Heike Biwa Performer, Arao Tsutomu, and Japanese prints from Frank Lloyd Wright's collection

Arao Tsutomu plays the biwa (a lute that originated in Persia or Central Asia, much like the Chinese pipa) while singing The Tale of the Heike.  He has established his own school of this centuries-old performance, called Heikyoku, and is also a special lecturer at Keio University, one of the oldest and most prestigious private universities in Tokyo.  By the end of 2016, he had performed Heikyoku more than 900 times in concert halls, museums, universities, and religious institutions and has also appeared in or provided the music for numerous films and TV shows. His most recent performance outside of Japan was at the Tchaikovsky State Conservatory in 2016 when he was one of the invitees from many countries around the world. 

Below are two links to videos of Arao Tsutomu performing:

The first is at the Rokkakudo, a hexagonal building in Izura, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.  This was built by Okakura Tenshin, renowned scholar of art, in 1905.  It was designated as a Japanese Tangible Cultural Building by the Japanese Government in 2003.  Unfortunately, the building was struck by the tsunami of the Tohoku Great Earthquake in March 11, 2011, and was washed away completely except for the foundation.  It was rebuilt and reopened to public in April of 2012.

六角堂、茨城県五浦での演奏(茨城大学美術文化研究所六角堂)Rokkakudo, Ibaraki Prefecture

The second one is at the Tchaikovsky State Conservatory in 2016. Mr. Arao appears after 2 minutes and 20 seconds.  You can hear his biwa and singing of the beginning of The Tale of Heike for about 1 minute. 

The Tale of the Heike is the greatest of all samurai tales and one of the seminal works that have shaped Japanese literature, theatre, art, and film down to the present day.  The Heike were the most powerful clan in the late 12th century, and had close ties to the Imperial Court.  The story is about the battle between the Heike and another powerful clan, the Genji, and it ends with the total defeat of the Heike in the tragic sea battle at Dannoura.

The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright became interested in Japanese art in the 1890s and in 1905 he traveled to Japan.  From that time to his late years spent at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, he maintained his collecting and studying of Japanese prints.  Prints that he once owned are in major art museums around the United States.  Taliesin West holds his collection of surimono, the privately printed Japanese prints commissioned by poetry societies in the early 19th century.  A selection of surimono relating to The Tale of the Heike will be lent to ASU Art Museum for several weeks so that ASU students and faculty and members of the community can view them.  ASU Art Museum will make its collection of ukiyo-e prints relating to The Tale of the Heike available for viewing as well. 

Below are some of the surimono prints that will be shown.

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Left:  Totoya Hokkei (1780-1850), The Seizan (Green Mountains) Lute, from the seventh chapter of The Tale of the Heike, ca. 1820, 21.1 x 18.3 cm, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Taliesin West, Scottsdale

Center:  Totoya Hokkei (1780-1850), Ushiwakamaru (the youthful Yoshitsune) Defeats Benkei in a Game of Sugoroku, inspired by central characters in The Tale of the Heike, ca. 1825, 21.1 x 18.5 cm, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Taliesin West, Scottsdale

Right: Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), An Inkstone and Brushes, linked to the legend of Sasaki Takatsuna, a warrior under the command of Yoritomo (cf. The Tale of the Heike), 1822, 20.3 x 17.8 cm, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Taliesin West, Scottsdale