Koizumi: a Folk Instruments Shop

April 20, 2019

Musical instruments from Peru.

A folk instrument shop, called Koizumi, is in the Teramachi area in downtown Kyoto. We went to this shop and interviewed the store manager, Mr. Koizumi. We asked him to talk about the following topics: traditional Japanese instruments, the reason he opened the store, how he acquired the instruments, and which instrument is the easiest and most difficult to play. What follows is what we learned.

Traditional Japanese Instruments

Japanese traditional musical instruments are called wagakki instruments. What are the musical instruments of Japan?

Wadaiko. This is a kind of drum, which is used by kabuki musicians. People beat it with a stick. It has a big sound.

Shakuhachi. This is a is a kind of woodwind instrument, similar to a flute. It comes from China and is made of bamboo. Playing the shakuhachi takes lots of practice because it is difficult to play.

Shamisen: It is similar in construction to an acoustic guitar, but only has three strings. You can buy a shamisen in many places in Kyoto, as many shops sell them.

Musical instruments came to Japan from China and Korea 1,200 years ago. These musical instruments, like the wadaiko, shakuhachi and shamisen still exist today. As the culture developed in what is now Kyoto and Osaka 400 years ago, the music culture developed, too. Kabuki was famous as a cultural expression in this age. A lot of popular songs were created then. The unique music using Western musical instruments also developed. It eventually led to modern music. Traditional Japanese musical instruments are now famous, so foreign tourists are interested in them. Kyoto is a great place for buying and listening to these instruments.

Reasons for Opening the Shop

The grandfather of the manager opened this shop in Kyoto in 1940. At the time, the shop was not an ethnic musical instruments store. It was a common general musical instrument shop. The current manager turned the store into an ethnic musical instruments shop in the late 90s. He did this because he liked music and its mysterious sound. He went to India three times a year afterwards. He went there to collect musical instruments, called “sitar” and “tablah”. He was not satisfied with the sound of Japanese instruments. He wanted to look for musical instruments of the world.

The shop did not prosper at first. This is because even though it had a Japanese name (Koizumi), it only carried instruments from India and Taiwan. The manager then made up his mind to collect musical instruments from all over the world. So, he started traveling to other places, like Africa and Korea, bringing back a variety of different ethnic instruments back to sell in his store. In addition, he learned preservation methods of each instrument. The manager focused on the quality of the musical instruments in his shop. These are the reasons he founded the shop and why his shop has been successful.

How the Instruments are Acquired

An instrument of the Ainu from Hokkaido

There are several steps the manager goes through in order to acquire the instruments in his shop. First, he goes to foreign countries two or three times a year and visits musical instrument factories. Because he can’t speak English well, he communicates with local people using a smattering of English, and in non-English-speaking countries like rural areas in China, he often communicates using gestures. While he is there, he confirms quality of the instruments and negotiates the best price to provide his customers with quality instruments at fair prices. Then, he asks local people to teach him how to repair the musical instruments and buy necessary components because he thinks that not only should he sell the musical instruments, but also, he wants to support his customers. In addition to this, he sells musical instruments on the internet so that customers who live in distant areas can buy them. Finally, he pays the suppliers in advance and need building trust relationship with local clients because it sometimes happens that ordering deadline is half year or one year behind time schedule by the weather and some people don’t send his products so, he must trust the suppliers and wait for his products. In this way, he gets musical instruments.

The Easiest and Most Difficult Instruments to Play

These are Indian Sitars

According to the shop manager, easy instruments to play are Jew’s Harps, thumb pianos, and drums. Jew’s Harps can make various sounds by using movement of the tongue and breathing. In Japan, this instrument was used by Ainu people lived in Hokkaido or north Tohoku region. Thumb pianos can make a sound by snapping a bamboo stick or iron stick with one’s thumbs. It is said that thumb pianos were precursors of music boxes. As for drums, we can make a sound by hitting it because they are made by stretching a thin film made by animal skin onto a frame. These music instruments are fun to play, even if you can’t play music instruments well.

The most difficult music instrument to play is the sitar, which is made in India. This instrument has about 20 strings, a thick neck and is played with a wire pick. In India, people are used to playing musical instruments like the sitar, so it is only the most difficult to play for us. However, the shop manager said “Don’t think that the sitar is a difficult instrument. In addition to this, I want everyone to enjoy playing these instruments.”


