Shamisen is one of most important instruments in Japan. It comes in many types and forms, but the particular ones that evolved in Edo is called the “Tokyo Shamisen”. We had a chance to talk to Mr. Masanari Mukouyama, who is a certified traditional craftsman.
It is said the original Shamisen first derived from China to Ryukyu (known as Okinawa now). It gradually paved its way to the mainland of Japan around the end of Muromachi Era (1558~1570). In 1990, Tokyo officially named its Shamisen “Tokyo Shamisen” and it is manufactured in areas like Chuou-ward, Taito-ward, and Toshima-ward.
“The wood used to make Shamisen is very stiff and hard to carve. That’s why we start our craftsman career by making chopsticks. It helps us get used to the stiffness of the wood.“
“You can practice with the Shamisen sold at department stores, but the wood they use are pretty soft, causing the neck of the Shamisen to erode pretty fast. That’s why we use the stiff ones.”
Mr. Masanari Mukouyama of Mukouyama Instruments states the importance of using stiff wood. He is the 2nd generation owner of Mukouyama Instruments and has been creating Shamisen since he was 18.
The chance to actually see Shamisen in our everyday lives is decreasing rapidly. Mr. Mukouyama started his own class where the students can actually experience crafting the chopsticks to spread the Shamisen culture. He says local children and people all over the world interested in Shamisen are the main participants.
“Back then, we were able to get quality rosewood from Southeast Asia. But those trees are gone now. The afforested, planted tree rings are too straight to use as a Shamisen, and it’s becoming more difficult to get ahold of the ingredients nowadays. We are using life to create this instrument and I don’t want to waste one bit of it. With that in mind, I’m grateful for the life being used and willing to create the best Shamisen out of it.”
He said with a very serious tone. We spotted a lot of vintage Shamisen at the shop. He taught us that some of the oldest ones from Edo Period are still playable, and it made us realize how much passion and skill was passed on throughout the years. The beauty of Shamisen culture still lives in Tokyo, and you can experience that at Mukouyama Instruments.