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Tsugaru Shamisen

ShamisenThe Shamisen is one of Japan's most representative instruments. Since the Edo period, Japanese have kept the Shamisen close to their hearts, near and dear and familiar. Shamisen have long been heard in various cultural venues, including the Kabuki and the Bunraku theaters, as a background instrument playing an important role in Geisha and Maiko song and dance performed in an O-Zashiki setting (high class entertainment venues for men). Shamisen also figures prominently in folk culture, Shamisen of Goze, and various festival settings, like Awa-Odori.
Though many people believe that the Shamisen is originally Japanese, in fact the instrument came to Japan from China by way of the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa) in the mid 16th century. The instrument gradually spread northward through the Japanese archipelago. Along the way it became important to the BiwaHoshi, a type of monk. The instrument evolved as it came into wider use, with various animal skins replacing the original materials used for the body of the instrument. Through the course of this evolution the instrument was adapted to traditional Japanese music, eventually becoming the instrument that we know today.

Types of Shamisen

Kodai FukuiThe Shamisen differ in the style of the neck. There are three types, thick, medium, and thin-neck. The thick-neck type is most commonly used in Tsugaru Shamisen and Gidayu, the medium-neck type is used in Jiuta and Minyo, and the thin-neck type is used in Nagauta and Hauta.
Though the different types are distinguished by the thickness of the neck there are actually other differences in the size of the body and the thickness of the strings between the three types. In the thick-neck type, not only is the neck thicker, the body and the strings are also thicker. In the medium-neck type, different sounds can be produced by altering the bridge and the style of pick (Bachi) used. Compared to the thick-neck type, the thin-neck type features thin body-skin, thin strings and is played with a thinner plectrum (bachi)
Due to the rich sound of the Shamisen it has come to be used in various genres of music.

About Tsugaru Shamisen

BachiThe style of shamisen used in Tsugaru Shamisen is the thick-neck type. Tsugaru Shaimsen is used to back folk singers and in improvisational performances. If you trace the history of the genre you will find that before it was called Tsugaru Shamisen it was referred to as "Bosama Shamisen" The term “Bosama” refers to traveling blind shamisen players who went door to door playing their music to handouts. In those days, they didn’t use the thick-neck type shamisen, only the thin-neck or medium-neck types are used to perform. The culture of Tsugaru Shamisen was born of the harsh climate and history of the northern tip of Japan.

There are two styles of Tsugaru Shamisen playing, “Tataki Shamisen or Tataki Bachi ” and “Hiki Shamisen or Hiki Bachi”. In Tataki Bachi , the strings are strummed fiercely, and in Hiki Bachi, the strings are plucked gently. Tsugaru Shamisen performances have a basic structure, however improvisation is often employed – depending on the personality of the performer, individual performances can differ greatly. At present, Tsugaru Shamisen is played with a variety of traditional Japanese or western instruments. There is no pause in the evolution of the instrument.