Otamatone: Japan’s Squishy Musical Instrument

  • 2 min read

Musical instruments come in many shapes and sizes, but if there’s one thing they have in common, it’s that they’re usually rigid. Otamatone, a tadpole-shaped synthesizer designed in Japan in 1998, is among the first instruments to break this convention. To produce a sound on the Otamatone, you press down on the tail of the tadpole, which resembles the neck of a guitar. You can then alter the volume and tone of the note by squeezing the head, which also opens the tadpole’s mouth, adding an absurd comic flair to the whole performance. Additionally, it's possible to incorporate vibrato into notes by shaking the finger that is holding the note, similar to bending a string. 

Otamatone: Japan’s Squishy Musical Instrument


Otamatone has gained huge popularity on YouTube and TikTok in recent years. The instrument is mainly used to make cover versions of popular songs, and some creators, such as TheRealSullyG, have amassed large followings from playing this instrument alone. Otamatone has also appeared on Got Talent España. Auditioning contestant Juanjo Monserrat played an emotional rendition of an Italian aria on the instrument, winning the Golden Buzzer award from a bemused, yet impressed, panel of judges. 

Otamatone: Japan’s Squishy Musical Instrument

While an instrument this cutesy might look like a toy, it is surprisingly difficult to play. The neck is fretless, so it is actually rather challenging to produce notes that are perfectly in tune. Fortunately, Otamatone is relatively cheap and there is no shortage of YouTube tutorials, so it’s a low-stakes project if you want to try your hand at the instrument! As well as the standard primary colors, there are several special editions of Otomatone in the style of popular Japanese franchise characters such as Hello Kitty and Kirby. 


About the author: 

Diarmuid O'ConnorDiarmuid O'Connor
Diarmuid is a writer and musician from Ireland, based in Tokyo. When not working on music in studios around the city, Diarmuid can be found in the bouldering gym, at the cinema, or enjoying a cold one in the local izakaya.

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