kenong japan

Also:       kenong jepang      

Contextual Associations

The kenong japan is a metal gong idiophone of the Javanese people of Java, Indonesia. It is a punctuating instrument that is part of the Javanese gamelan (the iron gamelan to which the instrument pictured on this page belongs has one kenong japan. Typically only gamelans associated with the city of Yogyakarta include kenong japan. In form, the kenong japan has a shallower recep and broader rai than the kenong jaler. This physical distinction, along with a corresponding register one (the pitch of the kenong japan is in the octave below that of the kenong jaler), is marked with gendered qualifiers: the kenong japan is inflected as ‘setrèn’ (‘female’) while ‘jaler’ means ‘male’ (see bonang barung entry for further interpretation of this distinction). Although Javanese forged bronze gongs in general are remarkable products of highly skilled and admired craftsmen (see goöng), gongs made from iron are not accorded the same level of admiration. Nonetheless, it takes a team of specialized craftsmen to construct iron gongs such as the kenong japan pictured and described here, and when well constructed it can produce a musically satisfying alternative to its far more costly counterpart in bronze gamelans.


The kenong japan described here is part of an iron gamelan and therefore the details of the physical description to follow differ from those of the same instrument found in bronze gamelans (see entry for ‘kenong (Sundanese)’). The kenong japan is constructed from three interlocking pieces of sheet iron, one circular and the other two elongated rectangular strips. The strips are connected end-to-end with rivets to form the gong's circular side/rim (bau), which in turn is attached to the edge of the circular face by folding (accomplished with much cold hammering) to create an integral vessel. With further hammering a central knob/boss (pencu) is articulated as well as two concentric surface areas: a flat rai around the pencu, and a sloping recep (brunjung) around the rai. Such contouring of the face is essential to achieving a gong with definite pitch. The pencu is reinforced with a brass cap that is riveted to the iron knob. All seams are soldered and then filed smooth. The gong rests horizontally on ropes running diagonally between the corners of its square wooden rack. The performer uses a wooden stick beater (tabuh) padded with tightly wound cord to strike the pencu of gong.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A single player, seated on the floor in the middle of a square of kenong (see detail photo) that includes the kenong japan, performs the instrument by striking its knob/boss with the tabuh; any competent gamelan musician can play the instrument. It contributes to the articulation of the underlying cyclical formal structure of a piece (gendhing) by being sounded at prescribed points of that structure, typically dividing the gong phrase (gongan) into two or four kenong phrases (kenongan) of equal length. Its sound has a definite pitch with a dull attack and moderately fast decay. It is normally played at a fairly loud dynamic level, but can be played at a lower level when necessary.


Many of the oldest extant archaic/ceremonial gamelans in Yogyakarta include a kenong japan. According to inventories from the Sultan's palace in Yogyakarta, even the oldest non-ceremonial gamelans (dating from the mid-18th century) included the kenong japan in their original instrumentations.  

Bibliographic Citations

Kartomi, Margaret. 1984. “Kenong japan,” NGDMI v.2: 376.

Kunst, Jaap. 1973. Music in Java. 3rd ed. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Pickvance, Richard. 2005. A Gamelan Manual. London: Jaman Mas Books.

Vetter, Roger. 2001. "More than Meets the Eye and Ear: Gamelans and Their Meaning in a Javanese Palace," Asian Music 32/2: 41-92.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Javanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.241.11 idiophone--bossed percussion vessel gong, flat gong (with flange), and intermediate types

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: plate - contoured with folded-over rim

Sound objects per instrument: one

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - partially padded stick/s

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


14 in. diameter at widest point 12.3 in. height (from lip of rim to top of boss)

Primary Materials




Entry Author

Roger Vetter