Hauta (a Japanese traditional song or ballad sung to the accompaniment of the shamisen) were originally regarded as shorter versions of nagauta (ballads sung to shamisen accompaniment). The word "hauta" began to be used around the Genroku era (from 1688 to 1703), as it was seen in 'Matsunoha' (a collection of kouta [ballads sung to shamisen accompaniment] published in 1703). Hauta of the above meaning is the predecessor of hauta in the Edo period, which will be explained in this page. Today, the word hauta usually indicates short Kamigata uta (songs of Kamigata [Kyoto-Osaka areas]), which is a type of jiuta (a genre of traditional songs with shamisen accompaniment).
Hauta in this page collectively refers to short songs and ballads in the mid-Edo period and after. Kouta were also referred to as hauta up until 1920s, but later, these came to be clearly categorized into hauta, kouta, utazawa (popular ballad) and folk song. At present, hauta is defined as short songs that are not categorized as kouta, utazawa or folk songs.
With this background, traditional hauta had been categorized as one of the above types of songs, and there had been few songs that were unique enough to be regarded as hauta. This is why songs and ballads regarded as hauta in some literature and websites are categorized as utazawa or kouta in others.
It is thought that hauta was especially popular after the Tempo Reforms (1831 - 1843). At the time of the Reforms, shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese banjo) was regarded luxurious and the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) forbade the common people to play it. Although professional nagauta players could continue to play the instruments to the accompaniment of kabuki and for other occasions, giving shamisen lessons in town, so-called 'music teachers in your town' (similar to private music lessons held at the teacher's house today), was banned. This situation lasted for several years (it is said that it lasted for a decade), and finally, the use of shamisen became open. The common people then came to be able to play shamisen again, but it was difficult for ordinary people who hadn't touched the musical instruments for such a long time to recall long songs such as nagauta. Therefore, hauta became popular as they were easy to learn and play for their shortness.
When playing shamisen, the player uses his/her fingernails to make sound for kouta, and uses bachi (plectrum) for hauta. The fushimawashi (intonation) are also slightly different; the intonation for hauta is not as strong as that of utazawa.
Hauta is often sung with such musical instruments as tsuzumi (hand drum) and fue (Japanese flute).
Refer to the pages for kouta and utazawa.