Forget Akihabara and Mt. Fuji. Let us help you plan your tour of the beautiful country of Japan around what’s really important – synthesizers!
Japan Synthesizer Tour
Now that COVID is very firmly in the rearview mirror, Japan is once again accepting overseas visitors. Most tourists will be hitting the major Japanese spots, like manga-crazy Akihabara and the ancient temples and shrines of Kyoto. This is all well and good but if you stick to this basic itinerary, you’ll be missing on what makes Japan truly special: synthesizers.
Japan is the home of Roland, Yamaha and Korg, with a synth-related history that goes back more than 50 years. It would be a shame to miss out on all the synthesizer goodness for a few gold-covered temples and dancing geisha.
Of course, I’m kidding. I love everything about Japan but I especially love its synths. And if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you do too. That’s why I’ve put together this Japan synthesizer tour itinerary for you. I’ve lived in Japan for 11 years and have personally visited most of the sites on this list – multiple times.
I can personally vouch that these are some of the best places in Japan to experience the history and culture of the country’s incredible synthesizers. If the idea of rooms full of Japanese synths gets you excited, you’ve come to the right country.
(A note about language: many of the places listed here – both the website and on-location signage – are Japanese-language only. Use an app like Google Translate to help navigate.)
Start Your Japan Synthesizer Tour In Tokyo
Start your tour in Tokyo on the eastern side of the main island of Honshu. Tokyo is big – it’s the largest city in the world – so if you think it might have some good synthesizer sites, you’d be right. While there’s certainly plenty of synth shopping to do in Tokyo, I covered buying synths in another story, so go ahead and read that and then come on back.
Korg Experience Lounge
Of the big three musical instrument companies in Japan – Roland, Yamaha and Korg – only Korg has its main office in Tokyo. This is your first port of call. Located in the hills on the edge of the city, the Korg Experience Lounge (website – Japanese only) is a showroom set on the site of its headquarters.
Here you can try out their instruments as well as those that Korg distributes in Japan, such as Moog. (Note that Korg used to have a showroom in downtown Shibuya as well but it closed during the pandemic.)
Toshio Kashio Memorial Museum Of Invention
Casio might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of Japanese synths but for a while in the 1980s, the company made one of the best-selling synths in the world, the CZ-101.
Bask in the glory of that triumph plus others from the history of the calculator and watch company at the Toshio Kashio Memorial Museum Of Invention, located in the late co-founder’s home. Entry is free but you’ll need to make a reservation in advance at the website (Japanese only).
Roland Store Tokyo
Roland recently opened its second retail store, this time in the fashion centre of Tokyo. Located in Harajuku, the three-story Roland Store Tokyo offers synthesizers, drum machines, Boss pedals, V-Drums, and digital pianos, as well as 808 T-shirts and other accessories. After visiting Meiji-Jingu and checking out the fashion maelstrom of Takeshita Street, stop by the Roland Store for a musical break from the madness.
Continue Your Japan Synthesizer Tour In Hamamatsu
Most visitors to Japan will blow past Hamamatsu on their way from Tokyo to Kyoto on the bullet train. This is a real shame as the sleepy seaside town in Shizuoka Prefecture is something of a Mecca for synthesizer fans. The home to the headquarters of Yamaha, Roland, Kawai, and Suzuki, it’s Japan’s city of music and a must-stop on any Japan synthesizer tour.
Yamaha Innovation Road
Yamaha was founded in Hamamatsu in 1887. You can learn all about the history of the company at Innovation Road, the museum located at its headquarters in downtown Hamamatsu. The museum is free although you will need to make a reservation ahead of time on the website (in English). It’s well worth doing though, as there are instruments on display from throughout the company’s history, including a GX1. You can even try a few out, including a DX1, CS80, and ultra-rare VP1 (yes, really).
Hamamatsu Museum Of Musical Instruments
While you’re downtown, stop by the Hamamatsu Museum Of Musical Instruments (website in English). While the massive collection of instruments from around the world is impressive, you’re going to want to make a bee-line for the basement and the synthesizer collection.
Fans of Japanese synths will love seeing the Roland System-700, the oversize flat Korg MS-20, and even Japan’s first synth, Korg’s Prototype 1.
Japan Synthesizer Tour Final Stop In Gifu
So far, our Japan synthesizer tour has taken us from the world’s largest metropolitan area to the seaside manufacturing town of Hamamatsu. For our final stop, let’s take a detour into the mountains of Gifu Prefecture in central Japan.
Nakatsugawa Korg Museum
Gifu is known for a number of things, including its stunning natural beauty and picturesque villages. Synthesizers are usually not included in that list. However, head up into the historical town of Nakatsugawa and that’s just what you’ll find.
The Nakatsugawa Korg Museum is a private collection occupying the second floor of an old samurai house. It’s the passion project of Hideki Ishikawa, the owner and curator of the museum. Inside are more than 200 instruments and accessories.
Most are from Korg although the museum does feature an area with non-Korg keyboards, including a unique collection of many early and rare Japanese synthesizers.
There’s no entry fee and Ishikawa-san will even pick you up at the station but you’ll need to make a reservation on the website (Japanese only) first.
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- Korg Experience Lounge: Korg
- Toshio Kashio Memorial Museum Of Invention: Nippon.com
- Roland Store Tokyo: Adam Douglas
- CS80 and DX1 at Yamaha's Innovation Road.: Adam Douglas
- Another Yamaha Innovation Road goody, this time a DX7 II FD with reverse keys.: Adam Douglas
- Wall-mount Korg MS-20 and Korg-700 at the Hamamatsu Museum Of Musical Instruments.: Adam Douglas
- Nakatsugawa Korg Museum: Adam Douglas