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A picture is worth a thousand words! The experience ‘Shamisen of Nagauta’. It is punk and rock like!

March 23, 2017

 “Nagauta” is a traditional Japanese classic music performed with Shamisen(three-stringed lute),which was originally played for Kabuki performance.

I’m ashamed to say, I just assumed that ”the Nagauta or the Shamisen sound like old-fashioned and too formal..”. However, this traditional performance has been inherited since the Edo period,especially 19 century. Because I just had nothing but an image about Nagauta and Shamisen, it was such a waste not to experience it as a Japanese person.

 Then, Nyapan went to a distinctive building“Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center”, which is located across from “Kaminari-mon Gate” in a busy town with tourists”Asakusa”.

This center provides information to visitors and also holds some events so that you can have the opportunity to first-hand experience traditional Japanese culture.

And Nyapan tried to join the popular program ”Shamisen of Nagauta workshop”.The instructor is Chojuro Imafuji IV “Iemoto(grand master)” of Nagauta! She is a Nagauta Shamisen player and also a composer. She held a Nagauta Shamisen concert with co-performers on vocals, Japanese percussions and flute at Carnegie Hall in New York city last year(Sep.2016). The concert was a packed house, and won the highest praise from the audience in NY, which proves her prominent talent.So,it’s a rare opportunity to have a workshop from the beautiful and talented female Iemoto -grand master- for free. Many participants from some countries, such as Fiji, Thailand, China and Japan were in the venue.First of all, the Iemoto -grand master-wearing a lovely Kimono gave a helpful lecture about”Nagauta Shamisen”.

 Nagauta is a type of Shamisen music,which was developed for Kabuki, then apart from Kabuki, Nagauta established itself as an independent music genre. Nagauta consists of Japanese percussion and flute instruments,vocals and Shamisen(three strings lute).

Shamisen is a unique stringed instrument which combines elements of string and percussion instruments. The neck plays the strings section and part of the body plays the percussion section by using a “Bachi(plectrum)”. The strings are made of silk and require constant tuning while playing one song to prevent stretching,thus requiring sensitivity.The musical performance of vocals, percussions and Shamisen are conducted by a principal Shamisen player who is called”Tate jamisen”.After some lectures, a real Nagauta was played in front of us.While they played music, the principle sometimes shouts out like”ha” or “yo”, to make a harmony and the other players follow their tone like an orchestra.

It is amazingly cool. Furthermore, a principal’s slight signal makes the tune progress beautifully.Every participant was glued to the professional Nagauta performance!!

The commanding appearance of the Shamisen players wearing Kimono and playing only three strings fast-paced and perfectly,which is overwhelming. They pluck Shamisen strings, the drum players beat Japanese percussions and the vocalists sing with unconstrained voice. The sound of each part overlaps and makes a up gradually powerful vibration. It truly touches my heartstrings.“What is this shredding Shamisen!?” “Does it really have three strings?” “The deep sound of percussion uplifts my heart!”. We gave them a big round of applause.

After the performance, still having a ”Wow” feeling, it was our turn.Let’s try Shamisen! Shamisen was handed to each participant, and we had the grand-master and other professional players teach how to hold the “Bachi(plectrum)”. Bachi looks like a kind of rice spatula, but the way of holding it is completely different.Then we learned how to strike the strings with a plectrum.One of the important things to play is to produce a short sound with each stoke of the Bachi. It can't be dealt with easily.I was absorbed in practicing one phrase of a famous nursery song “Sakura Sakura “ and was dripping with sweat. I grappled with the difficult but interesting technique in a kind of trance…One hour went by so fast.“Nobody told us about such an outstanding part of Japanese culture so far!!” While I’m selfishly complaining… the beauty of Nagauta Shamisen is an eye-opener to me.This experience makes me want to know about Nagauta Shamisen more and more.The other participants from overseas were also touched by this program and said”This is a wonderful culture!!”. Own country’s culture is sometimes evaluated  by other nations,isn’t it? The darkest place is under the candlestick. Nyapan should learn more!

You can have opportunities to appreciate the Nagauta concert.The memorial concert for Chojuro Imafuji III as a national treasure who is a father of the grand master Imafuji IV is going to be held in Kabuki za theatre on May 28th.And this workshop might be held  now and then. Check them out on the website!

◆ARTS COUNCIL TOKYO 

◆Chojuro Imafuji IV “Iemoto(grand master) HP 

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