By Yui Banno
This was a night of rock and roll from Japan’s “Young Lion of the Shamisen World”.
Koji Yamaguchi is an award winning, Japanese Tsugaru-shamisen player. Although he is just 24 years old, he plays with great technique and a unique performance style.
During a night at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in November, Yamaguchi wowed audiences with an energizing and eclectic shamisen performance.
“It looks just like rock,” said one audience member as the ensemble performed “Jongara-Midare-biki”.
As a musician, Yamaguchi is very active in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture often leading Cheering parties and teaching students the basics of shamisen.
As well, he belongs to a group known as Hayate that plays around the world in order to promote the best of Japanese culture and the group’s young performers.
Each performer in the ensemble studies hard under the watchful eye of Yamaguchi who has been called the “Young Lion of the Shamisen’s world” by music critics. When he was younger, Yamaguchi was fascinated by his grandmother who taught folk song shamisen to others. He loved the bold elegance shamisen had and began his formal training when he was just 12 years old.
Nikkei Voice had a chance to sit down with Koji Yamaguchi to talk about his influences as a musician and what playing the shamisen does to help promote Japanese culture in other countries.
For Yamaguchi, the shamisen expresses the finer points of Japanese culture. He wants people all over the world to know how wonderful Japan is through his instrument. Although he likes to play guitar and drums in his spare time, he says he can only truly express himself with the shamisen.
As a performer, Yamaguchi also tries to incorporate some form of Japanese entertainment while he plays.
Until now, he has tried to incorporate shamisen with live performed calligraphy, dance and disk jockeying, and having background singers.
For him, calligraphy makes for the most memorable performances. This collaboration of Japanese music and Japanese art, he says, has an impact all over the world by giving audiences a way to listen to and see Japan.
As well, Yamaguchi tries to incorporate various kinds of imagery into his performances. He believes that if we wanted to just hear his music we can enjoy listening to shamisen with CD at home, but he wants us to feel shamisen with our five senses.
He says he wants to try to incorporate smell next, but he’s still figuring out the best way of going about that.
At the JCCC, Yamaguchi displayed how he involves the local culture around him during his ensemble’s tours.
During the performance, he played a rendition of the Canadian Anthem for the crowd. It was a moving piece that was rendered beautifully through his instrument.
Above all else, it is important for him to express all of the truly wonderful aspects of Japan.
He has played in the United States of America (New York, Alabama and Atlanta), Malaysia, Singapore, China and now Canada, and he was surprised how good their reactions were to his shamisen.
“Foreigner are more sensitive to music than Japanese and they spend more money and time to music than Japanese,” he said during our interview.
Now, he hopes to play in the United Kingdom and Spain because he likes British rock music. He wonders if his shamisen rock and roll will be accepted or not in the United Kingdom. As well, he knows Latin music is similar to shamisen, so he wants to know how Japanese style music will be received in that part of the world.
His goal in the near future is to win a Grammy, but he wants to have a world-wide impact. “Shamisen is the best way for me to express myself,” he said.