The Tsugaru-jamisen: Its Origins, Construction, and Music


#1

This is the abstract and table of contents for my 2005 Master’s thesis “The Tsugaru-jamisen: Its Origins, Construction, and Music”.

For copyright reasons, we can’t post the thesis here, but if you are interested in reading more than what is posted below, just send me a mail, and give me an email address, and I’ll send you the thesis as an 8MB PDF file.

Abstract

The focus of this study is the Tsugaru-jamisen, a term that refers both to an instrument and the musical genre in which it is used. The shamisen is a Japanese three-stringed, plucked spike lute that arrived from China, via Okinawa, in the sixteenth century, and became an important instrument in both art and folk musics. Tsugaru-jamisen music is a folk genre with origins in the late nineteenth century.

Blind itinerant musicians in the Tsugaru district (present day northwest Aomori Prefecture) created this distinct percussive style of shamisen playing, which was further developed by both blind and sighted players as an accompaniment to folk songs of the region. In time, instrumental versions of the songs (known as kyokubiki – literally “playing a piece”) evolved into forms that allowed for improvisation.

Tsugaru-jamisen is one of the very few genres of traditional Japanese music that has continued to be self-consciously developed in the modern period. Even the genre of min’you (folk song) from which it arose has followed pre-modern urban genres like nagauta or jiuta along the route of classicization. While experimentation, when it occurs at all in these classicized musics, is relegated to the periphery, it is still considered a key concept in Tsugaru-jamisen.

Both the physical instrument and the musical genre are known as Tsugaru-jamisen, and I will consider both aspects in this thesis. I begin by tracing the path of the plucked spike lute from west Asia, where it originated but is no longer widely used, to China and Japan where it remains an important part of their traditional music cultures. I then give a detailed organological account of the shamisen used in various traditional music genres today.

Following this I briefly consider the history and musical characteristics of the art music shamisen genres that preceded the Tsugaru-jamisen as preparation for the next section, a slightly more detailed description of the history and musical development of the Tsugaru-jamisen itself. As this aspect of my subject has been covered in some depth in English, I give little more than an outline of the history, but look in more detail at methods of transmission, a subject that has received less attention.

In the final chapter I give a general analysis of the compositional and improvisational form known as kyokubiki (an instrumental piece based on one of a number of specific canonical songs), which has come to play a central role in Tsugaru-jamisen music since the last half of the twentieth century.

Table of Contents

Abstract…………….………………………………………………………………. ii
Acknowledgements……………………………………………………………………iii
Table of Contents…………….……………………………………………………… iv
Illustrations and Figures………………………………………………………………. vii
CD Track Listings…………………………………………………………………. viii
Introduction………………………….………………………………………………. 1
Sources……………………………………………………………………. 2
Literature Review……………………………………………………………. 2
Rationale and Significance……………………….…………………………. 3
Scope and Limitations………………………………………………………. 4
Chapter Breakdown………………………….……………………………… 4

Chapter 1: Lute History……………………….……………………………… 6
The lute family………………………………………………………………. 6
The origin of the lute ……………………………………………………… 6
Early lute construction ……………………………………………………. 7
Necked lutes ………………………………………………………………. 8
Long necked lutes of west and central Asia ………………………………. 10
Bowed lutes of west and central Asia ……………………………………… 11
Bowed and plucked Lutes in China ………………………………………… 11
The Chinese sanxian………………………………………………………. 13
The Okinawan sanshin……………………………………………………… 14
The Japanese shamisen……………………………………………………. 15

Chapter 2: Organology………………………………….……………………… 17
Introduction………………………………………………………………… 17
Production and distribution………………………………………………… 17
Tenjin………………………………………………………………………. 18
sawari………………………………………………………………. 20
zagane……………………………………………………………… 21
itomaki……………………………………………………………… 21
kamigoma…………………………………………………………… 22
tsukigata…………………………………………………………… 22
Sao…………………………………………………………………………. 23
Dou………………………………………………………………………… 25
kawa………………………………………………………………… 25
strings………………………………………………………………. 28
koma………………………………………………………………. 29
neo…………………………………………………………………. 31
Bachi………………………………………………………………………. 32
Accessories………………………………………………………………… 36
Recent innovations…………………………………………………………. 38

