Traditional Japanese musical instruments

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Traditional Japanese musical instruments, known as wagakki (Japanese: 和楽器) in Japanese, are musical instruments used in the traditional folk music of Japan. They comprise a range of string, wind, and percussion instruments.

Percussion instruments[edit]

  • Bin-sasara (編木, 板ささら; also spelled bin-zasara) — clapper made from wooden slats connected by a rope or cord
  • Hyōshigi (拍子木) — wooden or bamboo clappers
  • Den-den daiko (でんでん太鼓) — pellet drum, used as a children's toy
  • Ikko — small, ornately decorated hourglass-shaped drum
  • Kagura suzu — hand-held bell tree with three tiers of pellet bells
  • Kakko (羯鼓) — small drum used in gagaku
  • Kane () — small flat gong
  • Kokiriko (筑子, こきりこ) — a pair of sticks which are beaten together slowly and rhythmically
  • Shakubyoshi (also called shaku) — clapper made from a pair of flat wooden sticks
  • Mokugyo (木魚) — (also called Wooden fish) woodblock carved in the shape of a fish, struck with a wooden stick; often used in Buddhist chanting
  • Ōtsuzumi (大鼓) — hand drum
  • San-no-tsuzumi (三の鼓), hourglass-shaped double-headed drum; struck only on one side
  • Sasara (ささら) — clapper made from wooden slats connected by a rope or cord
  • Sekkin - a lithophone either bowed or struck
  • Shime-daiko (締太鼓) — small drum played with sticks
  • Shōko (鉦鼓) — small bronze gong used in gagaku; struck with two horn beaters
  • Taiko (太鼓), literally "great drum"
  • Tsuri-daiko (太鼓) — drum on a stand with ornately painted head, played with a padded stick
  • Tsuzumi () — small hand drum

String instruments[edit]

  • Biwa, a pear-shaped lute
  • Gottan or hako-jamisen
  • Ichigenkin (一絃琴), monochord
  • Junanagen (十七絃), the 17-string koto
  • Koto (, ), a long zither
  • Kugo (箜篌), an angled harp used in ancient times and recently revived
  • Sanshin (三線, literally 'three strings'), an Okinawan precursor of the mainland Japanese (and Amami Islands) shamisen
  • Shamisen (三味線), a banjo-like lute with three strings; brought to Japan from China in the 16th century. Popular in Edo's pleasure districts, the shamisen was often used in Kabuki theater. Made from red sandalwood and ranging from 1.1 to 1.4 meters long, the shamisen has ivory pegs, strings made from twisted silk, and a belly covered in cat or dog skin. The strings, which are of different thickness, are plucked or struck with a tortoise shell pick.
  • Taishogoto (大正琴), a zither with metal strings and keys
  • Tonkori (トンコリ), a plucked instrument used by the Ainu of Hokkaidō
  • Yamatogoto (), ancient long zither; also called wagon ()


  • Kokyū, a bowed lute with three (or, more rarely, four) strings and a skin-covered body

Wind instruments[edit]


Japanese flutes are called fue (笛). There are eight traditional flutes, as well as more modern creations.

Reed Instruments[edit]

  • Hichiriki (篳篥) — double-reeded flute used in different kinds of music

Free reed mouth organs[edit]


  • Horagai (法螺貝) — seashell horn; also called jinkai (陣貝)

Other instruments[edit]

See also[edit]


Gunji, Sumi; Johnson, Henry (2012). A Dictionary of Traditional Japanese Musical Instruments: From Prehistory to the Edo Period. Tokyo: Eideru Kenkyūjo. ISBN 978-4-87168-513-9..