Sunday, May 06, 2012

Cultural Education Journal: Shamisen Debut!

Here's an excerpt from my journal on April 22.

Today was my first shamisen performance. It was also my built-by-daddy shamisen’s debut.

I joined with a studio recital extravaganza put on by my teacher, Arai-sensei’s teacher, Tei-sensei. The performance started at 10:30 a.m. and went until 4:30 p.m. Since it’s Sunday, Arai-sensei and I came late. I arrived around 1:00, after which I had my shamisen fitted with a doukake (a cover for the body of the instrument) and a case.

A lot of people saw my extra-large, unusually coloured shamisen and stopped to look… and then they saw me with the shamisen. Somehow it’s fitting that the gaijin’s (foreigner's) shamisen looks different than all the others. Then when they learned that my dad built it, they were very impressed! I think people generally thought it sounds good too... although a bit too "pretty" compared to the other shamisen. :)

I took my kimono into a small room with 3 ladies who dressed me in my kimono and did my hair in 15 minutes flat. When there are three people putting a kimono on you, the best thing to do is to place your feet shoulder width apart and prepare to be jerked around. I learned a new word: “ぎゅう" (gyuu), an onomatopoeia for squeezing. The ladies asked what sort of musubi (bow) I would like for my obi (sash). I smiled and told them to do as they liked. So I got a fun musubi.

Fun musubi!
Nice to get some pictures with Keith too. :)
The venue was a traditional style Japanese theatre--tatami mats with low tables and zabuton (floor cushions) and pitchers of tea; all this is arranged in tiers so that everyone can see the front.

Tei-sensei (center) performing with Arai-sensei (right)
I watched the program for a while before it was my turn, giving me a chance to hear lots of songs I’ve never heard before and observe others’ technique... not to mention, learning the procedure for the performance, which was a bit confusing even when explained slowly in easy-to-understand Japanese.

I performed with a large group of singers and shamisen players--being the only gaijin and probably the only female under about 40, I was placed front and center in my bright blue kimono. The person next to me was the only male under about 55. In fact, he was 16. I think the performance went well. I don’t think I made any glaring errors.

Some friends came to see me perform, including Naoko-san. Also, a number of guests came from Tonden Church, where Arai-sensei is a member.
I realized that it’s not very comfortable to sit 正座 (seiza--sitting "correctly" in a kneeling position) on a wood floor as I did during the performance, even if there is a thin carpet on top. And although I practiced, sitting 正座 (seiza) for several hours during the rest of the performance and the party afterwards really started hurting my knees...

The party afterwards: wow, I never thought I would so quickly have an opportunity to be a part of an old-school Japanese party. I also never thought there could be so many ways to eat crab (the venue is was a crab restaurant, after all). My favourite was the nigirizushi (that's the kind of sushi where there's a little blob of rice with fish on top--unfortunately it was immediately devoured, so there's no picture).

For entertainment, there was karaoke, of course. Most of it was Enka, and since it was a room full of musicians specializing in traditional Japanese music, a lot of the karaoke was quite good. Dancing was also encouraged. I also sang (but did not dance). I think the words were different from the ones I knew. Oh well, everyone was still impressed that I could sing in Japanese. After I sang, Tei-sensei interviewed me in front of everyone... that was by far more difficult than singing.

I think the highlight of the evening for me was a performance of the story of Momotaro sung with shamisen accompaniment by Tei-sensei and danced by one of the students. Very, very cool.

At the close of the evening, there was a janken tournament (the Japanese version of rock-paper-scissors), which I somehow won, without knowing how janken works. Honestly, how do you play rock-paper-scissors in a group? (note: I asked my Japanese teacher to explain, so now I know.) My prize was a nose-hair trimmer.

With Arai-sensei
The lady in the black kimono danced the Momotaro dance; Tei-sensei is wearing the white kimono.
After I put on my haori (kimono coat) to go home, because of my "fun musubi," I ended up with a spectacular obi-hunchback. I think obi-hunchbacks are hilarious, but I think most Japanese are so used to seeing them that it's not funny any more. :)
When I got home and took off my kimono, I found that there were 11 things tied around my waist.

1 comment:

Killashandra said...

I am a big fan of your dad's facebook page. He helped me refurbish my shamisen! Came upon your blog quite by chance, and it was so fun to see your shamisen "at work". I followed his entire build of it quite avidly. He is a marvelous luthier. Thank you for posting this beautiful entry.