Victor has always been in love with music. So much that he went to a music school and dedicated himself to playing guitar all day instead of picking up girls at a bar like normal Danish boy.
He met Shamisen (三味線) in 2014, after having watched videos on YouTube, when he took a lesson during his first visit to Japan. As he now lives in Japan, he is cheating on his guitar and taking a weekly Shamisen lesson with Makoto-san, a lovely Japanese woman with a cute smile and magical hands that bring out the most beautiful notes Shamisen can make. Those who are interested in Japanese music or Japan in general, we recommend to try playing Shamisen! As we say “no music, no life”, there is no Japanese life without Japanese music. If you’re interested in learning more about Shamisen and traditional Japanese music, visit Makoto’s website:
So, what exactly is Shamisen? Shamisen is a three-stringed instrument which looks a bit like a guitar. It derives from a Chinese Sanxian and plays an important role in Nagauta, a style of traditional Japanese music, that typically accompanies Kabuki theater. Sadly, Shamisen and Nagauta in general are dying because people are more and more attracted to something newer such as a guitar and there are less Nagauta performers. Kind of weird that the government and its citizens do not try harder to preserve its own beautiful traditions and cultures when those “outdated” things are the crucial part of what makes Japan attractive. If we all strive to be namely a “modern country” which is basically a western country, there will be no diversity in the near future. Each country should make its progress in its own way, ESPECIALLY for the sake of travel lovers like us so our world will always be beautifully diverse.
Anyway, what surprises me about Shamisen is its use of dog skin. Yes, DOG SKIN! It crushes my heart to think that my dearest Tono-chan’s friends are being used for Shamisen.
These days, the dogs are apparently mostly imported from some Asian countries. Makoto-san says that they are specifically raised for Shamisen because their skin must be intact, meaning that the dog from a shelter cannot be used since their skin are most likely to be unsuitable after living as a stray dog. A Shamisen seller told us that they used to buy dogs from shelters in Japan, but as the number of dogs in shelters decreases, it has become hard to get enough skin in Japan and therefore they have started to import from other Asian countries. The seller did not know if those dogs are raised specifically for Shamisen or from shelters and if the skinned dogs are eaten or just thrown away. I hope that they are gratefully eaten.
Makoto-san and the Shamisen seller have also told us that cats are also used but just more expensive and that Kangaroos are starting to be used for Shamisen because they are considered vermin in Australia, though I think they are pretty cute. According to Makoto-san, her friend had been working on inventing an artificial skin which works exactly the same as dog skin, but he passed away before finishing his work. I have seen on the Internet that recent artificial skins work just as fine, but well, the Internet is the Internet, so I don’t know. Using dog skin is expensive for Shamisen performers and I think it is degrading dogs if those dogs are raised just for Shamisen and their skinned bodies are just thrown away. Hopefully, the sophisticated artificial skins will be mainstream pretty soon for the sake of poor Shamisen performers and Shamisen dogs.
Putting that serious talk aside, there is also a Taiko(太鼓) and Kotsuzumi (小鼓) lesson once a month at Makoto-san’s. I joined the lesson for the first time with Victor.
I preferred Taiko because holding Kotsuzumi on my shoulder is quite hard for my little arms. Playing Taiko is surprisingly difficult though performers make it look super easy.
Victor has taught me how to play Shamisen as well, but it is hard for impatient Aimu to look at the notation, which I have no clue how to read, and try to memorize different finger positions.
We can probably play a duet one day… Someday before I die…