Rare Materials Used in Shamisen

(from the printed program, Shinnai Association Godokenshu Concert, July 27, 2019)

This year’s rainy season was much longer than usual. Although rain is an important source of water in the hot summertime, the summer season is very difficult for shamisen because of the high humidity.
On the other hand, it is also difficult for shamisen if the air is too dry. Years ago, when I was in France for performances in the middle of a dry summer, the skin covering of my shamisen suddenly ripped apart on the third day that I was in the country.
These days, we have a serious problem because important materials, indispensable for shamisen, are in very short supply. The types of skin that have been used traditionally have become difficult to obtain. Currently, the skin of various animals, including kangaroos and goats, is being tested as a possible substitute, as well as skin that is man-made.
Rosewood, the material traditionally used for the neck of the shamisen, is classified under the Washington Convention as an endangered plant and it is forbidden to import it into Japan, so domestically produced wood has to be used. If we run out of such Japanese wood, what will we do…?
Thus, in addition to a lack of successors, the traditional performing arts face many other uncertainties about the future.
Despite these problems, we should not even consider ending the Japanese traditional performing arts. We are always facing various problems.
Together with all of you who love shinnai, I want to protect traditional music for many years to come.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association

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