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Archive for the 'Instruments' Category


Yo Hitoto

This is an artist with a sad past.

Yo Hitoto (一青窈 Hitoto Yō, born September 20, 1976) is a Japanese pop singer. Her mother is Japanese and her father is Taiwanese. She can speak three languages: Japanese, English, and standard Mandarin Chinese. Tae Hitoto is her older sister. Her name Hitoto is not her real surname, it’s her mother’s maiden name. She changed her name when she came to Japan. Her father died when she was really young and her mother died when she was 16.

She completed kindergarten in Taipei before moving to Japan, and she has lived there ever since. She graduated from the department of Environmental Information of Keio University and participated in the Keio University a cappella group, K.O.E., during her days as a student. She used to have live concerts on the street with fellow K.O.E. members before she met Youichi Kitayama, a member of the famous Japanese a cappella group the Gospellers. Mr. Kitayama encouraged Yo Hitoto to compose her own music. Before this encounter, she had been a backup singer for many other artists..

To date, Yo Hitoto has released eleven single CDs and four albums.

Yo Hitoto’s debut single “Morai naki” propelled her to stardom, and her songs enjoy wide popularity. Her clear voice and singing style, which is compared to the style of folk songs of Okinawa, attract many fans.

In Taiwan she is known for singing a Taiwanese folk song, which was included in her second album, as part of a Suntory beer commercial.

Yo Hitoto performs a song at the finale of the game, Dynasty Warriors 3.

In 2003 she debuted in her first film Café Lumière, as the lead character Yoko.

Her latest best of album sold over 700,000 copies(Platinum status in Japan), becoming her best selling album yet.

Song: Tentoumushi

Song: Dogwood

Song: Tears stream down and fall

Posted by The Expedited Writer in General, Instruments, J-Pop | 2 Comments »


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Rina Aiuchi


Rina Aiuchi (愛内 里菜, Aiuchi Rina, born July 31, 1980 in Sakai, Osaka, Japan) is a female Japanese popular music singer. She writes her own lyrics to her songs and now self-produces. She is currently affiliated with the Giza Studio recording label.

As a child, Rina enjoyed singing for others, and put on shows for her mother. At the age of 5, she began musical training on the piano, becoming the class pianist for her kindergarten class and elementary school.

Rina made her debut on March 23, 2000, with the release of the single, “Close To Your Heart”. She released three more singles that year, and her title “Koi wa Thrill, Shock, Suspense (恋はスリル、ショック、サスペンス, Koi wa Thrill, Shock, Suspense?)” was used as an opening theme for the anime series Detective Conan, and made a great hit for the first time in her career. In 2001, Rina’s first album, “Be Happy”, that includes “Koi wa Thrill, Shock, Suspense”, was released. Since then, she came to appear on TV, and became very popular in Japan. In 2002, Rina’s second album “POWER OF WORDS” was released, and it is the most popular album in her work. “POWER OF WORDS” reached the top of the Oricon charts and sold over 540,000 copies. Her 3rd Album “A.I.R.” did the same, reaching the #1 spot in the Oricon charts again.

Her singles have since been used in other anime series, as well as video games. “MIRACLE” was used for the 5th ending theme of MAR and “Bara ga Saku, Bara ga Chiru” was used for the opening theme of Souten no Ken. Her song, “CODE CRUSH”, was chosen to be the opening theme to Capcom’s Rockman X7, helping her single “Over Shine” and her 3rd album gain popularity in 2003. Also, with the hit of her 13th single (and one of her most famous tune) “FULL JUMP”, she was invited to perform on the stage of “NHK Kōhaku Uta Gassen”, the biggest concert event in Japan. Her popularity has been stable ever since, earning her 4th Album “PLAYGIRL” and 5th Album “DELIGHT” constant success. In May 21, 2008 was release her 6th Album “TRIP”, two years after “DELIGHT”. Once again, the album reached the Top 10 in the Oricom chart.

Rina is known for her wide voice range when singing, but her speaking voice is high pitched.


Song: Orange Night

Song: Dream x Dream

Posted by The Expedited Writer in Composers, General, Instruments, J-Pop | 1 Comment »


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As you all know, karaoke is the art of getting up in front of other people and singing along with recorded music while the lyrics flash on a television screen. This is done generally whilst drunk and often causes people to make fools of themselves. The word karaoke is made up of two words that mean “empty orchestra” – clever, no?

In the West, karaoke is generally available in pubs or bars on a certain night each week. There is one stage, one TV and one performance at a time in front of the entire room. This is a far cry from the karaoke culture of Japan.

While it is possible to find an izakaya (a type of Japanese bar) that has only the one stage and where the participants perform in front of the entire bar, there it would be a nightly event, not weekly. However, most karaoke is performed in tiny booths, known as a karaoke box.

There are thousands of karaoke box buildings in Japan. People book the room and pay based on how long they stay. The number of people squashed into a box can be as few as one lonely person who had missed the last train home to 20 raucous drunks screaming loud enough to hear them in the booth next door. Each karaoke box venue is different.

