British “Shamisen” Duo Aims to Cheer Up Japan Quake Victims

Jiji Press
Joshua Green, left, and Luke Burns, of the British shamisen duo Denshonen, are seen in London on Feb. 19.

LONDON (Jiji Press) — A British duo of shamisen stringed instrument players are set to make their debut in Japan on Sunday to cheer up those affected by the 7.6-magnitude Noto Peninsula Earthquake on Jan. 1.

Joshua Green, 28, and Luke Burns, 25, plan to invite people affected by the quake to their performance of the Tsugaru shamisen genre of music at a hall in Kanazawa, a city where many people have evacuated.

“Hopefully, they can enjoy our music during a time that has not been so great,” Burns said.

The duo, named “Denshonen,” was formed in 2019 after both Green and Burns came under the apprenticeship of Hibiki Ichikawa, a 43-year-old London-based Tsugaru shamisen performer, the year before.

“I think the Tsugaru shamisen has the same kind of cool factor that, for example, an electric guitar has,” Green said.

“Personally, when I play it, I really feel it, because you have to strike it so hard,” he said. “That makes me feel really powerful.”

The name “Denshonen,” a portmanteau of the Japanese words “densho,” meaning lore, and “shonen,” meaning boy, was created by Burns.

Ichikawa said that Green, who has played guitar for many years, and Burns, who has experience playing the “taiko” Japanese drum, were quick to learn Tsugaru shamisen music.

After much practice, the duo has become able to play about a dozen songs, including the “Tsugaru jongara bushi” folk song from the Tsugaru area of Aomori Prefecture from where the musical genre originates.

The two, who have been touring mainly Europe since the COVID-19 pandemic subsided, performed at a tourism event organized by the Japanese government at the Japan House government-run public relations hub in London last November.

Despite their experience as professional players, the duo showed nervousness about performing the shamisen in front of a Japanese audience.

“This will be the first time we’re performing in front of people in Japan who definitely know what it should sound like,” Burns said.

“I think this feels like a really nice opportunity to show Kanazawa that their cultural tradition is flourishing elsewhere in the world,” Green said. “It’s almost like saying ‘thank you’ by demonstrating how we’ve embraced what you’ve created, and now we want to show you what we’ve accomplished with it here as a way to connect and show our care for Kanazawa.”