4 Japanese Instruments To Inspire You

From J-pop to the more traditional, a lot of interesting music comes out of Japan. This once-enigmatic nation chronicles its history through its music. Here are four unique Japanese instruments for your next song.

1. Shamisen

This lute-like instrument has three strings. It is played by pluck the strings with ginkgo leaf-shaped plectrum. Because the shamisen sounds like a cross between a base a fiddle, it would be a great addition to either a rock or a country track,

Listen to a modern sample of shamisen music below.

2. Shakuhachi

The shakuhachi is a 22-inch bamboo flute. To play it, the musician blows into one end while covering the holes with his or her fingers to change the pitch. Unlike the typical “flute,” the shakuhachi is blown into directly rather than across a hole at one end. This ethereal-sounding wind instrument will bring your folk song to an otherworldly level.

Watch this musician play a tune from a 1950s Japanese film.

3. Koto

This stringed instrument resembles a hammered dulcimer or a horizontal harp. The thirteen strings are plucked with small picks on the right hand. The resulting music is an entire orchestra in its own right. The koto might add an interesting melody to a techno beat.

Listen to this musician play a contemporary piece of koto music.

4. Biwa

The biwa is a short-necked lute. It is often used in narrative storytelling. The stringed instrument pairs well with a set of melodic vocals. Consider it for your next singer/songwriter track.

Listen to this musician play the biwa the traditional way.

These traditional instruments hail from a nation of people who are renowned for marching to the beat of a different drum. By incorporating one of these unique instruments into your next song, you will establish a sound that it truly unique.

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Kristen Harris enjoys listening to a wide range of music, from Taylor Swift to, on occasion, Celtic instrumental. She also spends her time writing, reading, and baking.


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