Exploring the Most Popular Shamisen Music in Japan

Are you curious about traditional Japanese music? Perhaps you’ve heard of the shamisen, a three-stringed instrument that has been played in Japan for centuries. Shamisen music has a rich history and cultural significance in Japan, with many different styles and genres that have evolved over time.

If you’re wondering what the most popular shamisen music in Japan is, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog post, we’ll explore the different types of shamisen music and highlight some of the most popular styles.

History and Significance of Shamisen Music in Japan

The shamisen is a stringed instrument that was brought to Japan from China in the 16th century. It quickly became popular among the Japanese people, especially in the Edo period (1603-1868). Since then, shamisen music has been an important part of Japanese culture and is often performed at festivals, ceremonies, and other events.

Shamisen Music in Japan
Tokyo geisha with shamisen, c. 1870s | Wikipedia Commons

One of the most famous styles of shamisen music is Tsugaru-jamisen, which originated in the Tsugaru region of Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan. This style of music is known for its fast and rhythmic playing, and it has become popular all over Japan and even internationally.

Other popular styles of shamisen music include Jiuta, Nagauta, and Kouta. Jiuta is a type of chamber music that was popular among the samurai class in the Edo period. Nagauta, on the other hand, is a type of music that was performed during kabuki plays. Kouta is a type of folk music that was popular in the Edo period and is often performed with a singer.

Contemporary Shamisen Music

While traditional shamisen music is still popular in Japan, there are also many contemporary artists who are using the instrument in new and innovative ways. For example, the Yoshida Brothers are a duo who have gained international fame for their fusion of traditional shamisen music with modern styles like rock and pop.

Other contemporary shamisen musicians include Hiromitsu Agatsuma, who is known for his virtuosic playing, and Masahiro Nitta, who has collaborated with artists from a variety of genres.

Playing on Samisen, Yokin and Kokin | Credit: Wolfgang Wiggers

The Role of Shamisen Music in Japanese Folklore and Traditions

Shamisen music not only has a rich history in Japan but also plays an important role in Japanese folklore and traditions. One example is the annual Aomori Nebuta Festival, held in Aomori Prefecture. During the festival, large floats called nebuta are paraded through the streets while musicians play Tsugaru-jamisen music. The festival is said to have originated from a custom of warding off evil spirits by illuminating lanterns. Today, it is a celebration of Japanese culture and heritage.

From left, Japanese stringed instruments called “shamisen,” one each using synthetic leather, cat skin, kangaroo skin, and dog skin, are seen in Kyoto’s Nishikyo Ward on Oct. 11, 2022. (Mainichi/Ryohei Masukawa)

Another tradition involving shamisen music is the art of bunraku puppetry, which dates back to the 17th century. Bunraku is a type of Japanese puppet theater that features intricately crafted puppets and live shamisen music. The shamisen player, or shamisen-ashi, is an important part of the performance, providing music and sound effects to accompany the puppetry.

Shamisen music has also played a significant role in the lives of geishas, who are highly skilled performers trained in various traditional arts, including shamisen music. In Kyoto, the birthplace of geisha culture, the annual Miyako Odori dance performance features geishas performing traditional dances accompanied by live shamisen music.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in shamisen music among young people in Japan. Many young musicians are learning to play the instrument and are experimenting with new styles and genres, such as rock and electronic music. This has led to a renewed appreciation for the instrument and its cultural significance.


Shamisen music is an important part of Japanese culture and has a long and rich history. Whether you prefer traditional styles like Tsugaru-jamisen or contemporary fusion music, there is something for everyone to enjoy. If you’re interested in learning more about shamisen music, we encourage you to explore some of the different styles and discover the beauty and complexity of this ancient instrument.


You see, my love for Japan is not only based on personal experience; it's based on a deep admiration for Japanese culture, history, and traditions. Thank you, Japan, for being a constant source of inspiration, joy, and wonder in my life. I may never be able to express my love for Japan in person, but I hope that through my blog and my writing, I can share a small piece of my admiration and devotion with the world.

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