Though most people immediately think of Arab or Persian music when discussing microtones, it is interesting to note that both Japan and Viet Nam too have micro-tonality, specifically in their ornamentation traditions.
In Viet Nam, for example, the Nam Ai scale used in Hûe music contains the notes hò – xư – y – xang – xê – công – phan (G A B C D E F). Each of these notes commonly takes one or two microtonal ornaments from a main set: rung, mố, mố đầu, and mố kép. Hò, xang, and phan, for example, usually take the rung ornament, an unlimited micro “trill” (usually consisting of three to seven pitches) which moves anywhere between ¼ to ¾ of a tone. Công, on the other hand, usually takes either the mố or mố kép ornaments, both of which range within ¼ of a tone.
In Japanese gagaku or Shinto kagura music, the double reed hichiriki or ryuteki flute often play what are known as “sour plums” (embai): small semi-improvised ornaments used to color and embellish the melody. As the fingering charts for ryuteki and hichiriki (as well as the nohkan flute used in Noh Theatre) indicate only fingerings and not the exact pitch that may (or may not) come out of the instrument, embai are most often microtonal, depending on the skill and musical ‘ear’ of the musician. And considering the highly nasal quality of the hichiriki, these microtonal embellishments can sound extremely ethereal and give gagaku in particular a haunting, other-worldly sound.