Born in Tokyo, Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) grew up in a Japanese society heavily influenced by Western culture. In his early career, Takemitsu demonstrated a tendency to submit to Western musical styles, suppressing the interest of his own traditional culture, and more, protesting Japanese participation in World War II. It was not until the 1960s that Takemitsu, affected by the American composer John Cage (1912-1992), began to affirm the essence of Japanese traditions and tried to combine the different music philosophies of East and West in his works. His composition November Steps, premiered in New York in 1967 and performed with the Japanese traditional instruments shakuhachi and biwa as solo instruments, accompanied by the New York Philharmonic, is Takemitsu's first work to attempt crossing over the cultural boundaries of East and West.
However, Japanese solo instruments and Western orchestra belong to two different musical traditions. It is a difficult task to display the characteristics of the two traditions respectively, and also merge them together. The purpose of this essay is to examine how Takemitsu found the possibilities to communicate these two music worlds by using "timbres" as important link bridges, i.e., through affinity of clusters of western contemporary music and single tone, traditional Japanese music. The timbre contains two concepts, namely the traditional Japanese aesthetics of ma and sawari. Ma means the space between two tones, like the musical rest. But in Japanese music aesthetics, this silent moment contains numerous natural sounds, which are even more important than the tones themselves. Sawari means noise, with the non-pure and non-precise tones. It is the highest level of traditional Japanese vocal or instrumental music. Inseparable, these two aspects are also an integral part of nature. Here we can see similarity between Cage and Takemitsu. Cage created 4'33' in 1952. In this three-movement musical composition, the score was made empty. It is not for the audience to hear pure silences, but rather, Cage deliberately let the audience listen to all the sounds around them for the entire duration. Cage considered all sounds of the surrounding environment are music; Takemitsu further gave a real musical meaning to these natural sounds.