When I was a student in the United States during the 1970s, a classmate of mine went to a record shop in a large city and asked if they had any Japanese music. The shopkeeper excitedly pulled out a brand-new album titled "Koto and Shakuhachi" and talked about how wonderful and exotic the music was. Since my friend was somewhat familiar with the genre, he asked the names of the musicians. The clerk looked at the liner notes. Not finding any artists' names there, he hesitated just a moment before announcing: "Why, they are the famous Japanese artists Mr. Koto and Mr. Shakuhachi, of course."

Fortunately, awareness of Japanese music has increased since then, and today only a small number of recordings are marketed solely on the exotic appeal of Japanese music. The relatively inexpensive cost of CD production, meanwhile, means that any musician can make his or her own CD, so the selection of hogaku nowadays is extensive.

This also means, however, that there is a lot of stuff to work through in order to find the gems. It is not so easy to find high-quality recordings of traditional or contemporary hogaku, either abroad or in Japan. In this month's column, I would like to suggest some places where you might begin looking.