Japanese folk music genre: Tsugaru-jamisen

The three types of Japanese traditional music are theatrical, instrumental, and court music. Each is uniquely exciting. These include Kabuki (歌舞伎) a type of Japanese dance drama, Noh ( 能)  another kind of theatrical music, and Jōruri (浄瑠璃) a form of  narrative music using the shamisen (三味線), a Japanese musical instrument with three strings and played with a straight wooden stick called a bachi. Tsugaru-jamisen is the newest genre of Japanese music using a shamisen. It is fast becoming a hit in Japan, even in modern Tokyo’s music scene.


Tsugaru-jamisen (津軽三味線), also known as Tsugaru-shamisen, originated in the northern most part of Honshū Island, Japan. This specific genre of Japanese folk music is played all over Japan but is particularly popular in Tsugaru, Aomori Prefecture.  The style of Tsugaru-jamisen is usually lively and fast paced, derived from another Japanese folk music style, min’yō (民謡) as performed by Japanese traveling performers. Performers known for playing Tsugaru-jamisen are Takahashi Chikuzan, Hiromitsu Agatsuma, the Yoshida Brothers, and the young duo Ki&Ki.

Tsugaru-jamisen recital. | 663highland

The shamisen of Tsugaru-jamisen is similar to a banjo or a guitar. Compared to a traditional shamisen, it is larger and sturdier, with thicker strings. This allows performers to be more assertive when playing the instrument to the point of attacking it with the bachi.  In effect, the music produced by Tsugaru-jamisen performers can be compared to rock and other forms of modern music. The instrument has a percussive quality that is easily recognized. The composition of Tsugaru-jamisen pieces are usually in primary divisions of three beats to the bar, but are not accentuated such as in Western music.

Tsugaru-jamisen is quickly gaining popularity due to the flexibility and music variations among performers, attracting followers of all ages. The range of musical output is limitless, from traditional to modern. Tsugari-jamisen will always have a repertoire that will fit even the most discriminate music lover.

A scene from the film “Tengu” where Takatora Kawamoto plays the Tsugaru Jamisen:

Click image or:  http://youtu.be/eAv1GXVJgxo