A splendid performance, reminiscent of a raging blizzard.
Performed with a sense of speed, like hammering on the strings. Once heard, Tsugaru shamisen has the power to attract listeners with its distinctive, irresistible rhythms. Japan’s very own stringed instrument, the shamisen was originally made by stretching three strings across a square body. Its characteristic sound is produced by striking the strings with a trapezoidal plectrum known as a bachi. The shamisen style you might hear in Kyoto, for example, features a stately rhythm leaving an impression of grace and elegance. But the Tsugaru shamisen style is the complete opposite. It has a strength that calls to mind wild snowstorms, with a charming, agile rhythm.
The roots of Tsugaru shamisen lie in the journey of blind monks.
But how was this unique performance method born? Its roots lie in the blind monks who worked as entertainers. They traveled around, playing the shamisen for food and coins. Sometimes they would start impromptu street corner performance in front of houses, playing louder and louder in order to gather an audience. It’s said this is how this rough style of play began. By the mid-twentieth century Showa era, with the spread of TV the Tsugaru shamisen style became known across Japan, and now it enjoys broad popularity, recognized as having something in common with jazz and rock.
For live music that gives you goose bumps, head to an izakaya!
What’s the best way to hear a live Tsugaru shamisen performance? Of course, there are places such as the Tsugaru shamisen hall, but if you want to listen to the authentic living sound, it’s best to visit an izakaya (Japanese pub). One such izakaya is Aiya, where the owner is a Tsugaru shamisen player. Live performances are held there every night. It’s a lot of fun listening to Tsugaru shamisen while tasting the local cuisine and local sake of the Tsugaru region. Wrap a hokkamuri cloth around your head, just like the Aomori farmers do, and listen to original shamisen tunes at Aiya. It might give you goose bumps (jawameku in the Aomori dialect), but you’ll enjoy the vitality of the live music.
- 2-7-3 Tomita, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori-ken
- Opening hours
- 5 P.M. to 11 P.M.
- No regular days of closure
- Aomori Airport is a 50-minute flight from New Chitose Airport.
- Aomori Airport is a 105-minute flight from Osaka International (Itami) Airport.
- Hirosaki Station is 55 minutes by shuttle bus from Aomori Airport.
- Aiya is a 20-minute walk from Hirosaki Station.