Can you recall the last time you heard a truly unique musical instrument? From traditional to tech, Japan knows how to create amazing things from the most unlikely of inspirations — and the following five instruments below are no exception!
5. Yamaha Silent Guitar
An interesting blend of visual art and playability, the Yamaha Silent Guitar stands out in stark contrast to the common guitar. The body consists of only a wooden frame, and it can be dismantled in seconds. Designed for travel and noise conscious players, this guitar is guaranteed to make an impression on both its player and listeners. It comes in both a steel and nylon string variation so that guitarists can choose according to their music preference. Its most striking feature is how quiet the guitar is when being played. This characteristic makes it ideal for any musician living in a cramped apartment with thin walls.
Traditional Japanese folk music is an experience best heard in-person. While the distinct sound of the shamisen or taiko drums are most familiar to Western ears, there are also many other instruments that help expand the sound of traditional Japanese music. Some of these include the koto (a long zither), the biwa (a kind of lute) and the kugo (a harp-like instrument). Perhaps one of the strangest traditional folk instruments is the sho. Simply put, it is a small organ played with the mouth instead of hands and feet. With an ethereal sound that conjures up images of old Japanese spirits and long-lost villages, this instrument is uniquely Japanese. While usually played alongside other period instruments, when performed alone, it’s striking droning will stay with you long into your dreams.
Let’s going back to the 21st century. The next music instrument mashes the Japanese “kawaii” aesthetic with a simple synthesizer. First introduced in 1998 by Maywa Denki and CUBE, this eighth note-shaped sensation isn’t leaving quietly anytime soon. The Otamatone has been integrated into creative works from Youtubers to pop idol groups. It’s operated by using both hands, one on the neck to fret the notes and the other to control the mouth. Some call it creepy, others say it sings like an angel. Regardless, it’s a musical experience like no other.
2. Merzbow’s Handmade Instrument
Brute creativity and harsh sound waves are the first things that come to mind with the custom-made instrument from the Japanese noise act, Merzbow. The mastermind behind the wall of sound is Masami Akita, a junk art and dada enthusiast. His most iconic instrument is fashioned from an iron plate with fastened contact microphones. In line with his musical and art influences, the music instrument (if you can call it that) is used as a weapon to deliver an uncompromising aural assault on its listeners, to the extent of becoming an almost cathartic experience.
1. Pubic Hair
The last “instrument” is somewhat of a taboo topic in Japan. While not exactly a traditional instrument in its own sense, composer ☆Taku Takahashi of m-flo and block.fm fame took a collection of pubic hairs that were donated to Ningen Corporation by Japanese women and transformed them into sound waves. From these sound waves, he created the first pubic hair music. The project was to create a song for Datsumou Recipe, a body hair removal service provider, encouraging women to be more aware of the benefits of keeping everything trimmed and tidy. Bizarre? Yes. But given the growing popularity of body hair removal in Japan, it comes as no surprise that someone in Japan rose up to the challenge of taking something taboo and turning it inspiration for musical creativity.
From traditional to contemporary Japanese artists are determined to continue pushing the boundaries of musical instruments. If you’ve encountered an instrument in Japan you think is missing from our list, let us know in the comments below!