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Traditional Japanese Music

Japan’s rich cultural heritage spans across various art forms, and its music is no exception. For language learners, delving into traditional Japanese music offers a unique opportunity. You can explore the country’s history, culture, and language. In this article, we’ll embark on a melodious journey through the world of Japanese music. Let’s dive into traditional compositions, and discovering the instruments that create this mesmerizing auditory experience.

Traditional Japanese Music

Japanese Music

Music has always held a special place in Japanese culture. It is deeply interwoven with traditional rituals, storytelling, and dance. Japanese music can be broadly categorized into two genres: classical and contemporary. Classical music encompasses the traditional forms and styles that have been preserved for centuries. Whilst contemporary music reflects Japan’s modernization and fusion with Western music.

Traditional Japanese Music

Traditional Japanese music, often known as “Hogaku,” has a history that spans over a millennium. It embodies the essence of Japan’s ancient traditions and is deeply rooted in Japanese spirituality and nature. The primary genres of traditional Japanese music include:


Gagaku is one of the oldest forms of classical music in Japan, dating back to the 7th century. It’s characterized by its orchestral composition, combining various instruments and vocals. The melodies evoke a sense of serenity and are often used in ceremonial events and traditional Japanese dance.

Noh Music

Noh theater is an important cultural tradition in Japan, and its accompanying music is an integral part of the performance. It is hauntingly beautiful, characterized by its slow, meditative tempo and unique vocal styles.

Shamisen and Min’yo

The shamisen, a three-stringed instrument, plays a central role in traditional Japanese folk music, known as Min’yo. These songs often narrate stories of daily life, love, and nature. The simplicity of Min’yo captures the hearts of many listeners.

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Japanese Musical Instruments

Traditional Japanese music wouldn’t be complete without its distinctive instruments. Here are a few that give this genre its signature sound:


Traditional Japanese Music - Shamisen Instrument

The shamisen is a plucked string instrument, typically used in various traditional music styles. Its vibrant, twangy sound resonates with listeners and is known for its versatility.


Koto Drum

The koto is a thirteen-stringed zither-like instrument. Its gentle, melodic tones have a soothing and calming effect, often used in Japanese court music and modern compositions alike.

Taiko Drums

Taiko Drums

Taiko drums are large, powerful drums often played in ensembles. Their thundering beats are an essential part of traditional Japanese festivals and performances, creating an exhilarating atmosphere.

Current Artists Utilising Traditional Japanese Music

While Japanese music remains deeply rooted in history, some contemporary artists are embracing it and infusing it into their work. A few notable artists who have incorporated traditional Japanese elements into their music include:


Kodō is a world-renowned taiko drum ensemble that combines the power of traditional Japanese percussion with modern influences. Their performances are a spectacular fusion of ancient and contemporary sounds.

Yoshida Brothers

The Yoshida Brothers are contemporary musicians who play the shamisen, giving this traditional instrument a modern twist. Their music blends the traditional charm of the shamisen with elements of rock and pop.

Wagakki Band

Wagakki Band combines traditional Japanese instruments, such as the koto and shakuhachi, with rock and pop elements. Their music is a harmonious blend of old and new, attracting a wide and diverse audience.

Traditional Japanese Music & Language Learning

Exploring traditional Japanese is an enjoyable endeavour for language learners. Is it also a captivating way to immerse oneself in Japanese culture and history. With a diverse range of instruments and genres, this ancient musical tradition continues to evolve and inspire contemporary artists worldwide. Whether you’re learning the Japanese language or simply seeking a musical adventure, Japanese music offers a rich and melodious path to discover the soul of Japan.

Why not start learning Japanese with our Japanese lessons? Or one of our Japanese courses in Japan? Cactus offer a range of Japanese classes from beginners to advanced. With weekly lessons, you can choose the best option for you. Start your free trial!

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