June Kuramoto

Koto Musician
Headshot of a woman.

Photo credit Ken Fong Photography


June Kuramoto came to the U.S. by boat as a child from Japan as an immigrant in the 1950s. She was raised in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Crenshaw, home to many Black artists, including Ray Charles, Tina Turner, and Natalie Cole, was one of the few neighborhoods where Japanese did not face discrimination and were allowed to freely live. As a young child, when she heard Kazue Kudo, a virtuoso koto player from Japan, perform. Kuramoto knew the koto, a 13-string Japanese instrument, would be her connection to Japan, and she asked her mother if she could take lessons. Kudo Sensei recognized Kuramoto’s talent and her ability to emotionally connect to the music. As a vibrant young kotoist, she was a featured player in numerous classical koto concerts in LA’s Little Tokyo. 

A big fan of rock-and-roll and soul, Kuramoto wanted to adapt the song “Duke of Earl” that she heard on the radio for the koto. Her teacher told her that this would be difficult to do. This challenge only catalyzed her desire and determination to experiment combining the traditional Japanese koto with contemporary music. This led her to the creation of Hiroshima, a pioneering Grammy-nominated Asian American band that blended the sounds of the koto with keyboards, sax, drums, guitar, bass, and vocals.

Through Hiroshima she not only fulfilled her dream, but Kuramoto also became a mentor and role model to young Japanese American women who now had a sense of pride in their culture and identity. A pivotal moment for Kuramoto came in the early 1980s when Hiroshima performed their first tour outside of California. At a Howard University performance, Kuramoto recalls the rousing standing ovation she received for her solo and credits this performance as the start of many years of undying support for her music by the Black community. 

Her recording credits for television, film, and stage include Heroes, The Last Samurai, and the musical Sansei. Kuramoto has been recognized with many awards both as an individual and as a co-founder of Hiroshima. The Smithsonian, U.S. Congress, State of California, and City and County of Los Angeles have honored her work. Kuramoto served twice as an artist-in-residence at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. She served as president of the Koto String Society, a nonprofit group that produced shows featuring up to 100 koto performers accompanied by a full symphony orchestra. 

Today she gives of her time freely to teach a group of seniors and to mentor up-and-coming koto artists. Kuramoto is an in-demand solo artist at community events like the annual Day of Remembrance which is a time to reflect upon the years of suffering by our ancestors during the war. 

Janice D. Tanaka, Filmmaker and writer