Japanese symbol for music – and how it is used in tattoos

Getting the Japanese symbol for “music” as a tattoo is a popular choice for people who love listening to music. The kanji characters for “music” look like this 音楽. The word is made up of two separate Chinese Characters 音, meaning noise or sound, and 楽 which refers to anything enjoyable. So literally the word mean’s “The enjoyment of sound” or “noise-play”. Kinda cool when you think about it really!

This character is sometimes used in Japanese tattoos because some people feel it resembles the double-helix shape of the headphones commonly used to listen to music.

But I don’t know, I’m not sure I see it myself…

How is the word Music in Japanese pronounced?

The Japanese symbols or Kanji for the word Music are pronounced as Ongaku(おんがく). 

The different ways “Music” can be expressed in Japanese characters and symbols

1. 音(Oto, ne)

Oto means sound or noise, and has a close relation to music, which, let’s face it, is a form of sound or a noise. It also has Chinese reading(On-yomi) of on(オン),in(イン),~non(~ノン), or ne.

Example sentences:


tonari no heya kara oto ga shimasu .

A sound is coming from the next room.


ima no wa nan no otodesu ka 

What was that sound just now?

2. 楽(Raku, Tano)

Can be read as Tano from tanoshii(たのしい; 楽しい) which means enjoyable, fun, pleasant, happy, and delightful. Also with its Chinese reading(On-yomi) gaku(ガク) which means music and raku(ラク) which means ease or with ease. Most of the time, seeing this symbol or kanji alone used in a sentence means ease or at ease rather than expressing music.

Example sentences:


chikagoro wa ryokō wa rakuda

Travelling is easy these days.


karera wa raku ni ninmu o nashitogemashita

They accomplished their task with ease.

3. 曲(Kyoku)

Kyoku means music, melody, composition or song. Most of the time Japanese people use Kyoku if they want to say the word “song” in a sentence. 

Example sentences:


ima no kyoku wa dare no kyokudesu ka

Whose song was that song earlier? 


wanokurokku no kyoku ga daisukina nda

I love One OK Rock’s songs.

4. 音楽(Ongaku)

As it is in the English language, Ongaku is a vocal or instrumental sound (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion. Combining the kanji 音 (“on” sound) with the kanji 楽 (“gaku” music), thus the japanese word 音楽(ongaku)

Example sentences:


watashi no shumi wa ongaku o kiku kotodesu

My hobby is listening to music.


donna ongaku ga sukidesu ka

What type of music do you like?


ongaku o kikinagara shukudai o yatteimasu

I do my homework while listening to music.

What words is the Japanese symbol for Music Used In?

This kanji Ongaku(音楽) is often used in combination with other kanji that are related to music. Some examples are below:

  1. 軍楽隊(Gungakutai)

Means military or naval band. Originally was a group of personnel that performs musical duties for military functions, usually for the armed forces. A typical military band consists mostly of wind and percussion instruments. The conductor of a band commonly bears the title of Bandmaster or Director of Music. Ottoman military bands are thought to be the oldest variety of military marching bands in the world, dating from the 13th century.

  1. 邦楽(Hougaku)

Japanese music includes a wide array of performers in distinct styles both traditional and modern. Japan is the second largest music market in the world, behind the United States, and the largest in Asia, and most of the market is dominated by Japanese artists. Local music often appears at karaoke venues, which is on lease from the record labels.

  1. 管弦楽法(Kangengakuhou)

Orchestration is the study or practice of writing music for an orchestra (or, more loosely, for any musical ensemble) or of adapting for orchestra music composed for another medium. It only gradually over the course of music history came to be regarded as a compositional art in itself.

Words that include the kanji for Music

音楽家(Ongakuka) – Musician

Example sentence:


watashi no yume wa itsuka ongakuka ni naru kotoda

My dream is to be a musician someday.

音楽会(Ongakukai) – Concert, recital

Example sentence:


ongakukai no hi made renshū shinakerebanarimasen 

I need to practice until the day of the recital.

音楽大学(Ongakudaigaku) – College of Music, School of music

Example sentence:


ongakuka ni naru tame ni wa ongaku daigaku ni nyūgaku suru koto ga hitsuyōdesu

In order for me to become a musician, enrolling in a school of music is important.

How is Music expressed in Chinese?

音乐(Yīnyuè) is how Chinese express music in their language. The same as the japanese language, 音 means sound or noise, but the second character 乐 means happy or laugh. Yuè or Lè(乐) has somewhat the same meaning as the second character of the japanese language Ongaku(音楽) which is the Tano(楽) from the japanese adjective tanoshii(楽しい) which means to enjoy, enjoyable and fun.

Stroke order for writing the characters in Japanese Music and associated symbols.

  1. 音楽(Ongaku)
  1. 曲(Kyoku)
  1. 軍楽隊(Gungakutai)
  1. 邦楽(Hougaku)
  1. 管弦楽法(Kangengakuhou)
  1. 音楽家(Ongakuka)
  1. 音楽会(Ongakukai)
  1. 音楽大学(Ongakudaigaku)

Historical forms of the chinese character for “Music”


For 楽, unorthodox variant simplified from 樂 (𢆶 → ⿱丷八) found in the Ming dynasty orthographic dictionary Zì xué sān zhèng(字學三正). Also found in Sòng yuán yǐlái súzì pǔ(宋元以來俗字譜), a variant forms dictionary compiled in 1930 that records unorthodox forms Súzì(俗字) that have existed since the Song dynasty.

The concept of “Music” in Japan

According to Japanese culture, music is not just an auditory experience, but also has a spiritual dimension. In Japan, the word “music” is not just used to describe the sound of instruments such as guitars and pianos, but also encompasses various vocal and instrumental genres. There are also many different types of music that are specific to certain regions in Japan.

In the western world, music is often thought of as a form of entertainment. While music is certainly enjoyed for its aesthetic qualities in Japan, it is also considered to be a powerful tool for communication and expression. Japanese culture attaches high importance to music as an essential part of every individual’s life. 

From a purely technical perspective, the Japanese focus more on the melody of the song than the harmony. 

So should you get “Music” done as a tattoo in Japanese lettering?

The short answer is “why not?”.

Expressing music through a Japanese symbol as a tattoo makes sense. There are a lot of ways of expressing music in Japanese symbols or kanji, mainly, music in Japanese is Ongaku(音楽), but you can still choose any of the mentioned symbols, for music is meant to be a sound that is enjoyable and brings joy to the listeners, even as a tattoo.

Music is an important part of Japanese culture and its art forms are highly revered. There are numerous ways to express one’s love for music through tattoos, and the Japanese symbol for “music” is one popular way to do so. The kanji character 歌 (uta), which means “song,” is another option that could be considered to be used to create a beautiful tattoo design that shows appreciation for music.

You may also want to see the Japanese symbol for darkness, which has elements of the kanji for sound in it!


Article by Dhanie James Perez

Japanoscope uses affiliate links, which means that commissions may be received when you click on links to products from partner retailers.