With eyes closed in peace, Niya enjoys the winds whistling through the sloping hills of Rebun Island. In synchronicity, he plucks the shamisen he’s expertly cradling, bringing life to the beat of his soul. Niya fell in love with Tsugaru shamisen as a young boy in Yagishiri. Buoyed by his passion for his craft, the young musician left his home in the
remote island of Teuri to build a career in the big city of Sapporo. This hero’s journey parallels the humble beginnings of Tsugaru shamisen. Its rise to acceptance was an uphill struggle. The first performers of this intricate art were blind
men who went door-to-door playing their music, hoping for charity. Despite being shunned for ‘begging’, the first players persisted and passed the art on to blind children. It was these challenging times that became the crucible that shaped the unique texture and sound of Tsugaru shamisen. Now known as the ‘jazz of Japan’, it requires creative
improvisation—the true mark of a talented musician.
MARCH TO HER OWN BEAT
The staccato beat thumped, thumped, thumped in the courtyard as a group of senior students performed in front of their middle school audience. The crowd cheered and clapped,
and the trajectory of a young girl’s life was set. Yayoi spent the walk home thinking about the performance—the look, the feel,
the sound that reverberated on the pavements of Osaka. The desire to become a professional dancer did not fare well with her parents, however, so Yayoi attended lessons in secret. And, as if living out a teen dance movie, Yayoi snagged a spot in
all-girl idol group, Rhythmic, after eclipsing dozens of other performers in Tokyo. With her burgeoning career in the big city, Yayoi will often seek solace in Chiba to reconnect with simpler roots. Here in this quiet space, unadorned by the bells and whistles of the high life, is where Yayoi rediscovered
herself. And it was here that she decided to pursue a solo career as an R&B artist. Yayoi’s sojourns to Chiba reconnected her to her first love—rhythm and blues. As she expands her musicality, she begins to grow her songwriting skills as well, bringing forth a new level of artistry in her career.
Niya envisions shamisen played in pop music just like other stringed instruments. He’s working on bringing out Tsugaru shamisen from behind the curtains of festivals and
special occasions and to the forefront of contemporary music. This dream may be seen as ambitious as conquering the peak of Mount Rishiri but Niya will persist. He is a believer of Japanese martial arts philosophy Shu Ha Ri, which, in concept translates to Pablo Picasso’s ‘Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them
like an artist’. And he intends to do just that.