NAOKI ATKINS WITH THE Tsugaru Shamisen

    
     Hi, my name is Naoki Atkins and I'm 14 years old, live in Orange County, California. I like to play the Tsugaru Shamisen, and enjoy playing in front of an audience. When I was 9 years old, I saw and heard the Tsugaru Shamisen at my grandparentsí house in Japan for the first time. I was attracted by its sound. At age 10, during staying in Kumamoto, Japan for one year, I learned the instrument from the leader of Chikuhou-kai. My first performance was 2 months after starting, and l just loved it! Since then, I have been performing various places in Japan and in America. I love to go back to Japan every summer because I can get some lessons. Since I donít have any instructors here, I practice by myself. Hopefully I can entertain as many people as possible to share this dynamic and cool sound.

WHAT IS A SHAMISEN??

The Shamisen is one of the representative Japanese instruments, and has been around for a long time. It first came to Japan from China by way of Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa) in the mid of 16th century. People in Japan began developing their own way of playing it, such as the use of the bachi. It was used as background music for Kabuki theater, and for Maiko or Geisha in O-Zashiki setting (high class entertainment venues for men). Shamisen also used for the folk songs and various festival settings, like Awa-Odori.

The Shamisen is basically made up of the body and neck. There are three main types of Shamisen, differentiated by the thickness of the neck. The thick-neck, or futozao, produces a booming, powerful sound, while the thin-neck, hosozao, has a very gentle and delicate sound.

The Tsugaru Shamisen is a thick-neck shamisen, and was initially used by wandering blind artists who would perform in front of people's houses to earn a living, especially in the Tsugaru region in Aomori Prefecture. In those days, the performers used the smaller sized shamisen. Later, however, to entertain a larger audience like in festival, they started using the bigger sized shamisen.

At present, the Tsugaru Shamisen is no longer used only for background music. You see it by itself, or with other traditional Japanese instruments or western instruments as well.