Why aren't position markers painted on?


Any guesses as to why position markers aren’t painted on the side of the sao as they are on guitars, banjos, ukulele (at the 5th/7th/10th/12th fret)?

Tradition is one possible answer, but clearly some things about shamisen are evolving (e.g. the VIZIO Acrylic Shamisen), so why not something that would aid beginners and the more experienced?

I found a photo of Beni Ninagawa playing and it appears her shamisen has some of the position markers painted on: http://gallery.minitokyo.net/view/738361


There’s no good answer beyond: tradition.

The folk-history of the instrument holds that it was popularized on Honshuu first by blind beggars - who would have little use for visual markers.

Informal play in folk music settings were less about position and more about playing by ear; it’s only recently that specific arrangements have begun to be written down.

Formal play in the context of kabuki, bunraku, or chamber music often relied upon written scores to be followed which precluded players from looking at their instrument. Stage etiquette also demands that the performers, or jikata, essentially fade into the background. Moving as little as possible and always in unison.

As well, the removable fujaku serves the same purpose - but it’s mostly a crutch for students. As your ears and muscle memory mature it becomes less useful and more distracting.

Aesthetics play a strong role as well. Some players prefer to keep their instruments pristine and let the grain (especially the prized tochi pattern) shine.It should be noted that one may find that the grain and imperfections in the wood can serve the same purpose as painted on markers.


What you see on Ms. Ninagawa’s instrument are hand painted. My tsugaru has them too, although my other instruments do not.


Great points, Christopher!
One other reason I would say is that even though there is a pretty standard position for the bridge for many players, it isn’t fixed in place and can be moved slightly from one position to others. Once the bridge is shifted the markers wouldn’t be accurate anymore.


Is there any reason for a player to make big changes to where they place the koma? (I presume it would need to be more than a few millimeters off from the usual spot to make a big change, otherwise fujaku strips would also be inaccurate.)


Yep. Based on my own experience:

Different shamisen and play styles have slightly different guidance on koma position. Moreover, the skin is subject to both changes due to ambient climate and war over time. As the skin’s condition changes, the ideal placement for the bridge might change as well.

The fujaku positions aren’t really perfect either, unless you match them to your koma position - generally by dialing in on positions 4 and 10.

What the fujaku does very well is demonstrate the spacing between positions. The spacing is relatively consistent, even if the actual positions shift around a bit based on koma.