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Tsugaru Shamisen

What's Tsugaru Shamisen? (2)


The home of author Osamu Dazai in Tsugaru.

There's a tradition in Tsugaru for wandering artists to perform in front of people's houses - singing folk songs and playing the shamisen - for some small change or food. This is thought to be how the tsugaru shamisen style came into being.

Until around the middle of the nineteenth century, tsugaru shamisen was used simply to provide background music to folk singers. But from the beginning of the Meiji era (1868-1912), it came to be appreciated on its own, and people began performing it as a solo instrument or in an ensemble. Virtuosos appeared who came up with new techniques and elevated the playing style to an art form. The tsugaru shamisen has a bluesy tone, and its powerful sound is like the howling of one's soul. This may be a natural expression of the strength people acquired in learning to survive the harsh climate of the Tsugaru region.


The three strings are plucked with a plectrum known as a bachi

By the 1960s, tsugaru shamisen came to be recognized around the world as a uniquely Japanese style of music. And from around 1970 many players began holding concerts overseas, and tsugaru shamisen gained a global following. It's attracting not only a lot of young people who are enthusiastic about playing but also a much broader audience who enjoy just listening to it.


The number of pro shamisen players is increasing.

Click the link below to download a music file for a sample of the dynamic and rhythmic sounds of the tsugaru shamisen.

Tsugaru shamisen ensemble (MP3_1MB)