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Thesis 1

Thesis Title: The goddess dances beyond time: an exploration of continuity through change in contemporary Japanese ritual, with specific reference to the miko mai shinji
Degree Type: PhD
Degree Specialism: Ethnomusicology
Supervisor(s): Helen Frances Phelan
Thesis Status: Accepted
Date Submitted / Accepted: 2010
Institution Submitting / Submitted To: University of Limerick
Thesis Location / Link: http://hdl.handle.net/10344/423
Key Issues / Concepts: ritual performance; Japan; music
Abstract: Ritual performance is a characteristic of contemporary Japanese life. Some of rituals originated more than a 1000 years ago, while the origins of others are not known. The theme of this thesis—continuity through change in contemporary Japanese ritual —is explored, particularly focusing on musical behaviour in rituals. The development of this theme is described in chapter one. Chapter two highlights some relevant characteristics of ritual (especially the creation of an appearance of continuity by repetition of formalised actions) and music (dynamic nature and adaptability) through a literature survey. For a more in-depth exploration, an ethnographic description of the miko mai shinji ritual, based on fieldwork conducted by me from 2005 to 2007, is provided in chapters three and four. The appearance of continuity in this ritual was created by conducting it in a fixed manner; however, at the same time, subtle changes occurred in the musical performances. Also, some conscious changes occurred through adaptation to their changing social situation. Such changes have sustained the ritual till the present day. In chapter five, consequences of continuity through change for the wider study of ritual and music is discussed. When we consider rituals as human actions, we realise that continuity and change are not in fact opposites but rather facilitate each other. Rituals have been allowed to survive through change, and musical behaviour supports this process because of its dynamic nature. Moreover, the continuation of ritual practices allows for the honouring of tradition and enhances the value of the ritual. In addition, through adaptation to changing society, it embraces the contemporary world. Therefore, rituals continue to survive in contemporary Japan as a very significant part of Japanese life.

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