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Japanese Musical Instruments

The Japanese have many unique instruments, particularly in percussion, wind, and strings. One of the most well known is the koto, a stringed instrument that is made of wood and plucked rather than played with a bow. When playing a koto, picks are worn on the thumb, index, and middle fingers to pluck the strings while tone and pitch is controlled by holding down strings with the left hand.

Japanese drums have been used since ancient times for religious ceremonies as well as in military use. They come in a variety of sizes. Japanese drums are known as "taiko," with the largest drums referred to as "odaiko." Today, playing the odaiko is still very important, and this drum is often enjoyed during Japanese festivals.

The most well-known Japanese wind instrument is the shakuhachi flute. This flute was imported from China originally and is made of bamboo. This flute is commonly associated with religious people representing Buddhist discipline.

Quick Facts

  • The shamisen, with three strings and a box-like body, was first used as an instrument of entertainment in Edo period Japan. Traditionally, when playing the shamisen, one must not show any expression
  • Kodo is a well-known taiko performance group. They host a celebratory festival in Japan yearly on Sado Island. This festival, Earth Celebration, is an international tourist attraction
  • Miyagi Michio is perhaps the most famous koto player. Despite his blindness, he composed for the koto instrument, incorporating elements of Western music in his compositions

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