After the war musicians made a prompt start to recover and catch up with the international standards of modern music, and development was rapid. Orchestras and opera groups were organized, and new music colleges and schools were established according to the new educational system. In 1946 the Ministry of Education decided to sponsor an arts festival to be held every autumn, including many musical events. In the same year the pre-war organization of the Nihon Gendai Sakkyokuka Renmei was reconstituted as the Nihon Gendai Ongaku Kyōkai (Japanese Society for Contemporary Music). Many smaller groups of composers were organized to further individual activities, the more important being the Shinsei Kai (members including Shibata Minao, Irino Yoshirō and Toda Kunio, 1946), the Shin Sakkyokuka Kyōkai (including Kiyose Yasuji and Matsudaira Yoritsune, 1947), the Jikken Kōbō (including Takemitsu Tōru and Yuasa Jōji, 1951), the Group of Three (Akutagawa Yasushi, Dan Ikuma and Mayuzumi Toshirō, 1953), the Yagi no Kai (including Hayashi Hikaru and Mamiya Yoshio, 1953) and the Shinshin Kai (with Ikenouchi Tomojirō, Bekku Sadao, Miyoshi Akira and others, 1955). The most controversial movement of the time was dodecaphony, which most composers tried at least once. Some composers still used 19th-century styles, some pursued nationalistic trends, and some participated in avant-garde movements. In 1953 musique concrète was introduced into Japan, and in 1955 the NHK Electronic Music Studio was opened in Tokyo.
After 1960 Japanese composers started to be more individualistic. The remarkable progress in the quality of their work has produced several internationally known composers. The variety of their activities has been such that practically all Western movements have been quickly transmitted and have counterparts in Japan. In addition there have been movements unique to Japan, notably the composition and performance of works in modern idioms on Japanese instruments. The Hōgaku Yonin no Kai, a group of four players of Japanese instruments formed in 1957, commissioned a series of new compositions for their concerts, encouraging composers to familiarize themselves with Japanese instruments. The Ensemble Nipponia, a group of European-style composers and performers using Japanese instruments, was established in 1964; it made many international tours and was active until the 1990s.
The Society of 20th-Century Music, founded in 1957, sponsored a summer festival like that at Darmstadt until 1965. The Japan Philharmonic SO has commissioned new orchestral works annually since 1958 (except for the years 1972 and 1973), among them important compositions by Yashiro, Takemitsu, Shibata, Mamiya and Miyoshi. The Japanisches-Deutsches Festival für Neue Musik (1967–70), sponsored by the Tokyo German Culture Centre, was significant in the promotion of modern music, as was the festival Music Today, directed by Takemitsu (1973–92). The Kusatsu Summer International Music Festival, founded in 1980, has commissioned new Japanese works every year, while the Suntory Music Foundation, founded in 1969, has commissioned and published new works and promoted concerts of Japanese music; since 1991 it has also awarded the annual Akutagawa Prize for the best orchestral work by a young Japanese composer.
While composers continued to pursue novel styles and techniques, radical avant-garde movements gradually waned after 1970. Many composers, including Ichiyanagi, Shibata and Takemitsu, cultivated an eclectic range of styles, from tonal lyricism to aleatory techniques. Shibata’s Oiwake-bushi kō (1973) was the first example of a new genre that the composer called a ‘theatre piece’, somewhat similar to the musikalisches Theatre of Kagel and Ligeti but drawing on traditional and folk melodies. Its success had a decisive influence on Japanese composers of the 1980s and 90s, who created an increasing number of works calling for stage action. From the mid-1980s opera, both European and Japanese, enjoyed a growing popularity, culminating in the opening in 1997 of the New National Theatre, the first Western-style opera house in Japan. Leading Japanese composers of opera include Hara, Miki, Dan and Hayashi, who collaborates with the Konnyaku-za opera group.
The adaptation of traditional Japanese music to European-style composition had become commonplace by the 1980s, when some composers began to look to non-Western (especially Asian) music for their inspiration. The Japanese Society for Contemporary Music (numbering 214 members in 1999) has sponsored an annual festival of contemporary music since 1962 and has awarded the Sakkyoku Shinjin Shō to a young composer since 1984. The Nihon Sakkyokuka Kyōgikai (Japanese Federation of Composers), founded in 1962 to protect composers’ rights, has sponsored concerts, published music and, in collaboration with the Suntory Music Foundation, has since 1981 published a biennial catalogue of works by Japanese composers. By 1999 its membership had reached 560.
Japanese influence on music in Europe and North America has been felt in several respects. The educational philosophy of Suzuki Shin’ichi, manifested since 1933 in his method of violin teaching, has been applied extensively to the teaching of the violin and other string instruments, the flute and the piano. Japan has also become an important manufacturer not only of reproducing equipment but also of pianos, string and wind instruments; leading firms are Yamaha, Nippon Gakki and Kawai.