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The Otamatone: The Most Adorable Instrument That Looks Like a Sperm

It's like, part guitar, part Muppet... part sperm.

Otamatone founder Novumichi Tosa performing "The Star-Spangled Banner"

The Otamatone is quintessentially Japanese—it’s cute, it’s colorful, and by far, it’s the weirdest musical instrument. The muppet-faced electric musical instrument draws a liking to sperm. That’s not the point, of course. It’s supposed to look like a tadpole.

Created by Maywa Denki, a production company based in Tokyo, it is basically an art project that has been ongoing since 1993, which is spearheaded by Novumichi Tosa. In working with the merchandising toy company with Cube-Works, they also do exhibitions, live stage performances and produce music, as well as personality. Tosa is a bit of a performance artist himself, being the eclectic president of Maywa Denki who dresses up like a mechanic in a blue jumpsuit, jumping around with a giant Otamatone like Angus Young. Tosa came up with the idea of creating a battery-operated instrument that answered the following question: “What would a tadpole sound like?” The answer is “Kawaii.”


On the Otamatone, which is not unlike a guitar, the tone is changed by opening and closing the mouth of the tadpole, which is meant to look like an eighth note (music lingo calls the eighth notes a tadpole).

The instrument is played with two hands—one hand holds the fretless neck, where you slide your fingers up and down to control the pitch. Just like a guitar, the higher on the fret, the higher the pitch. Meanwhile, the other hand squeezes the tadpole’s head to make it make the “Kawaii” sound.

It’s a fave among music teachers who want to teach their students the basics of music theory in a simple, fun way (way more fun than the recorder, I tell you). For the vibrato, just shake the head.

Basically, the battery-powered instrument has its speaker inside the tadpole’s mouth, so every time you pinch its plastic smile, it opens its mouth and hums louder and apparently also changes its tone. All in all, the instrument is kind of synth but has also been compared to a theremin in its weirdness, though it has more of a buzzy ring to it. They come in black, white, blue, pink, and yellow.

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Nobuhiro Yoshimoto

Since 1993, Maywa Denki has sold over 120,000 Otamatones as part of their Tsukuba Series of electric musical instruments (which also includes the remote-control Guitar-la electric guitar, powered by a pedal organ, don’t ask). Obviously, the biggest market is in Japan but they’re popular all over Asia (and have been shipped to the US obviously).


Yep. It’s the Game of Thrones soundtrack on the Otamatone (with the help of a drum)

Aside from Instagram, which shows the #otamatone is a fave among tweens, the Youtubers have gone nuts. From Gangnam Style, Disney soundtracks, even Yoshi’s Story theme, lullabies and Japanese pop songs, everyone is pretty proud about their Otamatone purchase. There is something inherent about this instrument that brings out the exhibitionist in people, in groups or solo. It has been played by Alicia Keys, too.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the Otamatone by Owen Korzec

There is an entire Otamatone family with 12 family members, or different versions. The palm-sized baby version (or smallest one) is named the Otamatone Melody, then there’s the regular Otamatone, which is a bit bigger and has a wider variety of sound. But it starts getting better with the Otamatone DX, which is almost double the size featuring a louder sound, a headphone plug-in option and a cord to connect to an amp. It also comes with a strap and volume knob (that could come in handy, considering some neighbors might find the sound totally annoying). Tosa said they just released a new model with a new digital circuit, “so everyone can make a precise note at the same finger position.”

While everyone is still waiting for Maywa Denki to bring back the biggest and most beloved version, the Otamatone Jumbo, they’re not in production at the moment.


From the same company, Tosa said next up is a musical toy called Mr. Knocky. “It is a percussion toy, so you can jam with Otamatone series,” he said.

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