The machines are huge computers with up to a terabyte of hard disk space holding music and videos. On a side note, can anyone tell me if there is a special school where you learn how to make karaoke videos? They’re so awful and cheesy, it must take a special skill. Anyway, these karaoke machines have plenty of English songs to keep gaijin occupied. There’s also generally a good selection of Korean and Chinese songs as well.

Some karaoke boxes, if you’re lucky, have nomihodai – that is, all you can drink specials. Some venues also have a food or dessert menu.

All in all, from 100 yen per half hour, karaoke makes for an incredibly amusing, fun and above all, alcoholic night out.


Posted by Chidade in Electronic, General, Instruments | No Comments »


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The Koto is a traditional stringed musical instrument from Japan resembling a zither.

Koto are about 180cm long and have 13 strings that are strung tautly across 13 movable bridges along the length of the instrument. Players make base pitches by moving these bridges before playing, and three finger picks (on thumb, forefinger, and middle finger) are used to pluck the strings.

The koto was introduced to Japan in the 7th to 8th century from China (the Chinese inspiration was probably the gŭzhēng). It was initially played in the royal court only, but this situation changed in the 17th century — primarily because of the influence of one man: Yatsuhashi Kengyo (1614-1684).

Yatsuhashi Kengyo was a blind shamisen player who learnt koto from an “official” court player named Hosui, in defiance of the rules which then stated that koto could not be taught to blind people (or women, incidentally). Possibly because of his personal experience with these restrictions, Yatsuhashi spent the rest of his life making the koto more accessible.

He invented a new “plain tuning” (hira joushi in Japanese) to play the common peoples’ songs more naturally. He composed (or is credited with composing) songs that are still irreplaceable staples of the koto repertoire today, including Rokudan and Midare. (These compositions were partly responsible for the koto becoming respected as a solo instrument in its own right.) Perhaps most importantly, his example led other non-elite, including women, to learn the koto too.

Since the Japanese music scene was made over in Western pop music’s image, the koto has become less prominent (although many well-to-do young women learn the instrument to help develop an aura of “refinement” that will theoretically attract a better class of husband). However, it is still developing as an instrument; works are written for and performed on 20-stringed and bass kotos, and a new generation of young players like Yagi Michiyo are finding places for the koto in today’s jazz, pop and even experimental music

(Source: Wikipedia)

Posted by Yves in Instruments, Traditional | 1 Comment »


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Shakuhachi (尺八) is a Japanese flute which is end-blown and held vertically like a recorder instead of being held transversely like the familiar Western transverse flute. A recorder player blows into a duct, also called “fipple,” and thus has little or no control over the tuned pitch. The shakuhachi player blows as one would blow across the top of an empty bottle, but the opposite edge of the shakuhachi has a sharp edge, allowing the player substantial pitch control. The five finger holes are tuned to a pentatonic scale with no half-tones, but the player can bend each pitch as much as a whole tone or more. It was used by Zen Buddhist Monks in the practice of Suizen (blowing meditation). It is usually made from the root end of a bamboo shoot and is an extremely versatile instrument. Holes can be covered partially (1/3 covered, 1/2, 2/3, etc.) and pitch varied subtly or substantially by changing the blowing angle. Professional players can produce virtually any note they wish from the instrument, and play a wide repertoire of original Zen music, ensemble music with koto and samisen, folk music, jazz, modern music.

The name shakuhachi is derived from “shaku”, which is an archaic measure of length roughly equal to 30 centimeters, and “hachi”, which means “eight” (tenths of a “shaku”). Thus the standard shakuhachi is 1.8 shaku in length, or 54 centimeters. Other shakuhachi vary in length from about 1.3 shaku up to 3.3 shaku. (The longer the shakuhachi, the lower its tuning.) Although the lengths differ, they are all still referred to generically as “shakuhachi”.

The bamboo flute first came to Japan from China via Korea. The shakuhachi proper, however, is quite distinct from its continental ancestors, the result of centuries of isolated evolution in Japan.

During the medieval period, shakuhachi were most notable for their role in the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhist monks, known as komuso, who used the shakuhachi as a spiritual tool. Their songs (called “honkyoku”) were paced according to the players’ breathing and were considered meditation as much as music.

Travel around Japan was restricted by the shogunate at this time, but the Fuke sect managed to wrangle an exemption from the Shogun, since their spiritual practice required them to move from place to place playing the shakuhachi and begging for alms. They persuaded the Shogun to give them “exclusive rights” to play the instrument! In return, some were required to spy for the shogunate, and the Shogun sent several of his own spies out in the guise of Fuke monks as well. (This was made easier by the baskets that the Fuke wore over their heads, a symbol of their detachment from the world.)

In response to these developments, several particularly difficult honkyoku pieces became well-known as “tests”: if you could play them, you were a real Fuke. If you couldn’t, you were probably a spy and might very well be killed if you were in unfriendly territory. This no doubt helped drive the Fuke sect to the technical excellence they were renowned for.

