Musical Scales

Japanese Scales

The top two scales, Hirajoshi and Kumoijoshi, are the two traditional tunings for the koto. Almost all of the traditional songs are completely in these two modes, most notably "Sakura," a song about the Japanese cherry blossoms. The bottom scale, the nogijoshi, was introduced into the koto tuning system during the Meiji Restoration.

The nogijoshi scale comes from the Western pentatonic scale, which is composed of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th scale degrees of an Ionian (major) scale. The scale seems to be imported from Western music, which goes with the whole Japanese movement toward Westernization. This scale is used for both solo koto, and accompaniment for singers.

This new modality is not only adopted into the koto repertoire, but it is also taught in music conservatories and schools. In 1880, the Meiji government actually reached out to a Boston public school teacher to bring Western music into Japanese schools. The teacher did this by creating a songbook combining Western tonality with exisitng Japanese traditions. This meant either taking Western melodies and combining them with Japanese text, or taking existing Japanese melodies and reharmonizing them in a more Western tonality. This shows that the Western scales are not a phase in Japanese music that will eventually end, but rather that they are being permanently imported and accepted into the Japanese modal system.

Musical Scales