Gagaku is a classical music and dance performance for the Imperial Court. Some musical pieces and dance regarded as part of Gagaku are indigenous to Japan, but many songs and dances have been brought from China, Korea and India. In 701, Gagaku music became the official music for the Imperial Court and temples/shrines, and evolved into a domestic art during the Heian Period. Following World War II, Gagaku became increasingly popular and widespread.
Gagaku has many kinds of instruments all which are categorized into three types: Fukimono (wind instruments), Hikimono (string), and Uchimono (percussion). Combinations of instruments vary in accordance with the genre and the method of performance.
Special arrangements must be made to allow visitors to enjoy a hands-on experience of Gagaku.
Along with the Shamisen (Japanese lute with three strings) and the Shakuhachi (a vertical bamboo flute), the Koto, similar to a zither, is one of Japan's representative traditional musical instruments. The Koto appears as far back as the 12th century in Genji Monogatari Emaki (Tale of Genji Scroll) which depicts noble ladies playing Koto. In the Edo Period, girls from wealthy families learned to play Koto and many pieces were composed during this era. In the 20th century, with the influence of Western Music, many tunes composed for Koto came to incorporate a Western touch.
The Koto has thirteen strings. To play the Koto, you first put finger picks on your right-hand fingers to pluck the strings while the fingers of the left hand are used to change notes or to add variations to lingering sounds. Kyoto has many Koto instructors but special arrangements must be made to enjoy a hands-on experience.