The Kalimba from Tanzania

At Koizumi, we can enjoy instruments freely in the shop. I experienced many music instruments from all over the world. For example, the dan bau is from Vietnam, the kalimba from Tanzania, and the sitar from India. The Animal Voice is the instrument we recommend the most. It is a mechanism which emits the sounds of an animal’s bark when we shake a square box. There are four types: bird, cow, sheep and cat. I thought that the barks were different, and the quality was high. It is sure to be popular with children. Another instrument we recommend is the kalimba, or thumb piano. Kalimba is said to be at the roots of music. It was very easy to play when we tried. It is a wonderful instrument that can make beautiful sounds when playing with our thumbs. Koizumi has many kinds of kalimba, so we can try playing all of them to find one that we like to purchase. All of them create beautiful sounds.

The store manager said, “We not only sell instruments, but also do repair because we want to help the performer.” The most attractive point of this shop is we can play the instruments. It seems that half of the customers are foreigners. Please try to go there at least once and enjoy many instruments they offer for sale. You might just go home with something new and wonderful.


You can see koizumi in front of subway station exit 5 named “Kyoto shiyakusyo-mae”.

Address: info@koizumigakki.com

518 shimohonnoujimae-cho Anekoji-agaru Teramachi Nakagyo-ku Kyoto-shi Kyoto 604-8091 JAPAN

Website: http://www.koizumigakki.com/

Tel: 075-231-3052

Club Metro

Club Metro – Metro Daigaku

By: Keita Kitagawa, Miho Hosotani, Takuma Osawa

Club Metro was opened in 1990, and celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2010, now making it one of Japan’s oldest clubs on the club circuit. Since its opening, Club Metro has focused on the music media, and the dream and things that artists try to communicate through their art. Of course, it is not always easy to build a club culture, especially in Japan, and without the customer’s empathy, this could not be realized.

Today, in contrast to Japanese society in the past, we can gain a certain understanding and sense of value about “Club Culture” or “Subculture”. Since its 14th anniversary, all Metro staff have been in step with a new experiment to include exposure to art, movies, literature, and even Maiko culture. Through this, Metro hopes to open up a ”space” to transmit a wider vision.

Besides music, the main function of Club Metro is to serve as a meeting place for lecturers and researchers. It is a place where you should not feel bound by the outside world and where you can enjoy a variety of entertainment forms as well as original performances.

In the spirit of philanthropy, they also host many charity and community events, such as:

7th of July 2013,

Drums 4 Drums: 

A Fundraising Event in Aid of People in Rural Kenya

Drum and Dance performances, DJs, Great food and good friends.This was a fundraising event to help women and kids in rural Kenya, who have to make long trips just to get water for their families every day. All proceeds from the day were donated to help purchase Q-Drums, a rollable water drum that can easily transport up to 50 litres of water at a time. Please check out these cool drums on the Kopernik website. http://kopernik.info/

April 28th, 2013

Across the Universe:  An international party

 The purpose of this party was to expand friendship and respect among as many people as possible, as we are all of the same community of human beings. Many Kyoto University of Foreign Studies international students attended along with Japanese students.

 The main music played was 70’s and 80’s disco, R&B classics, soul, black music style…etc.  A DADAKAKA concert and DJ entertainment from DRAGON EARTH by Japa-Jamaican brothers: Dragon (Alex Tatzuma) and Earth (Hieroglyphic I poetry) was the highlight of this gig.  In fact, they are the Club Metro owner’s sons, and Alex is a Kyoto University of Foreign Studies student!  Besides all this, the event offered an international youth fashion show corner, where international students dressed up in their home country’s fashion and walked the runway to hip-hop sounds.


It is possible to reserve this place for concerts, parties for old boys’ or girls’ associations, or for the after party of wedding.

Students Party

  • Price Plan:

It costs ¥ 60,000 (5.5hours) More than 5 bands / groups (¥10,000)

¥500 (one drink minimum)

(It is possible to extend the time period if you pay an additional fee, but for every 30 minutes of extra time taken, a fee of ¥5,000 will be charged)

* If you want to select this plan, you will need to produce a current student ID card.

  • Equipment Rental

Guitar amps×2 / Bass amp×1

Microphones×10, DJ set ,/ Mixer and lighting effects.

Drum kit ¥3,000


Private Party

  • Price Plan:

It costs ¥80,0005.5hours More than 5 bands / groups (¥10,000)

Free Drink plan 3,0003hours

Buffet plan 1,0004-5dishes

Buffet plan 1,5004-5 dishes + hors d’oeuvre + dessert/fruit

  • Equipment Rental

Guitar amps×2 / Bass amp×1

Microphones×10, DJ set / Mixer and lighting effects.

