’s main tax told Kyodo News in 2014: “As far as artificial alternatives are concerned, it is difficult to compete with natural materials like ivory, but I will try to get close to it as much as possible.”

Ivory is a magical material that can withstand the forces exerted by an animal weighing 5,000 kilograms when fighting, digging or pushing down trees. However, ivory is only a very large tooth, mainly composed of hydroxyapatite, which is a calcium phosphate compound. However, although ivory is similar to bone and human teeth, it is unique in that it is very difficult to severely distort the teeth in the laboratory. The ivory grows in the elephant’s life. It has two distinct structures, one is a microstructure and the other is a nanostructure. It is covered with small holes, about 1/10 of the cells. This special structure gives the ivory a unique strength, which is why ivory is difficult to replicate.

In 2016, the Daxie Master Tax successfully synthesized a small piece of ivory-like material. Without any special financial support, he has been working hard to bring the product to the level of usefulness to musicians. Nishihara Zhizhao has contacted a number of Japanese companies, hoping that a certain company will be interested in participating in this project to increase social influence, but no company is willing, the reason is financial constraints. The Japanese government seems unlikely to intervene. Representatives of the various government offices contacted by Nishihara and other colleagues have said that they either have no funds or that the problem is beyond their scope of authority.

Although angry, the team is reluctant to give up. “We are a very small group and our interests are easily overlooked. But by solving this problem and finding a solution, perhaps we can fight for conflicts between other traditional cultures and protected endangered species in the world.” The region sets an example.”

Efforts to levy a major tax may be stagnant, but others’ efforts are making progress. Volkswagen, a biologist at Oxford University, is experimenting with a silky cellulose and hydroxyapatite-based ivory substitute. Wallat and his colleagues in China believe that this material can ultimately be used to make art, piano keys, billiards and biomedical implants. The insights gained from the study of ivory may even be used to invent new car bumpers and other items that will have the unique energy absorption, softness and toughness characteristics of this material.

Wallat said that his team is creating ivory substitutes and there is no reason why they cannot be used in traditional Japanese instruments. He said: “For us, this is really trying to understand this material first, and then see if it can be realized from a commercial perspective. Obviously, our goal is to make it work for people.”

Wallat and his colleagues are still working hard to bring their materials to the standard, and their current progress is full of hope. They plan to recruit professional engravers, music players and billiards enthusiasts to try out this material. Japanese musicians may also be interested. Now, Taro Taro said: “If you can’t keep up with the world on the issue of ivory, I don’t want to continue using it.”