Technique and Experience make for a nice tone.
After traveling the road of craftsman for more than 30 years, Mr. Kouno concludes without hesitation that ‘kawahari※2' is the most interesting point of Shamisen making. It is the skin that gives sound to a shamisen. That’s why a good tension will always bring a good sound. The skin needs to be stretched to near breaking point, but there is no easy rule on how to do this. As each skin has a different breaking point, it's up to many years experience with touch and sense to decide how far it can go. “Because there is a limit to the sound (a good tone), I will stretch the skin to get close to that sound. If it breaks, then the skin and I seem to have had different approaches” Mr. Kouno laughs. And he adds, “When a Iemoto※3 (master) tells me that ‘the shamisen was in good condition today’, that makes me most happy.”
Wishing people overseas to experience the joy of traditional Japanese culture.
After establishing his workshop, it was so busy that Shamisen literally flew off the shelves. Over time, however, demand for Shamisen decreased as it was no longer a familiar musical instrument for public entertainment. Mr. Kouno was concerned that Shamisen might die out if no action was taken so he produced a ‘Shamisen kit’ for the purpose of spreading it overseas. Previous to this, Mr. Kouno had been importing materials from abroad which measured up to his quality requirements. With a certainty cultivated from his choice of materials, Mr. Kouno developed a synthetic skin for this kit and reduced the cost at the same time, finishing it as an easy-to-use shamisen for overseas people. "We want you to create traditional Japanese culture with your own hands and to experience the pleasure.” Mr. Kouno wishes that Shamisen will spread to other countries too.
The tradition that should be followed and the tradition that should be changed.
In recent years, Mr. Kouno has been visiting elementary schools in Katsushika Ward with his apprentice and voluntarily working to make children experience the shamisen. Although more than half of the children do not know the instrument, most of them are interested in making sounds by themselves and learning how to play it. Mr. Kouno is planning and developing a shamisen that is easy for children to learn as an extension of this activity. As handmade shamisen are prohibitively expensive, machine production will greatly reduce its cost. “If we pay too much respect to the big ideas of ‘tradition’, we won’t be able to move forward. We will follow the traditions that we need to, and change the traditions that we must. Tradition must evolve so as not to die out.” The days when kids can make their own Shamisen with Mr. Kouno's Shamisen kit and play together in music class seems like a future not far off.