Wagakki (II) :Japanese Traditional Instruments

Japan is a land of rich cultural heritage and traditional instruments are an integral part of this. Wagakki refers to the traditional Japanese musical instruments the Japanese have used to express their emotions and feelings. For centuries, they have been used in festivals, ceremonies, theatrical performances, and even in some popular music genres.



Taiko can be said the most well-known Japanese traditional instrument. It is usually made from a hollowed-out tree trunk, with an animal skin stretched over one end. The drum is then struck with two sticks, one in each hand. Taiko is an umbrella term for a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments - there are various taiko in different sizes, shapes, and colors. These large drums can be used in festivals, ceremonies, and theatrical performances. It is a powerful form of music that is often used to express emotion and tell stories. It is not only a form of entertainment, but also a source of spiritual renewal and physical exercise, as it requires intense focus and discipline.

Taiko is an ancient form of Japanese drumming that has been around for centuries. Traditionally, Taiko is performed by a group of people called a “taiko-gumi” (taiko group). The group consists of a leader, called a “taiko-cho”, as well as other members who play different rhythms and parts. The traditional Japanese drum used in Taiko is called a “wadaiko”.

Taiko has become increasingly popular in recent years, with performances taking place all over the world. There are even competitions where taiko groups can compete against each other.


The koto is an important part of Japanese culture and has had a long history in the country. The koto is a long, zither-like, wooden instrument but with only thirteen strings stretched across a bridge. It is usually played with a plectrum or a pick, and is used in both solo and ensemble performances. It was originally invented in China and first introduced to Japan in the 8th century and has been used in traditional ceremonies and festivals since then. Koto music is known for its delicate, tranquil sound and is often used to create a calming, peaceful atmosphere. It is also known as the Japanese harp, and is considered to be one of the oldest string instruments in the world.

Koto music is characterized by its gentle, melodic tones, and often incorporates traditional Japanese music styles. Koto music is often used in traditional Japanese ceremonies and festivals, as well as in contemporary music. Koto players typically use a variety of techniques to create different sounds and melodies, including strumming, plucking, and striking the strings with the plectrum. Even today, it is still an important part of Japanese culture and is often seen in traditional performances.



Sanshin, literately meaning “three strings”, is a traditional instrument made with snakeskin that originated in Okinawa, Japan. It is an important part of Okinawan folk music and is used to accompany a variety of folk songs. Historically, the sanshin has been a popular instrument among Okinawan peasants and farmers, and is still a beloved part of Okinawan culture today. It is often used in small informal family gatherings, weddings, birthdays, parties, and festivals.

The sanshin has a unique sound, unlike any other instrument. It is composed of a neck, body, and three strings made from silk or nylon. Its strings are tuned to a pentatonic scale, which gives it a distinct, mellow sound. The sound is further enhanced by the use of a bridge and plectrum, which are used to pluck the strings. The unique sound of the sanshin has made it a popular instrument among many genres of music. It is often used in traditional Okinawan folk music, as well as in contemporary Okinawan music such as rock and pop. It is also used in traditional Japanese music such as gagaku (old Japanese court music) and shamisen. The versatility of the sanshin is what makes it such an interesting instrument to explore.

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