Experience Playing the “Shamisen” in Kagurazaka, Tokyo

The other day, while filming for our YouTube channel on the charming cobblestones of Kagurazaka, we unexpectedly encountered a courteous gentleman who greeted us in Arabic. To our surprise, as we proceeded with our filming, we coincidentally crossed paths with him again! He offered to teach us how to play the shamisen (Japanese lute) at an event space called Kagurazaka Commons 1st.
The gentleman we met was Mr. Yamamoto. He spoke to us in Arabic because he used to live in the Middle East on business. He works at Kagurazaka Commons 1st, an event space just off the main street in Kagurazaka, where he holds events and classes and shares information about the area.

Kagurazaka Commons 1st

Kagurazaka Commons 1st is an event space that functions as a vibrant hub for community development, people’s interaction, and the dissemination of information. At Kagurazaka Commons 1st, you can participate in various classes and workshops, including musical instruments, calligraphy, kintsugi, flower arrangement, and more.
When Mr. Yamamoto is available, he provides a 30-minute shamisen experience. It’s not that easy to find a place to casually drop by and get a hands-on experience like here.

Here you can get multi-language guide brochures of this area, too. I highly recommend getting a map of Kagurazaka, especially since limited maps available in English include the back streets and narrow lanes. If you are unsure where to go, don’t hesitate to seek advice from Mr. Yamamoto, a master of Kagurazaka.

Website: https://www.snponet.net/kagurazaka-commons/ (Japanese)
Twitter: https://twitter.com/commons1st (Japanese)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100090132015874 (Japanese)

Shamisen experience

Mr. Yamamoto pointed to a sign that read, “You can play ‘Sakura Sakura’ in 30 minutes,” saying, “Why don’t you experience playing the shamisen?” Due to our time schedule, he offered us a special 20-minute version of the shamisen experience!

The shamisen is a traditional Japanese musical instrument with three strings. It was originally introduced from China through the Kingdom of Ryukyu (now Okinawa Prefecture) and has been modified to suit Japanese music. Normally, it is played by plucking the strings with a “bachi,” similar to a pick used on a guitar. However, Mr. Yamamoto teaches a different style of shamisen playing using the nails (fingertips), producing a softer tone than with the bachi. The shamisen played with the nails is often played as an accompaniment to a short song called “ko-uta,” typically performed by geisha in Japanese-style banquet rooms called “ozashiki.”
On this occasion, Seika had the opportunity to practice “Sakura Sakura,” a well-known piece for the koto, a 13-stringed instrument.

Check out this video for Seika’s shamisen experience!

Both Seika and the shooting staff had a wonderful time learning from the kind and friendly Mr. Yamamoto! If you’re visiting the area, make sure to visit Kagurazaka Commons 1st. Mr. Yamamoto, an expert in Kagurazaka, will welcome you warmly with a smile.

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