John Cho: Shamisen

For my CIP, I am learning shamisen under Iwasaki Sensei, who teaches in a cafe close to Kawaramachi Station. I chose to play the shamisen because I had a lot of previous background in playing musical instruments, and I wanted to experience the “traditional music” of Japan.

As I only had 1 year of Japanese under my belt, I was, at first, a little intimidated of learning under Iwasaki sensei, as it was a group learning session, not a private lesson. Also, the fact that Iwasaki sensei had a heavy Kansai-ben made me a little more nervous than I should have been.  However, all my doubts disappeared after my first lesson. Iwasaki sensei was a very outgoing and kind teacher, and it was very evident that she really wanted to take care of her foreign students (two of my classmates also studies shamisen and koto under her).

From my lessons, I think I definitely improved my shamisen skills. Iwasaki sensei is a fantastic and capable teacher, and I am lucky to have such talented instructor. Aside from my musical abilities, I learned a lot about Japanese culture, current events, and bits of Kansai-ben from the group dinner. Iwasaki sensei likes to eat dinner with every one of her students, mostly because she just loves to chat with everyone. During my numerous dinner gatherings with her class, I talked about something as important as my academics and something as trivial as bird migratory patterns in Japan. Also, whenever I had a question about the cultural aspects of Japan (for example, why does one of the student use “casual” speech and not “respectful” speech), she will always answer me to the best of her ability, even using few English words in her sentence just so that I could understand better.

For anyone who wants to have an authentic experience of “Japanese Life” with the locals, hanging out with Iwasaki sensei in her dinner group is a good place to start; and to those who want to learn traditional Japanese music, I would highly recommend the shamisen lesson.

8 thoughts on “John Cho: Shamisen

  1. I’m glad you were able to learn a traditional Japanese instrument with such a fantastic teacher! Having dinner with other students and the sensei seems like a lot of fun! You had mentioned that two other KCJS students took lessons under her, however, were most of the people in your group around the same age as you?

    • No, most of them were middle-age. But there were few other College students from Kyoto University and such.

  2. I’m glad you had a fun and rewarding CIP experience! I’m curious – why does one of the students use “casual” speech and not “respectful” speech?

    • Turns out that Iwasaki sensei is very “chill” with everyone, and to someone that she knew for a long time (probably more than 5 years) and around the same age, she just talks and allows them to talk in casual speech.

  3. Does the shamisen utilize the same style of sheet music as Western instruments? If not, how does it differ?

    • It’s actually really different; Shamisen uses Kanji and Arabic number in its music, and its also read from top to bottom, not left to right.

  4. “Yeah my Shamisen teacher says I’m basically a prodigy and she’s never seen anyone learn as quickly as me before in all her extensive years of teaching. I guess I just pick up things pretty quickly :)” – John Cho, Fall 2017

    From everything you’ve told me about your lessons, it seems you are really good/confident in your skills. Please let me know when your concert is because I would love to go. 🙂

    • “Lisa Qi”

      Some time in January. I’ll tell you when I have more details.