Drum kit ¥3,000

Gallery Space 

It is also possible to rent the space as a gallery for exhibiting photos ,paintings, art work ,posters and so on, and …. Its FREE!!!


Access to Club Metro

  • By Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Subway:

From Kyoto Station subway station take the Karasuma line train to Marutamachi Station.  Next, take a 204 City bus eastbound to the Marutamachi /Kawabata stop , and take a short walk to Club Metro.

  • By trains:

From JR Kyoto Station, take the Nara line train to Tofukuji Station and change to the Keihan line.  Next, take the Keihan line train northbound and get off at Jinguu Marutamachi Station . Club Metro can be found at exit #2.


http://www.metro.ne.jp/ Club Metro Web Site (last visit on 10th January, 2014)  

Interview with Alex Tazsuma, Club Metro owner’s son and Kyoto University of Foreign Studies student (On 2nd January, 2014)

Live house

by Tomomi Nakashima

There are a lot of ways to enjoy the nighttime in Kyoto, and I think one of the best ways is with… music! If you want to experience a variety of musical tastes by artists who have their base in Kyoto, take my advice and follow these directions.

Take a Karasuma Line subway train bound for Kokusaikaikan, and get off the train at Imadegawa station. Leave the station through either exit 4 or 6 and walk in a westerly direction along the south side of Imadegawa Street for about one and a half minutes. Here you will find the sign for BACKBEAT. Head down the brick lined narrow staircase and open the door. You are now at a real Kyoto live house!

As this venue is located in a basement, there is a kind of authentic, underground music feel to the place. On the bend of the stairs outside, you can see announcements for the event that will be held that night and also some fliers detailing artists who usually perform here.
Almost with your first step into BACKBEAT, you are at the bar counter where the manager will invariably be waiting to serve you personally. The room is decorated with leis, neon signs and many pictures of the sea, because the manager has a real fondness for Hawaii. The sound system is located directly next to the bar, and there are a variety of old posters on the wall celebrating coca-cola, etc, as well as CD jackets for most of the legendary Beatles albums. On the far side of the room from the door is the stage, the focal point of the place.

In this live house, just about anybody can perform on stage because the concept of the live house is “free”. In any given month, most days are pre-booked for “lives”, which means some artists have made bookings in advance and have been given a time to perform. However, some days are reserved for “Acoustic Tobiiri Day” which means artists can play without a booking in a kind of “open mic” set up. Many of the performers at these events play songs on acoustic guitars, but they present a surprisingly unusual and eclectic mix of styles! Some play songs composed by professional artists but with their own arrangements, others play original songs with heart-warming lyrics, and then there are those who play guitar only, often showing great technique. It’s not only about the music though, as there are also plays, original movies and traditional and modern arts showcased here from time to time.

Message from the manager of BACKBEAT:

I used to belong to a band when I was at university. It was tough to get a booking to perform in places then because there were a lot of bands around. There was real competition between bands to see who could get the biggest audience, capture the hearts of the audience with their songs, give them a good time and also enjoy performing for themselves! Now I recognize what music means to me, and really enjoy it with a lot of people in HAKO (BACKBEAT).Of course, I manage the place, but it’s not really only mine. The atmosphere here can change daily according to the artists who are performing on that day. What I want to do is make this live house somewhere for everyone, artists and audience alike.

So, how do you feel about spending a night at this “live house”? If you want to be in the audience or even fancy performing on stage, please go back to the beginning of this article and review how to get there. You can also access the BACKBEAT homepage to get further information about the location and the live entertainment schedule. Rock on Kyoto!!

Ancient Music

by Konishi Yuji

Breathing life back into


Japan’s traditional ensemble music

Gagaku in Goh shrine in Kyoto

Gagaku is a form of Japanese ensemble music derived from the Arabic peninsula. As the music migrated toward and through the Asian continent, absorbing each region’s styles along the Silk Road, the influences and figures of this ensemble music mixed in China and Korea, eventually coming together in the 6th and 7th centuries with native Japanese music. And then, for more than one thousand years, right up to today, gagaku has largely maintained its styles, becoming the oldest form of orchestral ensemble in the world. It is certainly a rich cultural heritage and can be seen to represent Japanese music, reflecting in its long, slow patterns — as in its players’ elaborate silk costumes — the grace and elegance of distant times.

In the ancient era, Japan was a small, developing, subordinate kingdom following the Chinese system and culture. Japanese noblemen, for example, could read and write the actual Chinese language and modeled their own way of life on Chinese New Year culture, architecture and music. However, the size of a gagaku orchestra was then much bigger than it is today, and while the small Japanese government needed to form an official court orchestra for political reasons, the original formation was not suited to the Japanese lifestyle, with its space restrictions for ceremonies and its limited ability to meet the cost of organizing, training and supporting a large company of musicians. Consequently, the ancient Japanese reformed and Japanized various types of other ethnic music. This is what we now call gagaku, and it has a lot of world music aspects.

