The Western world’s love affair with “world music” has always had its blind spots. Japanese traditional music is one. You won’t find recordings of Shomyo Buddhist chanting or bunraku ensembles among the world music bestsellers. And you certainly won’t find gagaku, even though it’s the most extraordinary and riveting of all Japanese traditional musics.
The reason is that gagaku goes against everything world music normally stands for. There are no toe-tapping rhythms, no rousing tunes with catchy syncopations, no suggestion of good times on a balmy tropical night. All those things are beneath its dignity.