Photo by Takahashi Noboru
Their hair is dyed brown, a contrast to the traditional clothes they wear on stage when playing the tsugaru-jamisen. Their energetic music has earned them many young fans in Japan. The name of this duo is the Yoshida Kyodai. One meaning of kyodai is "brothers," and indeed they are brothers Yoshida Ryoichiro, 25, and Yoshida Ken-ichi, 22.
They play the shamisen, an ancient 3-stringed, lute-like instrument. The type they play is called a tsugaru-jamisen, which was developed in the snow country of northern Honshu. Compared to the regular shamisen, the tsugaru-jamisen has a thicker fingerboard and the strings are plucked with a larger plectrum. Players are known for their inspired improvisation.
"Sometimes we are accompanied by other types of instruments, like Japanese drums or percussion instruments from Peru, and we use rhythms you wouldn't hear in traditional Japanese folksongs. That's why our music is often labeled unorthodox, even more so than that of other tsugaru-jamisen players. We're carrying on the old traditions, but if we don't introduce new elements, young people will not be interested in our music. And our audience certainly likes what we do."
Both brothers began learning the shamisen when they were 5. The older one, Ryoichiro, says, "Dad wanted to become a tsugaru-jamisen player, and he suggested we learn it. Our first teacher was a shamisen player in Hokkaido, where we were born." Before long they were turning into virtuosos, each in their own way, and by the time they were in junior and senior high school they were acclaimed as the best tsugaru-jamisen players in Hokkaido.
Although they were brothers and this was part of their fame, they performed separately for three years. Then they joined forces in 1999, called themselves the Yoshida Kyodai, and put out their first CD, Ibuki. This was followed by MOVE, then Soulful. In 2001, they won "Album of the Year" in the traditional Japanese music category at the 15th Japan Gold Disc awards. This is just one example of the acclaim they have earned for their original musical style.
"We perform 10 times a month on average 120 to 130 times a year, all over Japan. You'll see all age groups in the audience. Our first overseas concert after our CD debut was in France, in August 2002. We feel comfortable playing for non-Japanese people, because they think of our music as a new experience to enjoy.
"Our hopes for the future? To be accepted even more in Japan, and to perform often in other countries, including the United States."