Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto – Koto musician, teacher, band leader, filmmaker

Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto is a master on the Japanese koto, composer and arranger who has played music for over 60 years. She is a jazz musician, traditional Japanese music artist and has studied classical Japanese koto music extensively. She is the director of the Murasaki Ensemble which features music from traditional to contemporary to jazz and rock since 1998. Shirley has performed with famed musicians Chikushi Katsuko, Sawai Kazue, Souju Nosaka Keiko, June Kuramoto, Kazue Kudo, Pete Escovedo, Maurice Jarre, and appeared on recordings with David Grisman, Lori Lewis, Elias Negash and Joe Craven, among others.

Shirley earned her “Shihan” degree (instructor’s credentials) with “Yushusho” (highest) honors and her masters “Dai Shihan” from the Chikushi Kai School based in Fukuoka, Japan. Shirley teaches students privately and through virtual formats using the base curriculum of Chikushi Kai repertoire and guidelines.

Shirley has also appeared in virtual concerts during the pandemic, producing the series “NextGen Geijutsuka: Future Stars of Japanese Cultural Arts”. She has appeared in virtual concerts including curating Japanese koto programs for  Nikkei Matsuri, the Consulate General of Japan program and the Old First Concerts concert “Music of Kimio Eto”.

Shirley’s research into Japanese traditional arts practiced in the WWII camps was awarded funding in 2012 for a documentary film. The film “Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the WWII Internment Camps” was released in 2014.  It is now available for free viewing on YouTube.

Currently, Shirley is involved with a program educating Berkeley elementary school students about the music of the WWII American concentration camps with Rayõ Furuta administered by Pc Muñoz, the Director of Education and Community Engagement from Freight & Salvage.

In 2012, Shirley was honored by the Hokka Nichibei Kai Japanese American Cultural Association of America by being inducted into the Bunka Hall of Fame for her life-long dedication to teaching and performing on the Japanese koto. She has received support and funding for various projects from the City of Oakland, the SF Japantown Foundation, the Berkeley JACL, and the Apprenticeship Program from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts to train future artists for the continuance of Japanese koto music into the future.

Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the WWII Internment Camps

For many years, Shirley has had an interest in researching Japanese traditional arts in the World War II concentration camps. Shirley’s mother learned to play the koto as a 10-year-old child at Topaz and Tule Lake camps. Shirley wondered if others had similar experiences in these camps being exposed to and learning cultural arts.  This research and stories took decades to gather because survivors were understandably hesitant to talk about their experiences, and more so about anything of the Japanese culture practiced in the camps. The arts helped those incarcerated to be resilient and survive. In 2012, a National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites grant was awarded to her project, “Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the World War II Internment Camps”. This project turned her research into a documentary film, completed in June 2014.  Hidden Legacy has been shown nationally on public TV and PBS stations, screened at numerous community showings, and at universities in Japan and Europe, as well.

In studying and talking to artists from the camps, Shirley was inspired to dedicate her life and music to supporting traditional arts in the United States and throughout the world. Traditional arts are part of the American cultural fabric brought here by immigrants and becoming part of the American art scene. She continues to teach, demonstrate and perform in honor of those who came before her.

Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, musician, recording performer, teacher, band leader and filmmaker on the Japanese Koto based in the SF Bay Area.

In 1976, Shirley received her “Shihan” degree (instructor’s license) with “Yushusho” (highest) honors from the Chikushi School in Fukuoka, Japan, and her “Dai Shihan” Master’s degree from the same school in 2000

Shirley became the first koto performer from outside of Japan to qualify for the prestigious Kenjun Koto Competition in 2018. In 2012, Shirley was honored by the Hokka Nichibei Kai Japanese American Cultural Association of America by being inducted into the Bunka Hall of Fame for her life-long dedication to teaching and performing on the Japanese koto.



The New Moon Newsletter from the Alliance for California Traditional ArtsOctober 2021

The New Moon Newsletter from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts featured a Q&A with me about my experience performing with the SF Symphony recently in their CURRENTS series, interview by Lily Kharrazi, “Traditional Koto at the Symphony”,

CONTINUING TRADITIONS: The evolution of koto artist Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto

April 3, 2021 by Kenji G. Taguma, Nichibei Weekly 




Upcoming Events

August 9, 2022 – 3:30pm

Peace Day Commemoration / Sadako and the Thousand Cranes


Join us for a Peace Day Commemoration on the lawn of North Branch Library. Listen to beautiful koto music by Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, learn how to fold an origami crane, and hear about the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who lived through the bombing of Hiroshima, but died years later from the effects of the atomic bomb. She was made famous for folding 1,000 origami cranes in the hopes that her wish to survive would be granted.

Ages 8 and up and families are welcome. Sponsored by the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library


Monday, July 25 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Grace Cathedral Sound Bath— Celebrate the Koto

1100 California Street, San Franccisco, CA 94108


 Past Events


Events 2022


May 16, 2022  6:30 PM Delta High School, Delta, Utah.

Koto and Trumpet Concert, with SFSymphony Principal Trumpet Mark Inouye

 Photo credits
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto by Mark Shigenaga
Mark Inouye by Nobuo Mikawa












April 30, 2022  1:45p-2:15p at Memorial Park, Quinlan Community Center

Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival, with Isabella Kazuai Lew and students,



April 24, 2022 Nikkei Matsuri, with Emily Imazumi and students, San Jose Japantown at San Jose Buddhist Church,

This Sunday, April 24 at 12:30p, Chikushi Kai teachers and students of the Bay Area will be performing at the Nikkei Matsuri, our first in-person music program! We will play a koto piece from an anime as well as other koto and shakuhachi selections. We will be on the indoor stage where there will be other displays, as well. There will be booths and bands, martial arts and taiko, and food! So come on down and join us for a day of music and fun!








