The beguiling history of the Shamisen music.
The beginning of the Shamisen.
In the Heian period （平安時代）, nobles appreciated Gagaku（雅楽）.
This is a music offering for Gods at palaces and shrines.）.
In the Kamakura period （鎌倉時代）, samurai appreciated Heike-Biwa（平家琵琶）, This is an unique musical instrument, the Japanese lute.
Samurai also appreciated Noh play（能楽）since the Muromachi period （室町時代）.
And civilians enjoyed Japanese flutes and Japanese percussion.
In the Muromachi period （室町時代）, Japan imported guns and introduced Christianity, and also imported musical instruments that were the original form of the Shamisen （三味線）at the Sakai Port in Ōsaka. It was called Sanshin（三線）, and it came from Ryūkyū (琉球、Okinawa 沖縄). The body was made of python skins and it had three strings.
By using skins of pythons, the Sanshin's body broke easily, and additionally, python skins were not possible to find in Japan, so the new Shamisen was made using cat skins and dog skins.
To begin with, the Biwa-Hōshi（琵琶法師）, blind men who dress in robes like priests, who are street musicians and entertainers, had to learn to play this new Shamisen music.
There are two genres of Shamisen music.
One is called Utai-mono, Jiuta（歌い物,地歌）, it is the music of mainly songs and tunes. This type of new music was popular for civilians in this age.
Another one is called Katari-mono, Jōruri-mono（語り物, 浄瑠璃物）, it is the music used for telling dramatic stories, Heike-Monogatari（平家物語）. It is the story of the rising and falling of the age of Heike （平家）, they lived during the end of the Heian period（平安時代）and came into the power at this age.
Popularity in Edo.
In the Edo period （江戸時代）, the Biwa-Hōshi（琵琶法師）had been making their own music groups in the Muromachi period （室町時代）, they were protected officially by the Tokugawa government （徳川幕府）. They made their own individual music groups.
Their works were splendid.
They also played the Koto （箏）, Shamisen and Chinese violin, Kokyū（胡弓）from China.
They played and taught music at many houses of the Japanese feudal lords and merchants, and played many musical instruments at play houses and red-light districts in civilian society.
Civilians were very interested in the sound of this music. They soon learned how to play this type of music, in particularly the Shamisen was very popular with civilians because it was light and convenient to bring with them.
Shamisen music soon started to become connected with Theatre and Dancing, and of course with domestic music and Ozashiki music, played in tatami rooms.
The evolution of Shamisen music.
Traditional Bunraku puppet show.
Biwa-Hōshi（琵琶法師）made two genres of Shamisen music.
One is called Utai-mono, Jiuta（歌い物,地歌）, it joins songs that were popular in this age and it became expressive music, and it was called Nagauta（長歌）.
A variation is called Hauta（端歌）, it expresses stylish lyrics.
And it used a new skill, Aino-te （合いの手）, the empty moment between one musical phrase and an other musical phrase, the musician makes an oral sound, for example, "Ha", "U" or "Ya" and inserts technical sounds in it. It leads the rhythm.
The other one is Katari-mono, Jōruri-mono（語り物, 浄瑠璃物）, it was connected with the Puppet show, Bunraku（人形浄瑠璃、文楽). The singers were independent, as a soloist and a story teller, Tayū（太夫）.
Each characteristic new Bunraku was born through the telling of stories in Tayū in Edo, Ōsaka and Kyoto
Later Tayū also played at Kabuki theaters and entertained only their own concerts, Uta-jõruri（歌浄瑠璃）.
As Takemoto-Gidayū（竹本義太夫）appeared in Ōsaka and at the same time, Chikamatsu-Monzaemon（近松門左衛門）, a dramatist, worked with him.
Their entertainments were so popular that their works, called Gidayū-bushi（義太夫節）became a synonym for "Bunraku".
Ichū-bushi（一中節）and Bungo-bushi （豊後節）were born from Uta-jõruri and Tokiwazu-bushi （常磐津節）and Kiyomoto-bushi（清元節） were born from Bungo-bushi.
The unique structure of the Shamisen.
In the Edo period, Shamisen use spread quickly among civilians. It fascinated people. And then, people made many different kinds of shamisen, that depended on the way sounds expressed the melody and the situation, for example poetical and humorous feeling.
Japanese people have really sensitive and detailed hearing.
