Japanese Folk Music: A Genre You Need to Know About

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Japanese Folk Music has a long and storied history, and is a genre that you need to know about. From its origins to its modern day incarnation, Japanese Folk Music is a genre that is truly unique.

What is Japanese Folk Music?

Japanese folk music (min’yō) is music that developed in Japan. In a musicalsense, it encompasses a wide variety of musical styles and traditions, including work songs, religious music, children’s songs, and ballads. Most Japanese folk music is based on the pentatonic scale, and many songs make use of the 5-7-5-7-7 syllable pattern common in Japanese poetry.

Instrumentation for Japanese folk music often includes a variety of stringed instruments (such as the shamisen and koto), as well as percussion instruments (such as taiko drums). Folk music exists in many different regional styles across Japan, each with its own unique history and musical characteristics.

One of the most well-known forms of Japanese folk music is Nanto Mikoshi music from the Nanto region of central Japan. This type of folk music is characterized by its use of the 3-2-3 tempo, as well as its use of specific dance movements which accompany the music. Other popular forms of Japanese folk music include Tsugaru shamisen music from northern Japan, and Ikuta school shamisen music from southwestern Japan.

Whether you’re interested in traditional Japanese culture or simply enjoy listening to new and unfamiliar genres of music, Japanese folk music is definitely a genre worth exploring!

The History of Japanese Folk Music

Japanese folk music, also called min’yō, dates back to the Edo period when it was first performed by traveling minstrels. These folk songs were used to tell stories and were often passed down from generation to generation. In more recent times, Japanese folk music has been influenced by American and Western music, but it still maintains its originality.

There are many different types of Japanese folk music, each with its own unique history and sound. One of the most popular forms is known as “shamisen music,” which uses a three-stringed instrument called a shamisen. This type of music originated in Okinawa during the 16th century and eventually made its way to other parts of Japan. Another popular form is “taiko music,” which uses large drums called taiko. This type of music was first played by the samurai class during the 14th century and has since become a staple of Japanese culture.

If you’re interested in learning more about Japanese folk music, there are plenty of resources available online and in libraries. This genre of music is sure to add some flavor to your life!

The Instruments Used in Japanese Folk Music

Traditional Japanese folk music is characterized by a wide variety of instruments. The most common instrument is the shamisen, a three-stringed lute which was introduced to Japan in the 16th century from China. Other Instruments include the koto (a 13-stringed zither), the shakuhachi (a five-holed bamboo flute), and the taiko (a large drum).

The shamisen is by far the most popular instrument in traditional Japanese folk music, and it is not uncommon for musicians to specialize in its playing. The shamisen has a wide range of sounds that can be produced, from gentle and delicate to powerful and fierce. The koto is another very popular instrument, and it has a much longer history in Japan than the shamisen. The koto was originally used by the aristocracy in court music, but it later became popular among the general population as well.

The shakuhachi is a type of flute that is made from bamboo. It originally came to Japan from China, and it was used by the Buddhist monks who played it during their meditation practices. The taiko is a type of drum that is usually made from wood or skin. It is traditionally played with two sticks, and it has a very distinct sound that can be heard over long distances.

Japanese folk music often features these four instruments, but there are many other instruments that are sometimes used as well.

The Different Types of Japanese Folk Music

There are many different types of Japanese folk music, each with their own unique history, instrumentation, and style. Here is a brief overview of some of the most popular and important types of Japanese folk music:

1. Min’yō: One of the oldest and most important genres of Japanese folk music, min’yō literally translates to “people’s music.” It is characterized by its simple melodies and lyrics, which often deal with everyday life and love. Min’yō is usually performed with traditional Japanese instruments such as the shamisen (a three-stringed lute) and the koto (a 13-stringed zither).

2. Neyome-gaku: A type of min’yō that originated in Okinawa, neyome-gaku is characterized by its upbeat tempo and lively dance movements. It is often performed with the sanshin (a three-stringed banjo-like instrument) and the taiko (a type of Japanese drum).

3. Tsugaru-jamisen: A type of min’yō that originates from the Tsugaru region in northern Japan, tsugaru-jamisen is characterized by its fast tempo and virtuosic guitar playing. It is usually performed with the shamisen or the koto.

4. Gagaku: One of the oldest genres of Japanese music, gagaku is a form of court music that was originally brought to Japan from China and Korea. It is characterized by its ornate melodies and complex rhythms, which are played on traditional Chinese and Korean instruments such as the pipa (a four-stringed lute) and the haegum (a two-stringed fiddle).

5. Shamisen ensembles: A type of music that originated in Edo (now Tokyo) in the early 17th century, shamisen ensembles are characterized by their use of multiple shamisen players performing together. This type of music was originally used as accompaniment for Kabuki theater, but it has since become a popular form of concert music in its own right.

Why You Should Listen to Japanese Folk Music

Japanese folk music (min’yō) is music that developed in Japan. In its broadest sense, min’yō encompasses all the music of the Japanese people, even including the music of immigrant groups such as zang-hai min’yō (“music of the Chinese community”) and kari-hai min’yō (“music of the Korean community”). However, in a narrower sense, min’yō is often used to refer specifically toJapanese folk songs.

Min’yō typically uses simple instruments such as the shamisen (a three-stringed lute), the shakuhachi (a bamboo flute), and the koto (a 13-stringed zither). These instruments are often accompanied by traditional Japanese percussion instruments such as the taiko drum.

Min’yō has its roots in ancient Japanese court music and religion. In particular, many min’yō songs are based on Buddhist chants or rhythms used in Shinto ritual dances. However, over time, min’yō has been influenced by a variety of other genres, including American and Western pop music.

Today, min’yō is enjoyed by people of all ages in Japan. It is often performed at festivals and other special events. It can also be heard on TV and radio, and some artists have even begun to experiment with incorporating elements of min’yō into modern pop music.

If you’re looking for something new to listen to, Japanese folk music is a great option. It’sunique sound and fascinating history make it an interesting and enjoyable genre to explore.

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