The Shamisen: Tradition and Diversity

Author: Henry Johnson
The shamisen is a traditional Japanese musical instrument. It was introduced to Japan in the mid-sixteenth century via China and the Ryûkyû Islands, and was quickly established as a culturally significant musical instrument in its new context. The instrument – a three-string lute – developed numerous styles of performance and is found as a solo and ensemble instrument in diverse social and cultural contexts. The shamisen is known as an instrument of geisha in the entertainment districts; it is used in kabuki and bunraku theatre; and also has an established place within a wide-range of performance traditions, many of which are depicted in woodblock prints and other art depicting everyday life of the Edo period.
This book, which is based on the author’s field research in Japan, is a history of the shamisen. It locates the instrument within its various social and cultural contexts, and includes accompanying illustrations (e.g., woodblock prints, photographs and illustrations) to help show visually the place of the instrument in traditional and modern Japan.

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"Drawing on a diverse range of primary and secondary sources, Johnson has clearly conducted a great deal of research on practically all aspects of the shamisen. He meticulously documents the manufacturing process and component parts, accessories, grades, scales and tuning, playing techniques, and notation systems of the shamisen while also including discussion on the organology and ehnography of the instrument...The depth and tremendous detail in the information, images and diagrams presented ensures that [this book] is a fundamental contribution to the literature on the shamisen in English. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the shamisen or more broadly, in Japanese music and culture."
Catherine Hallett, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 15.1 (June 2013)