Traditional or Modern? – Tsugaru Shamisen Rock

April 28, 2011 Juju Kurihara 0 Comments

Japan is a country where people give a lot of importance to the tradition and prefer to preserve the same way. Sushi shokunin has to be a man and women can't enter the sumo ring.

Now young generations are tired of this tradition and trying to be away from it. When I started calligraphy, there were many kids of different ages in the class. Within a year, I stopped seeing elder ones and then little ones too disappeared. When I reached 18, there were only another boy and me left and the rest of the students were all adults.

Even my friends were surprised to know that I was still learning calligraphy. So were my parents because they are not particularly traditional type of people. Actually my father wanted me to be a jazz pianist.


Is Japanese tradition in danger then? – No.

Just we like to change a little. I think it's OK to relax a little, to deform a little just to adopt the outside world.




This is a Japanese traditional three string instrument called "shamisen" (三味線). It's like a guitar but it has only three strings and you play as if you hit the strings.

I've heard that on the body, traditionally they used cats' skin. Oh sorry for cats lovers.





In Okinawa, they have a slightly different one called "Ryukyu shamisen" (琉球三味線) or "sanshin"(三線). Sanshin means three strings.

Instead of using cats' skin, sanshin uses snake skin.

For me, Ryukyu shamisen sounds something different to usual shamisen. It sounds to me some note is missing, something like that but I can't tell you exactly how different.


The famous shamisen is Tsugaru shamisen. Tsugaru (津軽) is an old name of Aomori prefecture (青森県), the very north prefecture of the largest of four island of Japan. It's very cold and people speak Tsugaru-ben (Tsugaru dialect) which is said to sound like French. 

I knew one at university who was from Aomori and he always laughed at me as I couldn't understand what he was saying. I was always lost. But this is another story.

Anyway, Tsugaru shamisen is very dynamic. As I mentioned before, they play as if they are hitting the strings. And the music is getting faster and faster. I like its tension.


This is the traditional Tsugaru shamisen. "Jonkara Bushi"


Of course you can enjoy this way. It's beautiful. But I think if we change the aspect a little bit, we can extend the capability of shamisen.

This is Begin, a Japanese music group from Okinawa. There was a little Okinawa boom in Japan about 10 years ago and many musicians came out from this little neglected island of Japan. Finally, Okinawa received a spot light. They used traditional Okinawa sound into modern music and made this exotic sound which I like.

This song is "Sanshin no Hana", the flower of Sanshin. He sings about his grandfather's old sanshin that had been left. He picks it up and remembers his grandpa.


OK, I agree, this is still traditonal but softer.

So now listen to these guys. They are Yoshida brothers who are the revolutionists of Tsugaru shamisen. They have changed the aspect of shamisen by leaving the strength and dynamism of Tsugaru shamisen.

They are quite famous in the Western world and collaborate with many young artists. I'm sure many of you know them.


Another one.


This is a collaboration with Monkey Majik.


It's important to know the basic but as my calligraphy teacher always told me, to be free minded is even more important. It's a matter of how to express you and the rest, it's totally up to the audience to transmit.

Yeah to new traditional way?

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