Japanese Music

Howdy! I was wondering if I could get about 10 or so recommendations on Japanese music... Taiko, Koto, Shakuhachi, etc. I'm really looking for "traditional" style music, nothing "new age"-ish, if you know what I mean.

"Traditional" music is a tough one. There are several different kinds of music one might call "traditional" but only some of it is really accessible.

Classical: There are a few Japanese classical composers where the "Japanese-ness" shines through - Ifukube, Takemitsu, and Wakasugi come to mind. Classical music by these composers is not really traditional though - you'd be hard-pressed to find a Japanese person on the street who'd ever heard of any of them.

Pop: Modern J-Pop is a real toss-up. Some of it is grating in a way that most westerners could not imagine possible. Some of it is better. Some of the older pop (50s) music could be considered traditional.

Enka: This is "traditional pop" - male or female soloists singing somewhat shmaltzy songs with somewhat shmaltzy orchestral backing. Imagine the cheesiest C&W and slow blues love songs you know, converted into elevator music, with over-dramatized singing over the top of the massed strings, done with superb control of both vibrato and melisma. That's enka. Maybe that's a bit harsh (though maybe not - it is an acquired taste). It IS however likely the only accessible modern Japanese music using the Japanese pentatonic scale - in use since before Chinese and Korean influences. Though there are Chinese and Korean versions of enka, and in modern times, it is not clear which one has influenced which more.

A list of "traditional" Japanese instruments which are reasonably well-known in the west would include the koto, the shamisen, the shakuhachi, and taiko drums. It is probably easy to find "sampler discs" of music of any of these instruments on Amazon but I will try to come up with a good idea for shakuhachi. I know a guy who knows a guy...

Truly traditional Japanese music would be Japanese imperial court music, called "gagaku", which has its origins some 1200-1400 years ago (and which probably hasn't changed much in the last thousand years). The musical instruments used include the sho, the ryuteki, the hichiriki, the komabue, the biwa, the koto (and it's lesser-known cousin, the wagon), the kotsuzumi (and the larger okawa), maybe even the shakubyoshi, and probably several others which I've forgotten. Other traditional Japanese music would be "nohgaku" (music to accompany noh plays), biwagaku (unaccompanied biwa), sokkyoku (which is koto, shamisen, and shakuhachi together), and Okinawan music using the sanshin (a version of the shamisen), among others.

There are recordings of traditional Japanese melodies by various flutists like Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway which are very pleasant to listen to. Some recordings are with other instruments including Japanese instruments. Even a western flute will sound like a similar Japanese instrument.

Try Googling various combinations of flute, japan, japanese, melodies, melody, etc. Also Rampal and Galway.
At the risk of telling you something you may already know, the most internationally recognized modern taiko group has got to be Kodo from Sado Island. If you like drums and lots of them you might want to check them out. Another interesting option is Shoukichi Kina, an Okinawan artist from the 70s/80s who mixes traditional Okinawan music (and instruments like the Jamisen) with a bit of rock. Beware the Enka and J-Pop...
Try looking for Nonesuch Explorer albums or Smithsonian Folkways etc. These are devoted to traditional foreign/ethnic music. Other labels cover the same material. Your local library may have a whole section of their CD collection devoted to this material. They may be filed under international music, or under folk music. Most of the Nonesuch Explorer LPs received 5 stars from the Rolling Stone guide back in the 80s. They have several Japanese releases, including orchestral Gakaku music, solo flute (shakuhachi)and koto.
Hi, check out your library if you have not already done so..I know ours has many discs from around the world.
although somewhat in danger of your "new ageish" criteria, check out the Yoshida Brothers - they are some of the top Shamisen players in Japan, but weave a lot of other influences into thier music as well

seriously think you would enjoy listening to them