Freeman Spogli Institute. This Internet Guide presents annotations of Web sites that address generally the issue of traditional Japanese music and sites that focus on particular instruments koto, shakuhachi, shamisen, and taiko. Music plays a large role in the traditional dramatic arts of kabuki and noh, so the guide concludes with annotations of sites addressing these art forms. The article suggests that Japanese traditional music is quite varied.
The history of traditional music in Japan is rich and varied. Many musical forms were imported from China more than a thousand years ago, but over the years, they were reshaped into distinctively Japanese styles of expression. Instruments were adapted and newly created to meet local needs, and the most important of these were the shamisen , shakuhachi , and koto. The shamisen resembles a guitar; it has a long, thin neck and a small, rectangular body covered with skin. It's got three strings, and the pitch is adjusted using the tuning pegs on the head, just like a guitar or violin. The strings aren't plucked with the fingers; a large triangular plectrum is used to strike the strings.
Traditional Japanese music usually refers to Japan's historical folk music. One of the defining characteristics of traditional Japanese music is its sparse rhythm. Regular chords are also absent. It is impossible for a person to beat time to the music.
It has been noted that certain styles of samisen music had been able to create concert repertoires disconnected from dance or party accompaniment. Koto teachers and composers also flourished, and biwa music began to return along with court music, paralleling the restoration of imperial power. The most-devastating effect of the restoration on the arts was the canceling of monopoly privileges previously held by the various guilds, including those in the music fields.