11 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Japanese Piano Players

Written by Robert Jackson
Last updated

Music is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. And when it comes to the instruments played by the Japanese, the fan-favorite is the piano. According to a survey by Japan Guide, 40% of Japanese women and 16% of men play the piano. No wonder Japan is home to some of the greatest pianists.

So to pay homage to this great country, here are 11 of the most famous Japanese piano players to ever grace the Land of the Rising Sun.

1. Hiromi Uehara

Professionally known as Hiromi, Uehara Hiromi is an exciting pianist who doubles up as a jazz composer.

Since taking her first piano lessons at the age of six, she has never looked back and has found great success with her repertoire of a creative blend of jazz, classical, fusion, progressive rock, and post-bop.

Uehara’s crowning moment came at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards, where she won the Best Contemporary Jazz Album award.

She is still an active pianist with Her latest, grandest performance was during the opening of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

2. Mitsuko Uchida

Mitsuko Uchida is perhaps one of the greatest pianists of the 21st century.

She has outgrown Japan’s piano scene to become one of the most revered musicians in the world.

Her career spans across many nations as she was born in Shizuoka, Japan, studied music in Vienna, and now lives in London where she now has British citizenship.

Mitsuko’s specialty is the emotional interpretation of the works of Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schumann.

She has performed with many orchestras and scooped lots of awards, including two Grammys and at 72 years old, the high priestess of Mozart isn’t slowing down any time soon.

3. Ryo Fukui

Ryo Fukui was a magical jazz pianist based in Sapporo, Japan and although he died in 2016, his work remains immortal.

Unlike other piano players, Ryo started learning piano when he was 22 years old and remarkably, he released his first album “Scenery” six years later.

Fukui’s signature style set him apart from other Japanese pianists and his soft phrase shapes were a great addition to jazz.

He released six albums, two of which were live albums, while the rest were studio albums.

Since his death, his music has undergone a resurgence and is popular among the internet audience.

4. Keiko Matsui

Keiko Matsui

Referred to as the first lady of contemporary jazz, Keiko Matsui is a household name in the music industry.

She has released over 20 albums in her expansive music career with most of her music a blend of Jazz Fusion, New Age, and American Jazz.

She has gained a global fandom thanks to her transcendent, haunting melodies with her epic albums like Echo topping the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts.

Matsui relies on spiritualism when composing her work and she believes music is a gift from past souls to future children.

5. Yoko Miwa

Yoko Miwa is an internationally acclaimed Japanese jazz pianist with enviable musical skills.

Her lyrical style is deeply ingrained in acoustic post-bop.

Born in 1970 in Kobe, Yako began taking piano lessons when she was four years old.

She attended high school at Osaka College of Music and later proceeded to Japan’s Koyo Conservatory.

In the late ’90s, she won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music and to this date, she is part of Boston’s Jazz scene.

6. Toshiko Akiyoshi

With 14 Grammy award nominations, pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi needs no introduction.

Akiyoshi was born in 1929 in Darien, Manchuria, China which, at the time, was part of Japan.

She first learned piano when she was in grade one and was a professional pianist at 16

In her glittering career, she has experienced a number of firsts, including being the first Japanese to thrill American Jazz fans, the first Japanese student to attend Berklee College of Muisc and is the only Japanese musician to have been named an NEA Jazz Master.

She has lived in the USA ever since.

7. Aimi Kobayashi

Born in 1995 in Ube, Aimi Kobayashi is a young classical pianist from Japan.

She began her musican jounrey very young and was introduced to piano lessons when she was only three years old and was part of an orchestra by the time she was seven.

Before the age of 20, she had already won four PTNA Piano Competitions.

Kobayashi has performed in several venues, including the three performances at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

8. Yoko Kanno

Yoko Kanno is a veteran Japanese composer best known for producing soundtracks of anime films in a career spanning over 30 years.

Born in Sendai in 1963, at the age of two, she was inseparable from the piano.

However, in high school, she developed an interest in literature which she went on to study at Waseda University but continued composing songs for friends.

Her music breakout happened in 1985 when she started composing for video games and anime shows with her masterpiece work was on Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell.

9. Kotaro Fukuma

Kotaro Fukuma is a Japanese classical pianist who began taking piano lessons when he was five years old.

He has participated in many international competitions and won lots of awards performing in a numbe of famous venues like the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in NYC.

Kotaro has worked with many orchestras, including Israel Philharmonic, Dresden Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, and Galicia Royal Philharmonic.

He loves contemporary music and has released more than 15 commercial CDs with some of his recordings including the works of Dumka, Schumann, Albeniz, and Takemitsu.

10. Nobuyuki Tsujii

Nobuyuki Tsujii is a blind pianist with extraordinary ability who learns most of his music by listening.

His most notable achievement came in 2009 when he won the joint Gold Medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

Tsujii has performed with renowned orchestras such as BBC Philharmonic, Japan Philharmonic, The Mariinsky Orchestra, and Tokyo Symphony.

11. Yoshiki Hayashi

With worldwide sales exceeding 30 million records, Yoshiki is a global superstar.

He began learning piano when he was only four and has never looked away from music.

Currently, he is the drummer, pianist, and leader of the visual kei rock band X Japan as well as being part of musical groups like Violet UK.

Yoshiki is among the most influential composers in Japan and he incorporates classical music and American Hard Rock in his works.

Some of his albums that hooked fans include Blue Blood, Art of Life, and Vanishing Vision.

Summing up our List of Famous Japanese Pianists

Keiko Matsui by Sean Adams, U.S. Air Force (Public Domain)

The 11 pianists mentioned in this post are just a few of the world-famous Japanese musicians who have made their mark on the music industry.

There are many more to explore, so don’t stop here!

Photo of author

Robert is a professional pianist and writer who's been playing the piano for over 20 years. He studied music education at college and now works as a full time musician and piano teacher all over the country.