What lived and breathed as modern music back in those ancient days, however, is almost petrified today. Nevertheless, gagaku shares the same musical scale common to other Asian genres of music, and is historically very valuable. Even so, it stands in an awkward position. Nowadays, gagaku is only played on special occasions and is actually a very unfamiliar ritual element for modern Japanese, in part because traditional Japanese music in general (such as music for Noh and Kabuki, and old local folksongs) have been neglected and ignored in the big wave of westernization. Yet Japanese do not have an identity in today’s pop music. Compare, for instance, Japan’s modern music scene with India’s, where musicians still often play the traditional sitar and tabla, which are characteristic of India. Not only are the more obscure gagaku instruments (mouth organs, transverse flutes) and their music abandoned; even instruments such as the shakuhachi and shamisen, until recently much more familiar to ordinary people, are seldom used in today’s contemporary music.

Gagaku instruments

Shoh: mouth organs

To begin modernizing gagaku, it is necessary to increase the number of players and listeners, and hence the occasions for gagaku music. By contrast, the Imperial Gagaku Orchestra, today’s only professional ensemble, has appeared in public only very occasionally, almost never. There was a time when this popularization of gagaku almost happened. From the Meiji era (1868-1912), beginning in the mid-19th century, ordinary Japanese people finally started to get in touch with gagaku via non-professional orchestras. But as the era of modernization proceeded, this proved to be a false start. Gagaku certainly continued to represent Japanese music, but it was never truly handed down from nobles to civilian culture. Blocking gagaku’s path to becoming modern Japanese music were the western songs that came to Japan in the Meiji era and laid the foundation for what became Japanese popular music. After World War Two, Japanese music education, in classes from kindergarten through university, has been taught mostly as western music, with western methods, score, scales and instruments. Japanese traditional music is therefore hardly able to be modernized into the actual Japanese lifestyle, nor can it develop within, or outside of, the music market.

Precisely speaking, Japanese arts have basically been taught by tradition (formerly through guilds), so it is much more difficult to teach them to beginners than with the western methods. In gagaku, there are scores used as a teaching aid, but the difference between these and the western scores is that gagaku scores are for practicing singing the lines of the songs.


Download sample: gagaku.mp3


The singer pats the table to count the verses of the song for hichiriki, an oboe-like wind instrument. This tapping expresses quite well how Japanese feel as they punctuate sentences and traditional music. Thus traditional Japanese literature and music are mutual and strongly bonded. In fact, the Chinese characters and dots on the score you see in the picture above are guides to pronouncing the lines, and it is quite natural to put actual poems to music. However, the scales, hertz of notes, instruments and every component of traditional Japanese music are completely different from western music and cannot be accurately re-created in western teaching methods, and it is this adopted learning system which makes us stay away from gagaku.

Today, there is no Iemoto system* in the gagaku scene, but it has nonetheless been a very closed society. Basically, gagaku was played by noblewomen with poets reading just for fun, and gradually it became an element of aristocratic culture. The Imperial court and nobles in the ancient era organized professional orchestras, and usually devoted their playing to formal ceremonies. On one occasion, gagaku ceased, owing to the Onin War in Kyoto (1467-77). Nobles and officials, including musicians, desperately escaped from Kyoto as the war intensified. Gagaku players scattered, though they probably kept playing privately, and the official orchestra was lost until the Edo Period (1603-1867). In the long blank period, musicians split into different groups, and the close-knitted bonds within families grew tighter. Even today, many private associations are teaching gagaku to students, but they tend to hate each other and scramble to take away one another’s students. In addition, they do not let students leave without permission. These circumstances are also holding gagaku back from being modernized.

The traditional gagaku art structure doesn’t match today’s lifestyle and it is isolated from developing in the Japanese music scene and westernized Japan. While it is very important to protect the old style of gagaku, it’s also true that traditions have always been preserved and improved by innovation. Gagaku, sado (tea ceremony), kimono, etc… these must not be mere cultural artifacts, just as Kyoto must not become a mere museum. Historically, Kyoto has provided many cutting-edge technologies and cultural forms, but now it needs to step forward to create modern Japanese culture again.

*In the rigid Iemoto system, masters of an art or craft pass down their specialty to disciples, following the teachings of the masters who preceded them.