April 21 and 22, 2022 10a-1p, 20 minutes top of every hour – SFO neighborhood activations strive to bring the infectious electricity of San Francisco life to travelers upon arrival at the airport in a series of “Discover SF” neighborhood activations at the airport, starting with Japantown, activities, and information about J-Town and the Cherry Blossom Festival

April 10th 2022 at Oakland Buddhist Church, 825 Jackson Street, Oakland, outdoors. Talk about how Buddhist churches were places were Japanese arts were and continue to be offered including Japanese language schools and performances that occurred in the 1920s through 1940s at the Buddhist Church of Oakland, along with koto demonstration.

Feb 26, 2022 Gardena Valley JCI Day of Remembrance

– This year, the GVJCI Day of Remembrance (DOR) 2022 event will be held online via Zoom on Saturday, February 26th, 2022 from 2:00pm to 4:00pm. This year’s DOR theme will be “Camp Creativity: Resilience Through Art” with the intention of highlighting the courage, healing, and creativity of camp survivors through fine and performing arts. Specifically, we will be sharing works ranging from cultural performances, big band music, and more. From February 22-25, the GVJCI will be publishing these stories through special video interviews, film clips, music playlists, and photographs. The February 26th live program will feature interviews with some of those featured throughout the week of the virtual DOR on the GVJCI website. From these collections, viewers will gain new knowledge in the experiences of Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. We hope the community will be able to walk away with a greater understanding of the history of this time period and the fortitude and resilience of its survivors.

Feb 3, 2022  SFJAZZ performing with Destiny Muhammad, Jazz and Social Justice, 7pm and 8:30p 

Events 2021

Feb 17, 2021 Consulate General of Japan, San Francisco virtual program, “Japanese Strings: Past and Present”, Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto performing with Brian Mitsuhiro Wong; also on the program is Kyle Abbott/shamisen

April 24, 2021           Nikkei Matsuri, virtual

May 26, 2021            Music @ Noon, Santa Clara University virtual concert

June 19, 2021           Memorial, private, Manka’s Inverness Lodge Boathouse

July 15, 2021             Asian Art Museum private event, Murasaki Trio

July 31, 2021             Oakland Obon virtual event

Aug 6, 2021              Berkeley Public Library Peace Day, virtual

Aug 21, 2021            Shinzen Garden, Fresno, Toro Nagashi Lantern Festival

September 2021      SF Symphony CURRENTS virtual series, “Niji”, curated by Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto

Explore the intersection between classical music and Japanese classical musical culture.

Koto master and curator Shirley Muramoto joins San Francisco Symphony musicians in a program that celebrates the elegant power of an instrument to connect across genres and reflect the endless diversity of our community.

Shirley Muramoto expresses, “I called [this program] ‘Niji’ because it represents a rainbow of different people and different things in the Bay Area that I’ve had the fortune to connect with and collaborate with and share music with.”

Shirley Muramoto, curator


TRADITIONAL (arr. Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto): ‘Sakura’ (Cherry Blossom)
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, koto

NAGASAWA KATSUTOSHI: Movement II from ‘Futatsu no Deneshi’ (Two Pastorals)
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, koto
Brian Mitsuhiro Wong, bass koto
Linda Lukas, flute

CHIKUSHI KATSUKO (arr. Kaoru Watanabe): ‘Nagare’ (Flow)
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, koto
Brian Mitsuhiro Wong, bass koto
Catherine Payne, flute
In Sun Jang & Raushan Akhmedyarova, violins
James Button, oboe
Carey Bell, clarinet
Steven Dibner, bassoon
Robert Ward, horn
David Kim, viola
Peter Wyrick, cello
Charles Chandler, double bass

SHIRLEY KAZUYO MURAMOTO & BEN PADERNA (arr. Matt Wong): ‘Niji’ (Rainbow)
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, koto
Brian Mitsuhiro Wong, shakuhachi bamboo flute
Jerome Simas, clarinet
Steven Braunstein, bassoon
Aaron Schuman, trumpet
Paul Welcomer, tenor trombone
Sarn Oliver & Suzanne Leon, violins
David Gaudry, viola
Amos Yang, cello
Charles Chandler, double bass
Vince Delgado, egyptian tabla
Destiny Muhammad, harp

Currents is sponsored by Chevron

Oct 7               Santa Clara University, Global Music, Music and Social Justice class, Ray Furuta/professor



Hidden Legacy


 It has been almost 80 years since the Executive Order 9066 during World War II led to the forcible relocation of approximately 120,000 Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans, about two-thirds were American citizens, into American concentration camps.  Though much has been researched and written about this American history, there is still a subject which has not been thoroughly researched, and that is the story of how those incarcerated survived the prison camps for the four to five years they were imprisoned there.
The Hidden Legacy project researched and collected stories from former incarcerated artists and Sansei and Yonsei students who learned from some of these teachers. The questions were: how and why did traditional Japanese arts in the camps continue, how they used creativity to practice them, and how they fashioned equipment, kimonos, instruments and so on to be able to practice them. These arts played a critical role in the lives of those incarcerated to continue to survive and help them be resilient. After the war as many felt these traditional arts would make them appear “un-American”, many shunned these arts.  Now, we are learning that traditional cultural arts and music aid in survival and continue to do so today as we learn how the arts help us to understand ourselves.  Trying to survive in this pandemic, we have found that the arts also help us today to stay resilient. This project emphasizes the importance and benefits of keeping traditional arts alive not only for ourselves but for future generations as well.

The documentary film, “Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the WWII Internment Camps” (2014) can be seen on YouTube