Traditional Japanese Music

Current as of June 2005

This Internet Guide presents annotations of Web sites that address generally the issue of traditional Japanese music and sites that focus on particular instruments (koto, shakuhachi, shamisen, and taiko). Music plays a large role in the traditional dramatic arts of kabuki and noh, so the guide concludes with annotations of sites addressing these art forms.

General Sites


The Color of Traditional Japanese Music
This article from Nipponia magazine discusses and presents photographs of 19 traditional Japanese musical instruments. The article suggests that Japanese traditional music is quite varied. The variety comes mainly from the different techniques used to create a wide range of timbre-the color of Japanese sound.

Japanese Music
This essay discusses traditional Japanese music, gagaku (ancient court music), noh, shakuhachi, koto and shamisen, folk songs, popular music, Japanese children's songs, western music, and new Japanese music.

Kids Web Japan-Traditional Music
Presents an overview of the history of the koto and traditional music in Japan, as well as descriptions of other instruments and how people enjoy them today. A Look at the Koto ( offers an explanation of the koto, its parts, and the tools used to play it. In addition, you can "play" a koto by clicking on Virtual Koto (

Ancient Japan: the Earliest Japanese Music
Describes the earliest Japanese music (the musical life of the Nara and Heian periods and before) and early religious music. It suggests that perhaps the most permanent musical culture developed in early Japan was the gagaku, or court instrumental music, developed at the Heian court. It concludes with a discussion of Japanese instruments.

Japanese Traditional Music
This site presents a long essay on the history of traditional Japanese music; describes categories of traditional music and explanations of each category; discusses 11 musical instruments; and offers 100 selections of music (solo instrumental, vocal, and chanting), each several minutes long.

Music: Reflection of traditions from East and West
This Japan Fact Sheet discusses many aspects of Japanese music, not just traditional music. Sections of the Fact Sheet are: introduction; gagaku; religious music; biwa, koto, shakuhachi and shamisen; folk songs; Western music comes to Japan; the native ballad, or enka; the birth of Japanese pop music, or kayokyoku; "new music" and after; and Western classical music in Japan.




Koto Page for Kids
On this page, you can read about the instrument, learn to make your own koto, and read the story of Plum Boy.

Virtual O-Koto
In addition to briefly describing the koto, this site lets you listen to a "virtual" koto playing one of the most famous koto pieces, "Sakura, Sakura." In addition, by moving the mouse over the "strings," you can play the koto.

Koto no Koto (Koto Things)
This Web site is all about the Japanese instrument called a koto and the music that is made with koto and accompanying instruments.



How to make a PVC Shakuhachi
Professional shakuhachi performer and maker Kinya Sogawa shares his excitement about this wonderful traditional Japanese bamboo flute, and describes how to make one out of commonly available plastic pipe.

Shakuhachi Summer Camp of the Rockies
The Sixth Annual Shakuhachi Summer Camp of the Rockies took place from Thursday, June 24 to Monday, June 28, 2004. This site discusses the curriculum, faculty, schedule, accommodations, and travel to the summer camp.

Bamboo Bell-Shakuhachi Zen Music
Bamboo Bell is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on the shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute. The site describes a shakuhachi teaching method, and includes photographs and three shakuhachi-related articles.



Taiko: Overview and History
This site offers an overview of the taiko art form, links to taiko articles and research, and a glossary of taiko terms It also notes that information about the various styles of taikotaiko page ( drums is available on the

The Art of Taiko
Developed as a thinkquest by four elementary school students at Bicentennial North elementary school, Glendale, Arizona, this site discusses the history of taiko, the students' experiences with taiko, how the drums are made, and how to play taiko.

Taiko Drum Lesson and Taiko Rudiments
Maintained by Tatsumaki Taiko, a group of percussionists from the San Francisco Bay Area, this site offers a taiko drum lesson and drum technique and methods for improving practice.



This site presents a brief description of the historical development of the shamisen, describes its construction, and concludes with a description of playing techniques.

Tsugaru Shamisen
The tsugaru shamisen is a unique style of folk music that grew up in the snowy regions of northern Japan. This site discusses its history, what kids go through to master a traditional art or craft, how often these kids rehearse, and how they spend their time when not in the limelight.

Noh and Kabuki


Noh and Kyogen-the Instruments
This Japan Arts Council site describes the instruments used in the noh and kyogennoh flute, the shoulder drum, the hip drum, and the stick drum. Includes sound files for each instrument. plays-the

An Introduction to Kabuki
This Japan Digest notes that kabuki is a highly stylized performing art that combines acting, dancing, and music in an extraordinary spectacle of form, color, and sound.

Compiled by Roger Sensenbaugh

Internet Guides are made possible through the generous support of the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.

The use of trade, firm, or corporation names in this publication (or page) is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by the National Clearinghouse for U.S.-Japan Studies.