New book: SAKURA Three Koto Transcriptions for solo piano

Published 28 December 2022

A collection of piano adaptations of three beautiful compositions for the 13-string Japanese koto by eminent 20th-century composers Chikushi Katsuko, Kimio Eto and Tadao Sawai, each based on the traditional folksong melody “Sakura” (Cherry Blossom).

This collection of piano adaptations of three compositions for Japanese koto is intended to provide interested pianists (and other interested readers of western staff notation) a small insight into music for Japanese koto. The Japanese notated form of koto music is a tablature that includes string numbers (1-13) in Japanese and a form of rhythmic notation.

The purpose of this small book is to create a) a study tool to explore in western staff notation some of the different textures used by professional koto musicians, and b) performance sheet music for piano. It contains transcriptions of three beautiful performances of three distinct pieces composed by three influential 20th Century koto musicians—all based on the same well-known Japanese melody Sakura (Cherry Blossom). Each piece is for a 13-string koto, although each with a different tuning. A side by side comparison of these pieces serves to illustrate:

  • some different textures characteristic of sophisticated koto music,
  • a range of different methods of varying and decorating a pre-existing melody,
  • different ways of structuring through-composed pieces that are essentially sets of variations, and
  • some of the general aesthetics of traditional koto music in terms of its substantial use of flexible tempo (rubato), frequent textural changes, ornamentation, and dynamic contrasts.

Each performance has been carefully transcribed and then adapted to be performable on a piano. The change of medium results in a few necessary idiomatic adaptations for the piano; in particular, ornamentation such as mordents and grace notes is used where vibrato or portamento slides used on the koto cannot be directly replicated on the piano. I have however tried to keep these adaptations as close as possible to the recorded performances. This small project was undertaken largely for personal interest—in the spirit of exploring and gaining some appreciation of a distinctive and absolutely beautiful musical genre—and I hope it will be of interest for anyone similarly seeking a small insight into some wonderful koto music. I hope readers will agree that they make beautiful performance pieces on the piano.

Playlist of versions of each of the three pieces plus the piano adaptations on my channel  


My great thanks go to the successors of the three composers Kimio Eto, Tadao Sawai, and Chikushi Katsuko (Hiroyuki Eto, Hikaru Sawai and Kazue Sawai, and the successor of Chikushi Katsuko) for permitting the publication of these arrangements, and to Keisuke Horioka of JASRAC (Japanese Society for the Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers) and Mitsuki Dazai for facilitating those communications. Also to Hikaru Sawai and Mitsuki Dazai for their very helpful corrections/suggestions for my adaptation of Tadao Sawai’s piece Sakura Sakura. Also to Masayo Ishigure and Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto for their help in my search for  information.

Biographical information on the composers and performers can be found on various websites, including:

The recording of Tadao Sawai’s Sakura Sakura can be found on track 2 of the CD 箏 名曲選 ~ Koto Meikyoku Sen (The Best Selections of Koto Music) which is available to purchase (at time of publication) from This is the version I transcribed and adapted for this book. Further track information can be found at Other performances can be found online, and the version that I initially transcribed was a performance by Tomoko Kawahara—available at—and biographical information about her can be found at


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