There is a big difference between European musical instruments and Japanese musical instruments. Every shamisen is different in the style, the size, the thickness of the rod,（Sao,棹）, the stretch of the skin of body, the thickness of the strings, the shape of the piece,（Koma,駒 ）, the shape of the plectrum, （Bachi ,撥）and so on for each item.
Generally, the Shamisen is divided into three kinds. It depends on the thickness, Hutozao（太棹）, Tyūzao（中棹）, Hosozao（細棹）.
"Hutozao" is used for Gidayū,-bushi（義太夫節）, the sound is very strong and deep sound.
"Tyūzao" is used for accompanying dance Jiuta （地歌）in Ōsaka and Kyoto, and Tokiwazu-bushi（常磐津節）, Kiyomoto-bushi（清元節）.
"Hosozao"is used for Nagauta（長唄）, Hauta（端唄） in Edo, Kouta（小唄）, Kantō-bushi（河東節）and Ogie-bushi（荻江節）.
The musical instrument that Geishas play at Gion in Kyoto, is the Kyō-shamisen（京三味線）. The rod is thicker than the Hosozao and the pick is a small one like the Biwa-Hōshi used.
Shamisen in Kabuki.
Now I'd like to explain about the Shamisen as the incidental music of Kabuki.
In the beginning Kabuki dancing was started by Izumo-no-Okuni（出雲阿国）, she was a founder of Kabuki dance at Sijōgawara in Kyoto in 1603. And later female dancers performed Kabuki dance.
At the time, the musical instruments used were the Japanese flute and drums.
In 1629, Yarō-Kabuki （野郎歌舞伎） started, and the entertainers transformed from women, to only men.
The Shamisen was used as the main musical instruments for the dance. In this period, formally Blind musicians; Biwa-Hōshi used to be the teachers of the Shamisen, but gradually, the playrers of the Shamisen became independent from them and started to be soloist musicians of Nagauta.
During the latter part of the 18th centry, Edo civilian's culture was in full flourish at the time, Kamigada（上方）; Ōsaka, and Kyoto civilian's culture were decreasing because of the Edo government constricting civilian's cultural lives.
Then many male Kabuki actors who performed as women in the popular play; Oyama（女形） and the Shamisen, Japanese flute and drums musicians in Kamigata, were coming down to Edo. They played active parts in the culture of Edo. Nagauta was in an impregnable position in Kabuki plays as the incidental music.
Shamisen in Japanese dance.
The Nagauta style established was on the stage. It is the same style on the stage of Nihon-Buyō （日本舞踊）, Japanese Dance.
These Nagauta players sit behind the back of the stage. They sit on the top of a red carpet.
The Shamisen players don't read music on the stage, but the singers put a music stand in front of themselves.This style is different between Japanese dance and Ballet or Opera.
Ballet and Opera have the orchestra put into an orchestra box like a hole in the front of the stage.
The Shamisen players are numbered in order using a special suffix, Nan-Chō（何挺）and for the number of the singers, Nan-Mai（何枚）is used.
In addition, the Japanese flute and drums players sit with them. Some of them sit under the red carpet, and others play behind the stage.
Shamisen continued to evolve.
"Momiji-Gari（紅葉狩）" is joint Nagauta（長唄）, Tokiwazu-bushi（常磐津節） and Gidayū（義太夫）music.
At the time of Bunka-Bunsei（文化文政期,1804~1830）in the Edo period, a new style of Shamisen entertainment was born. It is called Kakeai（掛合）, and involves different kinds of the Shamisen players and singers playing in unison. This was because the civilian's culture had mellowed and people required unprecedented and florid music in this time. This style of music filled that request and desire.
In particularly, during the performance of Kabuki, the actors change their costumes quickly on the stage. This dramatic style, with the exciting joint music between Nagauta and Jōruri was very satisfied to audience and became very popular.
The left slideshow:
Kawatake Mokuami（河竹黙阿弥）is a famous writer in the Edo period. He used many different kinds of the Jōruri（浄瑠璃）, Kiyomoto-bushi, Tokiwazu-bushi,Yomimoto-bushi and Nagauta. And these works are unprecedented and florid music. One of his works is "Sannin-Kichisa-Kuruwa-no-Hatsukai（三人吉三郭初買）".
Shamisen with emotional dance in Kyoto.
The Kamigata-Mai（上方舞）, is a popular form of Japanese classical dace in mainly, Kyoto and Ōsaka. It is performed with Jiuta（地歌）.