Chapter 3: Historical and Musical Development………………………………39
Shamisen Art Music Genres…………………………………………………39
Tonal system ………………………………………………………. 40
Tunings ……………………………………………………………. 41
Rhythm……………………………………………………………… 41
Form ………………………………………………………………… 41
Melodic patterns…………………………………………………… 41
Playing techniques…………………………………………………. 42
Tsugaru-jamisen playing techniques ……………………………… 45
The History of the Tsugaru-jamisen………………………………………. 47
Origins……………………………………………………………… 47
Twentieth century…………………………………………………… 48
Tsugaru-jamisen contests…………………………………………… 49
Musical development ……………………………………………… 49
Tsugaru folk songs ………………………………… ……………… 50
Tsugaru Jonkara Bushi……………………………………………. 50
Kyokubiki versions ………………………………………………… 51
A recent trend……………………………………………………… 53
Methods of Transmission…………………………………………………… 53
Bousama transmission ……………………………………………… 53
The iemoto system…………………………………………………. 54
Transmission in the iemoto system………………………………… 55
Self-study methods………………………………………………….56
Notation …………………………………………………………… 57
Bunkafu notation…………………………………………………… 58
Shouga……………………………………………………………… 61

Chapter 4: Tsugaru Jonkara Bushi Kyokubiki Analysis………………………62
General Musical Characteristics of the Jonkara Kyokubiki Style ………… 62
Sound………………………………………………………………. 62
Tonal Material……………………………………………………… 63
Time………………………………………………………………… 67
Form………………………………………………………………… 68

Score Analysis……………………………………………………………… 70
i. Rokudan, Kinoshita and Kametani ……………………………. 70
ii. Kyokubiki: Jonkara Renshuukyoku 1, Kametani………………. 73
iii. Kyokubiki: Tsugaru Jonkara Bushi, Shirafuji Hikari…………… 74
iv. Kyokubiki: Tsugaru Jonkara Bushi, Shibutani Kazuo………….76

Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………. 80
Glossary and Kanji Reference ……………………………………………………. 81
Appendix A: Transcriptions ………………………………………………………85
i. Kinoshita Shinichi’s Rokudan no Ichidan………………………………… 86
ii. Kametani Eimei’s Rokudan no Ichidan ………………………………… 88
iii. Kametani Eimei’s Jonkara renshuukyoku………………………………89
iv. Shirafuji Hikari’s Tsugaru Jonkara Bushi Kyokubiki (2002)…………. 90
v. Shibutani Kazuo’s Tsugaru Jonkara Bushi Kyokubiki (1994)…………. 94
Appendix B: The Tsugaru-jamisen kyokubiki Repertoire…………………………. 104
Appendix C: Tsugaru-jamisen lineage chart………………………………………. 105
Appendix D: Shamisen dimensions………………………………………………… 106
Appendix E: Conversion guides ……………………………………….…………… 107
Japanese weights and measures ……………………………….……………. 107
Musical pitch systems……………………………….………………………. 107
Japanese yen to Canadian dollar conversion………….…………………… 108
Pronunciation guide to Hepburn romanization………….………………… 108
Appendix F: Comparison of the General Form of Four Tsugaru Jonkara
Bushi Kyokubiki… 109
Bibliography ………………………………………………………………………113
Discography…………………………………………………………………………119

About the Author

Gerry McGoldrick first heard Tsugaru shamisen in 1993 at Yamauta, a live music pub in Hirosaki City, while on a trip to the Tsugaru region of Northern Japan. He began to study nagauta, a shamisen genre related to the Kabuki theatre as soon as he returned to Tokyo, where he lived at the time, and then studied min’yō and Tsugaru shamisen on moving to Kyoto two years later. After twelve years in Japan he returned to Canada to do a Master’s degree in Ethnomusicology. He is currently working on his PhD dissertation (also on the Tsugaru shamisen) and teaching in Toronto.


#2

That seems to be a vast source for Shamisen friends. Very exciting.


#3

Gerry! Was a great job your thesis! Is there a public version of it? Can you share it please? Thnx very much!!

Cheers!

Rod


#4

I’m not sure if you will get this but I’d be interested in getting a copy of this if I can!