All photos by Nobue Fujimoto.
Japan is often at the top of people’s travel lists. With its blend of tradition and ultra-modernity, Blade runner– like side streets giving way to ancient temples and teahouses – there is no such thing. However, there is more to Japan than noodle bars and samurai castles. This is especially true if you are a musician. For fans of Japanese musical instruments, Hamamatsu is a must visit, filled with rare instruments and great shopping.
Hamamatsu, located in Shizuoka Prefecture in central Japan, is known as the City of Music. And for good reason. While Tokyo may be the modern heart of Japan and Kyoto its traditional soul, Hamamatsu is where the majority of Japan’s musical instruments are made. Two of the three big synthesizer makers – Roland and Yamaha – have their headquarters there, with only Korg based in Tokyo. However, Hamamatsu is not limited to a few business addresses, as we will show you shortly. The whole city revolves around musical instruments.
If you have even a fleeting interest in Japanese musical instruments (and since you’re reading this, we think you probably do), you should definitely put Hamamatsu on your list. In this piece we will outline a suggested route for a visit as well as some of the music-driven charms of the city.
History of Hamamatsu
Hamamatsu is located on the Pacific Ocean side in central Japan, roughly halfway between Tokyo and Kyoto. In the late 1800s it was just a sleepy fishing village, but Torakusu Yamaha changed everything by founding Yamaha Corporation there in 1887.
As the business grew, other manufacturers also sprouted in Hamamatsu. Kawai started there in 1926 (its founder Koichi Kawai was Torakusu’s neighbor) and Suzuki moved in 1954. Founded in Osaka in 1972, Roland moved to Hamamatsu in the 2000s, although he made there from the 1970s.
With such a focus on music, Hamamatsu has become the city of music. The Hamamatsu Musical Instrument Museum opened in 1995. Even the city’s mascot, a cartoon image of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu with patterned keyboard armor, reflects the city’s industry.
Musical Instrument Museum
We started our day with the Musical Instrument Museum, as it is the closest site to the train station. The museum has instruments from around the world, grouped into collections from Japan, Asia (including incredible gamelans), Oceania, Africa, the Americas and Europe.
The real treat, however, is the collection of electronic instruments. For fans of Japanese electronic instruments, this is the place to linger.
The collection includes an original Korg Doncamatic DA-20 rhythm synthesizer, Korg’s one-of-a-kind Prototype 1 organ / synth combo that would give birth to the miniKORG 700 and other instruments, as well as the incredibly rare, flat educational instrument. – panel version of the MS-20, which was designed to be hung on the walls of the classroom.
There is also a complete guitar synthesizer Roland System-700, GR-500 and Korg Trident, among others. Non-Japanese instruments include a Moog System 35 and an ARP 2600.
Although the museum unfortunately does not allow visitors to play the instruments on display, there is a convenient room where you can get up close to some artifacts. (Note that this room was closed during our visit as part of COVID-19 countermeasures.)
The Musical Instrument Museum is open every day except the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. It is a 10-minute walk from JR Hamamatsu Station.
Visit the museum website here.
Yamaha has a long history, from organs and reed pianos to furniture and motorcycles, and everything is on display at Innovation Road, a museum located on the Yamaha campus near downtown Hamamatsu.
There are also plenty of musical instruments and other gear on display, including synthesizers, guitars, live sound equipment, and even a GX-1. Unlike the city museum, however, many instruments are actually playable. Fans of synths won’t want to miss out on trying the incredibly rare CS-80, DX1, and VP1.
There are also some interesting curiosities, such as mockup models from the Reface series and a DX7IIFD with inverted color accents.
Innovation Road is located at Hachiman Station along the Enshu Railway Line, a few stops from JR Hamamatsu Station. The museum is closed on Sundays, Mondays and public holidays.
Note that reservations must be made in advance. Reservations can be made by phone (053-460-2010), or check their website for more information.
Although it is not really open to the public, Roland has its own museum installed in its R&D center in Hamamatsu that we were able to visit. Full of many of the company’s famous synthesizers, drum machines, and effects, we found it cool enough to include here.
For a more immersive tour, check out the 360-degree VR video on the company’s website.
If you have time to spare between tours or after lunch (we recommend unagi, a local specialty), Hamamatsu has some excellent musical instrument shops. You can check out Yamaha or Kawai flagship stores.
For something a little more personal, we recommend Sonix, a store for new and used musical instruments. Prices for used instruments in Japan tend to be very reasonable (for local brands, at least) and when we visited we were impressed with their selection.
Hard-Off is another store worth checking out. Yes, that’s really the name. Hard-Off is a chain of used hardware stores. Hamamatsu Takabayashi store is just a few doors down from Sonix. While you never know what you’re going to find there, when we pulled up there was a very tasty Roland SH-2 for sale at an incredible price.
Note that these two stores are a bit far from the city center, so plan accordingly.
Getting to Hamamatsu
Hamamatsu is on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line which connects Tokyo and Osaka. If you are traveling with a JR Rail Pass (highly recommended), simply get off at JR Hamamatsu Station on your way to or from Tokyo and enjoy a day out.
If you are staying in Tokyo, we also recommend stopping by the Korg Piano Experience Lounge at their headquarters in Inagi, Tokyo or the Korg Experience Lounge and Guitar Owner’s Salon in Shibuya, Tokyo. They are free and do not require a reservation.