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. There are three general types of instruments, percussion instruments, stringed instruments and wind instruments, mostly flutes, and the most important of these are the shamisen, shakuhachi, and koto.
The shamisen or samisen (三味線, literally "three strings"), also called sangen (三絃, literally "three strings") 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 called bachi is used to strike the strings. The shamisen is frequently used as an accompaniment to songs of various types.
One of the most famous flute is the shakuhachi a end-blown bamboo flute. It was originally introduced from China into Japan in the 8th century and underwent a resurgence in the early Edo Period, the shakuhachi became associated with wandering Buddhist priests known as komuso or 'priests of nothingness', they played the shakuhachi as a spritual discipline and during that period they had the exclusive license to play the shakuhachi.
The koto is the national instrument of Japan, is a 13-string zither, about 2 meters long and made of Paulownia wood. It is plucked using picks on the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand, while the left hand can be used to modify pitch and tone. When the koto was first imported to Japan, the native word koto was a generic term for any and all Japanese stringed instruments. Over time the definition of koto could not describe the wide variety of these stringed instruments and so the meanings changed.
In the last few years, there have been a growing number of artists who have been bringing these instruments to younger audiences. Taiko group Kodo and young shamisen duo the Yoshida Brothers are two well-known examples of artists who give the old instruments new life and energy, and have been very successful abroad.
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