Isojiro Yoshimura

What is Nagauta?

Nagauta is a genre of Shamisen music. After the Chinese Sangen was popularised in the Ryukyu Islands, it was originally introduced into Japan as the Shamisen around 1550, after which it was modified into diverse forms in accordance with usage, environment and occasion. In particular, Nagauta evolved as the musical accompaniment to Kabuki dance. Since the Nagauta genre developed by way of incorporating the fortes of other popular art forms of the times, it was able to assimilate a wide range of different artistic worlds. Eventually, Nagauta came to be appreciated as a genre in its own right and independent of Kabuki.


Nagauta is music that is produced from a combination of song and the shamisen instrument. Chanting may also feature. The composition of the orchestra can range from a minimum of two shamisen players and one singer (nicho ichimai) up to a maximum of ten shamisen players and ten singers (jiccho jumai). The shamisen instrument used in Nagauta has the smallest body of all other types of shamisen (hosozao). It is played by placing the body on one’s right thigh, supporting the neck with the left hand and holding the notes with the fingers of the left hand whilst strumming with a pick held in the right hand. It is normal to strum the strings by slamming down the sharp corner at the end of the pick against the body but other methods also exist.


Nagauta pieces include sections called the Aikata. This part has no concomitant song bearing musical meaning but is performed solely with the shamisen instrument. Most Aikata are composed with reference to a certain image, and therefore, are often given individual titles, for example, “The Aikata of Insects” in the piece “The Colours of Autumn”. Within shamisen music, Aikata is categorised as Utaimono (not a narrative) largely due to its airy and melodious rhythm.


English translation by Noe Minamikata

Isojiro Yoshimura

Thank you very much for visiting Isojiro Yoshimura’s website. This website covers a wide range of topics from the history of “Nagauta” (a representative genre of the traditional Japanese Shamisen music) to information about myself, my professional activities and Shamisen lessons.


As one who continues the tradition of classical Japanese music, I have made it my lifework to explore the academic foundations of Nagauta. Arguably, such a cause contradicts the “theatrical taste” of Nagauta but I believe that to revisit and investigate the origins of Nagauta is the only way to hand down traditional music to posterity.


Born Hisayuki Imai in 1976 (Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo)


First received an induction to the Nagauta Shamisen from Eitomi Kineya in 1995 on graduating from Nihon University Buzan High School.


Apprenticed to Isoshichi Yoshimura from 1998 whilst studying at the Nihon University Department of Japanese Language and Literature and was given the stage name Isojiro Yoshimura in February of the following year.


Professionally debuted at the National Theatre of Japan in April 1999.


Thereafter, performed in concerts, dance performances and Kabuki plays at the National Theatre of Japan and Kabuki-Za in addition to appearing in NHK programmes. Currently presiding over Yayo-kai. Member of the Nagauta Association. Instructor at the Yomiuri NTV Culture Center. Lately engaged in Japanese music songwriting.


English translation by Noe Minamikata