Saturday, September 24, 2011


Music was an important part of life in Japan´s royal courts from the 500s to the 1500s. at first music at court consisted of a single musician singing a story while playing along on a stringed instrument. In Japan these musicians were often blind priests. Later, groups of musicians and others performed gagaku, or elegant music, at the emperor´s court. 
Gagaku, characterized by long, slow songs and dance-like movements, is the oldest of the Japanese traditional performing arts. It is performed at banquets and ceremonies in the Imperial Palace and in theatres throughout the country, and encompasses three distinct arts.

Gagaku featured storytellers, dancers, acrobats, and the world´s first orchestras. All members of the court learned to play the instruments used in gagaku.

Some of the most famous and beautiful instruments are the following: 


1. 笙(しょう)Shō

A sho is a mouth organ made of  17 bamboo pipes.

2. 篳篥(ひちりき) Hichiriki

A hichiriki, or bamboo flute, was used to play the main melody in Japanese court music.

It is a18 cm bamboo flute with 7 holes in the front and 2 in the back. The reed is held in the mouth.

3. 竜笛(りゅうてき) Ryūteki

40 cm bamboo flute with 7 holes in the front and one hole to blow into.

String instruments

Four stringed instruments (Heian period)

1.琵琶(びわ) Biwa
It´s a Japanese lute.

2. 琴(きん) Kin

Seven strings. Imported in the Nara period, fell out of use during the mid-Heian period. We revigorated in the Edo period but is not widely used today.

3. 和琴(わごん) Wagon

Six strings.

4. 箏(そう) Sō

Arriving from China in the 7th c. At that time there were 12 and 13 stringed instruments in China; it was the 13-stringed instrument that was imported. Made from paulownia wood.

5. 三味線 Shamisen 

A shamisen is a long-necked lute.

Play the shamisen by yourself. Click on this link.....

Percussion Instruments

1. 太鼓・大鼓(たいこ) Taiko

A large drum with a painted surface. Originates in China. Struck with a soft mallet.
It is hung from a stand and struck with two large sticks.

2. 羯鼓・鞨鼓(かっこ) Kakko

A double-headed, small drum. The drum surface is animal skin. The cords running parallel to the drum can be manipulated to alter the tension of the drums surface, and so the sound of it. Struck with the hands.

3. 鉦鼓(しょうこ) Shōko

A medium-sized, bronze gong.

4. 笏拍子(しゃくびょうし) Shakubyōshi

Percussion mallets about 36 cm long and 1 cm thick, made from boxwood, cherry wood, plum wood or other woods. Held in the two hands.


  1. I'm from the Philippines and I was amazed with the fact that even a Japanese bamboo flute looks simple in appearance but it is actually very difficult to play. I've read that if plays by the master this Shakuhachi Flute create an amazing, subtle, sensual music - prized as being perfect for meditation and relaxation. It’s beautiful, soulful sound made that best hear when you are taking a good rest or about to sleep. shakuhachi

  2. Thanks for your comment SA Perillo. Japanese music is so relaxing especially before taking a good rest or sleeping. You country has beautiful music too. Thanks for participating. You are welcome to post comments and to visit us any time you wish it.

  3. Hi,

    Nice Blog!Thanks for sharing it.

    Build Vocabulary with Japanese