In any case, when the Meiji Restoration occurred in 1868, the shogunate was abolished and so was the Fuke sect, in order to help identify and eliminate the shogun’s holdouts. The very playing of the shakuhachi was officially forbidden for a few years. Non-Fuke folk traditions did not suffer greatly from this, since the tunes could be played just as easily on another pentatonic instrument. However, the honkyoku repertoire was known exclusively to the Fuke sect and transmitted by repetition and practice, and much of it was lost, along with many important documents.

When the Meiji government did permit the playing of shakuhachi again, it was only as an accompanying instrument to the koto, shamisen, etc. It was not until later that honkyoku were allowed to be played publicly again as solo pieces.

(Source: Wikipedia)


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The word taiko (太鼓) means simply “big drum” in Japanese. Outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums (和太鼓, ‘wa-daiko’, “Japanese drum”, in Japanese) and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming (sometimes called more specifically, “kumi-daiko”).

Types of taiko

The nagado-daiko (長胴太鼓, long-body taiko) consists of two cow-skin heads stretched over a single-piece wooden body and tacked to high tension. The heads of the tsukeshime-daiko (付締め太鼓, often shortened to simply, “shime-daiko”) are stretched over iron rings and sandwich a smaller body. The tsukeshime-daiko’s rope is pulled tight before each use. Other Japanese taiko include the okedo-daiko (桶胴太鼓, barrel-body taiko), uchiwa-daiko (内輪太鼓、fan taiko), hira-daiko (平太鼓, flat taiko), o-daiko (大太鼓, big taiko), and a host of percussion instruments used in Japan’s traditional noh, gagaku, and kabuki ensembles.

(Source: Wikipedia)


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A shamisen or samisen (三味線 lit: 3 taste strings) is a 3-stringed musical instrument played with a plectrum. It came from the sanshin (a close ancestor from the southernmost Japanese prefecture of Okinawa and often the main instrument in contemporary music from that area) which in turn evolved from the Chinese sanxian, and ultimately from Central Asian instruments.

The pronunciation is usually “shamisen” (never “sa”) but sometimes “jamisen” when used as a suffix (e.g. Tsugaru-jamisen – for the style played in the Aomori region).

It is similar in length to a guitar, but its neck is much slimmer and it is played with a larger plectrum, called a “bachi”.

The shamisen can be played solo or with other shamisen, in ensembles with other Japanese instruments, with singing such as nagauta, or as an accompaniment to drama, notably kabuki and bunraku. Both men and women traditionally played the shamisen.

In the early part of the 20th Century, a blind musician named Chikuzan Takahashi evolved a new style of playing, based on traditional folk songs (”min’you”) but involving much improvisation and flashy fingerwork. This style – now known as Tsugaru-jamisen, after Chikuzan’s home region in the north of Honshu – is very popular in Japan. The Tsugaru-jamisen style is sometimes compared to bluegrass banjo.

The sound of a shamisen is created in a similar way to that of a banjo, using a drum, known as a “dou”, to amplify the sound of the strings. The skin is usually from a dog or cat. On the skin of some of the best shamisens, the position of the cat’s nipples can be seen.

The three strings are traditionally made of silk. The lowest passes over a small hump at the “nut” end so that it buzzes, creating a characteristic sound known as “sawari”. (This is a little like the “buzzing” of a sitar.)

The upper part of the dou is often protected by a cover known as a “dou kake”, and players often wear a little glove on their left hand, to facilitate sliding up and down the neck. This glove is known as a “yubi kake”. There may also be a cover on the “head” of the instrument.

(Source: Wikipedia)


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Japanese Taiko

Taiko music is played by large drum ensembles called kumi-daiko. Its origins are uncertain, but can be sketched out as far back as the 6th and 7th centuries, when a clay figure of a drummer indicates its existence. Chinese and Korean influences followed, but the instrument and its music remained uniquely Japanese. Taiko drums during this period were used during battle to intimidate the enemy and to communicate commands. Taiko drums also gained religious use, in Buddhism and Shintoism. Players were entirely holy men, who played only at special occasions and in small groups.

Modern ensemble taiko is said to have been invented by Daihachi Oguchi in 1951. A jazz drummer, Oguchi incorporated his musical background into large ensembles, which he had also designed. His energetic style made his group popular throughout Japan, and made the Hokuriku region a center for taiko music. Musicians to arise from this wave of popular included Sukeroku Daiko and his bandmate Seido Kobayashi. 1969 saw a group called Za Ondekoza founded by Tagayasu Den; Za Ondekoza gathered together young performers who innovated a new roots revival version of taiko, which was used as a way of life in communal lifestyles. During the 1970s, the Japanese government allocated funds to preserve Japanese culture, and many community taiko groups were formed. Later in the century, taiko groups spread across the world, especially to the United States.

(Source: Wikipedia)


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Biwa Hoshi

The biwa, a form of short-necked lute, was played by a group of intinerant performers (biwa hoshi) who used it to accompany stories. The most famous of these stories is The Tale of the Heike, a 13th century history of the triumph of the Minamoto clan over the Taira.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Posted by Yves in Instruments, Traditional | 1 Comment »


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