TOKYO Teshigoto

Make and play a shamisen at a Shamisen Kit Class.

Workshop Experience

●Contents:Instruction on how to make a kit shamisen(“shojamichinton”)
Measurements: Total length =71cm; Head = 20cm; Body = 15cm. Width: Body =3.6cm.
●To Participate :7,700 yen (includes tax and material costs)
●Time required:Around 30minutes (It may take a little longer for glue to dry)
●Booking method: Please supply 1.Contact details;  2.Desired dateand time
for the class;  3. Number of participants, to:
TEL : 03(3696)5501  / FAX : 03(3696)0890 / E-mail :
●Also: For classes on making full size shamisen, please consult the homepage.

Ms Suzuki experiences assembling a shamisen

After a short time, it is possible to make and play a shamisen!?

When imagining shamisen, there is a tendency to see them as an elite instrument in a world of traditional arts. However in the Edo Period (1603-1868), shamisen were in fact popular instruments played by ordinary people. If someone began to play one, they often became an accompaniment to song contests between friends. The classes offered here are an introduction to the instrument through an especially developed, accessible version: the “Shojamichinton”. That after just thirty minutes assembly time the participant is able to play a song from the score included within the kit, is bound to satisfy a beginner. Here Ms Suzuki, someone with limited experience of “playing violin as a child” joined one of the classes. She was interested both by the shamisen’s unique sound, and its structure.

Begin by checking the contents of the kit

The “Shojamichinton” assembled here is a purpose developed mini-shamisen aimed at beginners. At 71cm the total length is compact, and rather than animal skin, the body of the instrument is covered with a synthetic sheet. Made from strong materials, it is easy to handle. To begin making the shamisen, it is first necessary to check the contents of the kit, which should be:
1. Neck; 2. Rod; 3. Body; 4. Pegs (x3); 5. Bridge; 6. Strings (x3); Notation marks; 8. Sandpaper; 9. Glue; 10. Instruction booklet; 11. Musical Score (for Sakura sakura).

As the instruction booklet explains things clearly, it is possible to assemble the instrument at home. A class setting has the advantage of instruction as the shamisen is put together, and when playing it for the first time.

Glue the neck to the rod

The first step in making the instrument is to glue the neck (the sao) to the rod (the nakagi). Spreading the glue evenly across the surface with a finger will allow the two parts to fit together neatly. If glue spreads outside of the section to be affixed, then it is best to wipe it off. The next action is to wait until it dries.

Push the rod into the body

Once the neck is glued in place, it is then necessary to insert the rod into the body of the instrument. If the body is a plain type then it is fine to insert the rod from either side, but if has a picture design then the upper section of the picture should point toward the neck. The rod does not require glue to hold it in the body, as it will be kept in place by the strings to be added later.

Affix the pegs to the neck

The next step is to attach the pegs to the neck of the instrument. Each peg has a colour mark at its thin end in blue, red or yellow. Matching colour marks can be found on the neck, and the pegs should be inserted to fit these locations.

Attach three strings

Thread the strings from below through the holes at the base of the rod. The strings are in three colours and widths: a thick blue, a medium size yellow, and a thin red. To prevent the strings from coming loose they should be tied in two knots at the end.

Roll the strings onto the pegs

Take each string through the hole on the peg of matching colour. Once inserted through the hole, tie a knot in the string to prevent it coming loose. After the strings are in place roll the first string (blue) on the left, the second string (yellow) in the middle and the third string (red) on the right. Finally, lift the three strings together and insert the bridge. This should lift them to a height of around 4.5cm from the base of the body. Arrange the strings so that they are roughly equidistant. The instrument is now complete.

Tune to “ni agari”

The included musical score is for “Sakura sakura”. In the score it displays which string should be pressed at which location, but while practicing to master this, it is useful to affix the notation marks to the neck. Once the marks are stuck in place, the next step is to tune the instrument. Shamisen typically have three tuning schemes: “honchoshi”, “ni agari” and “san sagari”. “Sakura sakura” in this case uses the “ni agari” tuning. From the first string in order, match them to So, Re, So. The third string is an octave above the first string. It is not always necessary to precisely match the strings to the scale, so long as they fit the pitch of the singer’s voice.

Play “Sakura sakura”

Once the instrument is tuned, it is time for the first performance. Ms Suzuki began gingerly, consulting the musical score against the notation marks on the instrument. However, on the second and third attempt, a noticeable smile came to her lips as she made quick improvement. With a little bit of practice she would surely be ready for public performance. For those interested in attempting other musical scores, Sangenshi Kikuoka have many at the ready for participants in the classes, and so it is worth requesting them. They will also help if you break a string! Taking part in a shamisen kit class is a great entry point to the world of Japanese instrumentation.

The instructor at today’s class, Mr Kono of Sangenshi Kikuoka

The entrance to Sangenshi Kikuoka is marked by its distinctive sign

A range of shamisen with colourful Japanese print designs is also offered. If
potential participants prefer this series to the kit shamisen described here,
then please mention it when making a booking. Please be aware however,
that costs may vary.

●Business name: Sangenshi Kikuoka
●Address: 1-7-2 Higashiyotsugi, Katsushika-ku, Tōkyō-to
●Opening times: 10:00 – 17:00
●Workshop closed: Sundays, public holidays
●Access:8 minutes walk from Yotsugi station on the Keisei Oshiage Line