Skip to Main Content

International Music Resources by Country: Japan

International Music Resources offers an array of online and physical resources both freely available and/or offered by the George F. DeVine Music Library. The information included in these guides may serve as a starting point for the study and research of

Matsuyama Castle

Citation (1)

Map of Japan

Map of Japan

Citation (3)


Japanese Music

Yamato Ensemble: Japanese Music by Michio Miyagi, Vol. 1 album art

Folk Music of Japan album art

Stomu Yamashta: Sea & Sky  album art

Garland Encyclopedia of World Music

Garland Encyclopedia of World Music Cover Art

Facts in Brief

Flag of Japan


Capital: Tokyo

Official Language: Japanese

Current Population: 125,120,000

Area: 377,975 sq km

Climate:  Although summers are temperate everywhere, the climate in winter varies markedly from cold in the north to mild in the south. Typhoons and heavy rains are common during May–October. Temperatures in Tokyo range from −6°C (21°F) to 30°C (86°F).

Main Religions: Shintoism and Buddhism

Citation (2)

Japanese Music


All Shintō music traces its origins to the myth of an erotic dance performed by the goddess Ame no Uzume no Mikoto before the Rock Door of Heaven to entice out the Sun Goddess, who was hiding her light from the world and causing crops to fail. Kagura, written with Chinese characters meaning ‘music (and dance) for the gods’, was regarded as a branch of wagaku, music of Japanese origin, as opposed to various kinds of foreign music being introduced at the court...the cycle of songs (kagura-uta) was re-edited in the second quarter of the 17th century, after a hiatus caused by the civil wars of the 16th century.  The text of each song falls into two parts, the moto-uta and the sue-uta; in each part the first verse is sung solo and the later verses in unison chorus. Instrumental accompaniment is provided by a Wagon (six-string zither), kagura-bue (transverse flute) and hichiriki (short cylindrical oboe). In addition to mi-kagura, music of the imperial cult includes other ancient song-types: Azuma asobiŌnaobi-no-utaYamato-utaKume-utaTa-uta and Gosechi-no-mai.

Folk Music: Warabe

There are three kinds of Japanese song for children: (shōgaku-)shōka (songs for primary school use); dōyō (songs for children composed by professional musicians); and warabe-uta (traditional game songs). The last type is different from the other two mainly in that its form is simpler and it is always combined with some kind of game. Significantly, warabe-uta predominantly use traditional pentatonic scales and modes: they are ‘traditional’ products and are generally passed from child to child. Many warabe-uta are still sung by children, regardless of where they live throughout the country.  Warabe-uta melodies, simple in structure, are usually within the range of a 6th or an octave, and in many cases they are based on one or two tetrachords. Text setting of warabe-uta is almost wholly syllabic. The metrical forms, however, depend largely on the form of the particular game. Skipping-rope songs usually have a slow duple metre, whereas ball-bouncing songs show more variety in rhythm, depending on how the players bounce the balls.

Theatre Music: ‘Nō’

This performance form combines elements of dance, drama, music and poetry into a highly structured stage art. Mainly based in the cities of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya, it is performed throughout the country by professional artists (almost entirely men), many of whom are carriers of the tradition as passed down through family lines for numerous generations. There is also a wide following of both male and female amateur performers throughout the country who practise and perform one or several aspects of the form. An art that developed in Japan’s medieval period, it has in turn been a major influence on later performance arts, most notably kabuki theatre and the music of the koto.

Read more about Japanese music at Grove Online

Citation (4)

Composer Highlight: Yoko Kanno

Japanese composer and pianist Yoko Kanno

Yoko Kanno

Japanese pianist, arranger, and composer.

Since 1988 she has composed and arranged select studio tracks for a wide range of mostly female Japanese pop artists. Her longest musical relationship has been with the singer Maaya Sakamoto, with whom she collaborated on eight albums between 1997 and 2009. Her initial forays into film music were for Japanese video games. Combining her pop studio work and game scoring, she developed a typically Japanese approach to film scoring based on polyglot styles, studio ensemble production, and embellished orchestral arrangements. Her first distinctive work accompanied a range of anime (Japanese animation) titles, mostly based on shojo manga (girls’ comics), which included theme music for Please Save my Earth (1994) and The Vision of Escaflowne (1996). Their floral vocal harmonies and swirling mix of real and synthesized instrumentation aptly interpret the baroque richness of shojo manga. Kanno's break-out score was for the television series ‘Cowboy BeBop’ (1998), which employed a range of jazz idioms to colour the series’ characters with an emotional complexity unexpected for anime at the time. Successive anime series established her creative power in moulding character through musical portraiture: ‘Earth Girl Arjuna’ (1998), ‘Brain Powerd’ (1998), ‘Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex’ (2002–5), and ‘Darker than Black’ (2007). Her feature film scores for live action titles, most of which have been screened at international film festivals, evidence her most delicate orchestrations and arrangements: Woman of Water (2002), Tokyo.Sora (2002), Kamikaze Girls (2004), Ashura (2005), Su-ki-da (2005), and Honey and Clover (2006).



(2): Location, Climate, Language, Religion, Flag, Capital (Japan), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Retrieved 15 December 2021 from

(3): Country Flag (Japan), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Retrieved 15 December 2021 from

(4): Ferranti, H., Kishibe, S., Hughes, D., Adriaansz, W., Thompson, R., Rowe, C., Berger, D., Malm, W., Malm, W., Waterhouse, D., Marett, A., Emmert, R., Koizumi, F., Tanimoto, K., Kanazawa, M., Fujie, L., & Falconer, E.  Japan. Grove Music Online. Retrieved 15 Dec. 2021, from