• Pico Masaki

My little koto and red picks

Updated: 4 days ago

I’ve grown up in Japan with music playing piano since the age of five. 

Even though my father is now a shakuhachi (Japanese traditional flute) master, he used to play western instruments (guitar and horn) when I was a child.

Some of you might think that if you are in Japan you have more opportunities to play Japanese instruments as Japan has its unique culture with a long history…but NO.

As much as I love Japan, I must say that Japan is so westernized; it could be rare for Japanese people to learn Japanese instruments such as Koto, shamisen and shakuhachi.

It is quite common that the piano is the first instrument for young Japanese children to play.

As I got older I moved on to keyboard and synthesizers.

At the time I was not interested in playing Japanese traditional instruments.

I’ve been so fascinated by the western culture.

My dream was to play music in overseas.

In 2011 I went to Australia and lived there for 6 years. Then I moved to Canada in 2017.

We tend to feel attracted to the differences.

Now I’ve been living overseas for so long, when I see temples or just landscapes in Japan it takes my breath away.

I missed Japanese culture and fell in love with it more and more…as a musician, I couldn’t stop thinking about trying Japanese instruments.

Going back to my roots...!

Among many different types of Japanese traditional instruments I’ve chosen koto because I loved the sound. I looked for koto teachers nearby but I couldn’t find any. I had to teach myself.

I went online and bought a small-sized koto and some koto picks.

(There were no shops where I could buy Koto neither in Australia nor Canada)

Koto picks need to fit my fingers.

My fingers are tiny, so I bought the black ones (normal size) and red ones (smaller size). It’s an online shopping, I cannot try them on so I bought both just in case.

A few weeks later the items arrived from Japan. The red ones fitted perfectly.

(Later on I was fortunate to meet a wonderful koto master in Vancouver and she told me that the red picks are for children, and I was a little embarrassed that I even performed at music festivals with the red picks on :-)

The moment when I put the red koto picks in my fingers with a little koto by my side, that was the beginning of the second chapter of my music journey.

My style is very unique...I don't know any other singer songwriters in the world (even in Japan) who incorporate "koto" into contemporary music and SING with it.

I often played music in Granville Island in Vancouver where there were many tourists from all over the world. (That was BEFORE COVID. Now LIVE MUSIC is banned in Vancouver 😢...) I got so many comments saying that "I'd never seen this instrument before...and I'd NEVER listened to Japanese songs before! ".

For example many people know some of the Spanish songs or the French songs. They are well known in many countries. But Japanese songs are not familiar ...probably only in some part of Asia.

Sometimes I feel challenging to sing Japanese songs because there is a fact that the most of musicians would agree on - " people tend to like the songs they've heard of before".

(That makes me even more appreciate YOU who are reading my blog right now!!)

Many musicians are aware of this, that's why they play lots of cover songs especially when they busk (play music on the street) to get attention from the crowd. When the songs sound familiar people tend to stop and listen to you. As my music is so unique and different in Canada, I was afraid that no one would be interested and people would just walk away.

Well, sometimes it happened. People have their own taste, and I totally respect that.

However to my surprise - I realized many people enjoy Japanese music even though it's their first time!

That encouraged me a lot, and here in Canada I've been trying playing Japanese songs as much as possible along with very few English cover songs.

As a Japanese person who's born and grown up in Japan, I feel that it's my mission in life to express the beauty of the unique Japanese culture through music.

It means a lot to me to have someone like YOU, who kindly take your time to listen to my music and read my blog.

Please leave your comment below, I'd love to get to know you because you make my music life so meaningful.

If you’d like to hear the most recent milestone of that journey, click here to listen to my most recent album, ‘From Darkness To The Light’.

Thank you for being a listener and for making it all matter.


PS. I would appreciate if you could visit my facebook page where you can watch my performance videos.

I regularly hold facebook live concerts as well.


212 views6 comments