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Japan Travel Guide

Traditional instruments in Japan


Shakuhachi The Shakuhachi is a traditional Japanese end-blown bamboo flute. The Shakuhachi's history is steeped in myth and lore of Samurai warriors turned Bhuddist monks. Its secrets were locked in traditional contemplative societies for centuries until the Emperor brought this unique flute instrument into his court, and eventually the general public, in the 19th century.

Our Shakuhachi are tuned to traditional minor pentatonic scales, utilizing digital quartz tuners. The Shakuhachi’s rich, unique tonal quality is unlike that of side-blown bamboo flutes. Though more difficult to play, it is preferred by many because of its haunting tonality and meditative quality.

Biwa and Shamizen

Biwa Modern Biwa comes from the island of Kyushu as can be seen in the names Chikuzen and Satsuma, both parts of Kyushu. Even though the direct influence of Heike Biwa is relatively weak, Satsuma Biwa developed to encourage the martial spirit and new settings of texts taken from the Tales of the Heike as well as other battle tales are an important part of the modern Biwa repertory. There are seven types of Biwa, chacterized by number of strings, sounds it could produce, type of plectrum, and their use.

A three-stringed lute, the shamizen also came to Japan from China, via Okinawa, where it's known as a shansin. The earliest shamisen, music is credited to Biwa players in the early seventeenth century and it has become one of the most popular instruments in Japanese music.


Koto The koto is a traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument derived from Chinese zither (Guzheng)s. The koto is the national instrument of Japan. Koto are about 180 centimetres (71 in) long and have 13 strings that are strung over 13 movable bridges along the length of the instrument. Players can adjust the string pitches by moving these bridges before playing, and use three finger picks (on thumb, forefinger, and middle finger) to pluck the strings.

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