The players of Jiuta（地歌） don't sit in the same way as the Nagauta players. They sit on a red carpet on the stage directly, without a high stand like Nagauta players.
This dance is always played with Jiuta, but sometimes accompanied with the Chinese violin, Kokyū（胡弓）. This melody is often emotional.
Basically, the Kamigata-Mai is performed in a tatami room, there is a folding screen, Byõbu（屏風）behind the players, and candles on both sides of the stage. And there are many melodies which describe a woman's deep feeling and emotion. The audience can see her heart's longing for her love through dance.
The dance has a different style and atmosphere to the Edo dance.
Someday please enjoy this dance.
Shamisen music composition.
Japanese compositions are composed of three principles: Jo（序） , Ha（破）, Kyū（急）since Gagaku（雅楽) performed during the Heian period.
It is similar to the way writing is composed of four elements: Ki（起）,Shō（承）,Ten（転）,Ketsu（結）.
Jo（序） is a preface, an introduction of the composition. It goes slowly. The characters are introduced.
Ha（破）is gathering and matching the tempo of the music and performance. It is dramatic, changeable in various ways. Women and men describe their emotions through mainly dance.
Kyū（急）is the climax and the end of the performance. It is played rapidly and lightly.
Nagauta is the main musical form used in Kabuki. It is very popular with Shamisen players.
On the left side, these photos are based on "Kyōganoko-Musume-Dōjōji"（京鹿子娘道成寺）".
Below is an example of Nagauta being played.
Tokiwazu （常磐津）Shamisen music
Tokiwazu-bushi（常磐津節） is a kind of Jōrurimono: Jōruri music.
It was born from Bungo-bushi（豊後節） in 1742, the founder is Tokiwazu Mojidayū（常磐津文字太夫,1709-1781）. It was the creation of a new form of music which was based on Bungo-bushi, and altered to fit with the Edo culture, as Bungo-bushi had been prohibited by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Then, it developed with Edo Kabuki that had reached its golden years.
At present, Tokiwazu-bushi is essential music for the section of the musical performances, in Kabuki and dance drama.
The left slideshow : Famous performances of Tokiwazu-bushi.
Kiyomoto （清元）Shamisen music
Kiyomoto-bushi is generally abbreviated as "Kiyomoto." The basis of Kiyomoto is "Tomimoto-bushi," a school of Joruri which emerged from "Bungo-bushi." Kiyomoto Enjudayu 1st became independent from Tomimoto-bushi, and founded Kiyomoto-bushi.
Kiyomoto does Degatari (onstage performance) as the accompaniment for Kabuki Buyo or as "Yosogoto-joruri." Yosogoto-joruri is Joruri played in settings of situations that Joruri practice or concert in a neighboring room or nearby house is heard.
Kiyomoto-bushi performances are done by the person called Tayu, who is responsible for reciting, and Shamisenkata (shamisen players). The shamisen used are chuzao, the same as for Tokiwazu. The distinction of Kiyomoto is that words and sentences full of emotion are skillfully recited in very high-pitched tones.
Yamatogaku (大和楽) Shamisen music
This is an example of Yamatogaku music accompanying traditional Kabuki dance.
There have been many attempts to modernize Japanese music as with the experiments with combining orchestra and shamisen or using traditional instruments, but the most sustained effort to develop music from within the traditional world is with Yamatogaku. Yamatogaku began with Okura Kishichiro (1882 - 1963), a wealthy businessman who was also an accomplished musician, Kishigami Kimi (1897 - 1964), a famous singer in Yose variety theaters and Mishima Reiko (later known as Yamato Miyoki) (1905 - 1988). Yamatogaku took Itchu Bushi as the basis for its singing style, combined with some of the strong points of Kato Bushi and Miyazono Bushi. There are also aspects of Western music, for example the use of singing in harmony in certain sections.
One of the most significant features of yamatogaku is the blending of the traditional Japanese instruments - shamisen, koto and tsuzumi - with western vocalizations, harmonies, rounds and humming. Whereas male voices dominate in classical Japanese music such as nagauta, yamatogaku features mainly female singers who can create a gorgeous harmony, offering additional layers of emotion, beauty and delicacy. The fact that yamatogaku pieces are written for primarily female vocalists is unique compared to traditional Japanese music forms.
The music is stunningly complimented by traditional Japanese dance choreographed to complete the visual element of this unique sensual collaboration.
Yamatogaku inspired traditional Japanese music with new freedom and tonal variations that had never been experienced before.