The classical guitar is rarely thought of as a Japanese instrument. Yet, the instrument has had an active life in Japan since Emperor Meiji opened his country to the West over a hundred years ago. The guitar and Western music in Japan had a slow start thwarted by the exclusion from the academic environment of universities. Since World War II, however, there has been an enormous growth in the number of guitar performers, societies and clubs, teachers, competitions, makers, and music publishers.
Until I made my first trip to Japan in 1997 I was only aware of the guitar works by Takemitsu and the famous Sakura variations. During this trip I became aware of the enormous amount of guitar music by many excellent composers in Japan. In the fall of 1998 I returned to Japan for three months to do a more thorough research and uncover as many guitar works as I could find. I returned with several hundred works that I had never heard of and a new interest in bringing these works to light in the U.S.
This document will discuss the introduction and reintroduction of the guitar into Japan. It will include a discussion of the development of music composed for the guitar from the Meiji restoration through the pre-war era, then from the post-war period up to the present day. I will discuss the music in a general way with a focus on key works that define the period and the most salient features of these works.
The Appendix at the end of this document lists over seven hundred works by Japanese composers that use guitar. While collecting these works I realized that there was a need to organize all of them into a historical account of the publishers and composers that were responsible for this music. This list focuses on works written for the nylon string acoustic instrument in staff notation, although several works for electric guitar are also listed in the appendix. Song arrangements are not included nor are transcriptions or arrangements from other instruments since I want to focus on works written specifically for the guitar.