The Shamisen is one of the most popular traditional Japanese instruments. It is similar to a Banjo and has 3 strings. It is a cousin of the Chinese instrument ‘San-hsien’ and has been in Japan since the mid 1500s. In some parts of Japan the body is covered in snake skin. The large pick used to play it is called the ‘bachi’.
The Koto is a 13 stringed ‘floor harp’. The base is made out of wood and the strings were traditionally made from silk. The players use ivory picks on their thumb, index and middle fingers to pluck the strings. It became popular as a solo instrument from the 1700s onwards.
The Biwa is a type of lute. It was originally played by blind Buddhist priests to accompany their prayers and chanting. It was also used to accompany a type of Music known as ‘heikebiwa’. These were epic songs that told the story of the rise and fall of powerful Heike clan who disappeared in around 1185….
The Shakuhachi is a flute made from bamboo. It has 5 finger holes and is blown from the top. Like a lot of Japanese instruments it originated in China and is connected to Buddhism. It was originally played by Buddhist monks and is used to enhance meditation. In times of war it was sometimes even used as a weapon!