It’s not hard to find someone who spent their childhood sitting on a piano bench once a week at the home of their piano instructor and then afternoons being told by their mother to practice, practice, practice!
You don’t have to look very hard to find the person who wanted to be in a rock band so they picked up a guitar, a bass, or sat at a drum set to learn and master those crafts. It could be learning the flute, piccolo, harp, saxophone, or cello—we all know someone who has learned or experienced the process of learning these instruments ourselves.
And sure, it’s fun to learn these well-known instruments in the comfort of our own environments and homes.
But hey, here’s an idea: travel to Tokyo, Japan, and learn to play the traditional Japanese stringed instrument, the koto! Learning to play this traditional instrument is something that you should definitely experience while there.
Yes. You read that correctly. Go to Tokyo, Japan. Take in all that one of the world’s largest cities has to offer. And then learn to play the koto as part of your adventures. Learning to play a foreign instrument while vacationing in a foreign country isn’t what you typically read to do on travel blogs or forums, but who wants a typical Tokyo vacation? It’s totally possible to do, and in fact, you really should do it to more fully immerse yourself in the country’s culture. There are few things, specifically, in the musical world, which means more to the nation of Japan and have as much of a historical significance as this unique stringed instrument.
The koto was first introduced to Japan in the early 7th or 8th centuries from China. Evolving from its original five strings to what is now the traditional 13 string instrument, what is referred to as the Japanese Harp, the koto has become the national instrument of Japan. Made from strong kiri wood, the koto measures 71 inches long, and those who embark on a koto playing journey use three fingers to pluck the strings.
You may be thinking to yourself there’s no way you can simply learn how to play a 13 string, traditional Japanese instrument while visiting the land of the rising sun. But lucky for you, it’s easier than you think! There are plenty of ways to pick up a koto and learn the chord progressions, and even learn some traditional Japanese folksongs that will leave future audiences deeply impressed at your skills. Just like you can easily find top fashion shops and cat cafes, you can find local koto teachers willing to teach you the basics of playing the koto.
Yes, a fun, fulfilling vacation that includes all the traditional sights and activities that visitors participate in is extremely possible, and you’ll go home with pictures, videos, and stories to tell your friends and families. But, only those who take the time to enjoy and ingest the deep culture and traditions of the lands they travel to through native instruments and music can read a rich historical story and bring home something more than pictures, videos, and souvenirs—you’ll bring home the ability to return to that trip any time of any day through the gentle sounds of Japan.