Alma Karlin’s Musical Miniatures

Japanese Musical Instruments from the Collection of Alma M. Karlin and their Relation to Religious Music

  • Klara Hrvatin Department of Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana
Keywords: Alma M. Karlin, Japan, Buddhist instruments, Shinto instruments, yakumo-koto, hyōshigi


The following article serves as an introduction to one of the world’s greatest traveller Alma Maximiliane Karlin (1889–1950) and her music-religion related objects she probably brought from Japan, where she stayed from the beginning of June 1922 to July 1923. Not numerous, but in comparison to similar objects brought from other countries, the largest in number, the collection shows Karlin’s preference for simple instrument miniatures such as are models or miniatures of instruments shamisen, koto, yakumo-goto. Interesting are as well objects, which are indirectly related to Japanese music; ukiyo-e, postcards and small colored prins on postcards, depicting themes related to Japanese traditional instruments, small bronze tengu mask and others.                                                                                                     

In order to better define those instruments and find a possible relation of these instruments and their religious practices to Karlin’s life, the article focuses as well on the Karlin’s non-classical travelogue, Slovenian translations of Einsame Weltreise: Die Tragödie einer Frau (Lonely Travel, 1929), in particular where she depicts her travel and stay in Japan. From her collection of instruments and her writings, the author searches how and to what extent Karlin developed a sense of, or was devoted to certain instruments which express some relation to Shinto or Buddhist religious practices.


“Alma Karlin collections in Slovenia.” Alma M. Karlin Virtual Home. Accessed July 25, 2019.

Alma M. Karlin Virtual Home. Accessed July 25, 2019.

Baroni, H. Josephine. The illustrated encyclopedia of Zen Buddhism. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2002.

Collection of Alma Karlin. Celje Regional Museum Archives, 2006.

Gen’yū, Sōkyū. Zendera monogatari. Tokyo: Shinjūsha, 2012.

Hughes, W. David. “Folk music: from local to national to global.” In The Ashagate Research companion to Japanese music. Edited by Alison Tokita and David Hughes. Aldershot: Ashagate Publishing Limited, 2008.

Hughes, W. David. Traditional Folk Song in Modern Japan: Sources, sentiment and society. London: Global Oriental Ltd, 2008.

Jezernik, Jerneja. Nisem le napol človek: Ama M. Karlin in njeni moški. Ljubljana: Sanje, 2016.

Jezernik, Jerneja. Ama M. Karlin, državljanka sveta: življenje in delo Alme Maximiliane Karlin (1889-1950). Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga, 2009.

Karlin, M. Alma. Samotno potovanje. Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga, 1969.

Karlin, M. Alma. Samotno potovanje v daljne dežele: tragedija ženske. Celje: Celjska Mohorjeva družba, 2006.

Karlin, M. Alma. Japonske novele (Japanese novels). Celje: Celjska Mohorjeva družba, 2006.

Karlin, M. Alma. Doživeti svet. Celje: Celjska Mohorjeva družba, 2006.

Koizumi, Fumio. Nihon no oto: Sekai no Naka no Nihon Ongaku. Tokyo: Seidō Sha, 1977.

Kovačič, C. Terezija. ”Short bibilography on Alma M. Karlin (1889-1951).” In Doživeti svet. Celje: Celjska Mohorjeva družba, 2006.

Lu, Wei-Yu. “The performance practice of buddhist baiqi in contemporary taiwan.” PhD diss., University of Maryland, 2012.

Malm, P. William. Traditional Japanese Music and Musical Instruments. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2001.

Ono, Sokyo. Shinto: The Kami Way. Tokyo: Charles Tuttle Company, 1999.

“Oomoto Japan’s Religion of Peace.” You Tube Video, 6:35. Oomoto Believers Association, July 29, 2007.

Piggott, F. Taylor. The Music and Musical Instrumnets of Japan. Yokohama: Kelly and Walsh, 1909.

Provine, Robert C., J. Lawrence Witzleben and Yosihiko Tokumaru, eds. The Garland Encyclopaedia of World Music: East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea. Routledge: 2001.

Rambelli, Fabio, ed. The Sea and the Sacred in Japan: Aspects of Maritime Religion. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

Roberts, Bill. “Utamatsuri.” Oomoto. Accessed July 16, 2019.

Stalker, N. Nancy. Prophet motive: Deguchi Onisaburō, Oomoto, and the rise of new religions in Imperial Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008.

Suzuki, T. Daisetz. The Training of the Zen Buddhist Monk. Rutland & Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1994.

Tanigaito, Kasuko. “Shinto Music.” The Garland Encyclopaedia of World Music 7, eds. Robert C. Provine, J. Lawrence Witzleben and Yosihiko Tokumaru, 1157-1158. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Terauchi, Naoko. “Ancient and early medieval performing arts.” In A History of Japanese Theater. Edited by Jonah Salz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Trnovec, Barbara. Kolumbova hči: življenje in delo Alme M. Karlin. Celje: Pokrajinski muzej Celje, 2015.

“Yagumo-goto nitsuite (八雲琴について, On yagumo-goto), ” Asuka Mura denshō geinō hozonkai (明日香村伝承芸能保存会, Preservation Society of the Traditional Performing Arts of Asuka Village). Accessed July 13, 2019.

Wade, Bonnie C. Thinking Musically: Experiencing Music, Experiencing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

How to Cite
Hrvatin, Klara. 2019. “Alma Karlin’s Musical Miniatures”. Poligrafi 24 (93/94), 109-35.