My Journey as a Flute Player in the Awa Dance Group

Japanese Traditional Dance: Music and Dancers in Sui-ren

basic information

12 Jun

I got my own Shamisen!

Recently, I practice Shamisen often because I finally got my own Shamisen. My friend who was a member of Sui-ren gave me his old Shamisen. It is still in good condition. This Shamisen was damaged but I had it fixed in the instrument shop. When I got it back, the sound is very soft and beautiful, but unfortunately I don’t have enough skill to play it well, so I feel like I have to practice a lot.

Shamisen is very much like the guitar but it has only 3 strings. You can tune it by the tuning pegs to tighten or loosen the strings. It is very difficult for beginners to do it. I don’t have a good sense of musical pitch, so it takes time for me to tune it everytime before I practice.

Shamisen is a string instrument that needs to be strummed like a guitar and hit like a drum. When we play it, we use a stick and hit on the surface after touching a string. Shamisen's body is made up of animal skin. It is very fragile so I have to be very careful not to tear it.

It is the rainy season now in Japan, and I have to be very careful because the moisture in the air tends to tear the animal skin. Awa-dance is performed outside in the rain. For this performance, shamisen players use a Shamisen with an artificial skin.

I now practice a song called "Matsu no Modori". It is a practice song for beginners. It is my first time to play a full song. Before, I used parts or stanzas of a long song to practice. I am happy to be able to learn it!
13 Apr

Japanese guitar “Shamisen”

I started learning to play the Japanese guitar called “Shamisen” last July. My team, Suiren has no Shamisen player yet. So I decided to start playing it.

This is the first time for me to play Shamisen. It was not easy at first because I had no experience to play even the usual guitar. The difficult part for me is turning the tuning peg. I have to listen carefully and turn the peg.
While playing, Shamisen easily loosens its strings, so I have to turn it back. It takes time to get used to it.

A few days ago, my friend gave me a good Shamisen! I brought it to my Shamisen teacher to ask her to send it to an instrumental shop to have it fixed. She said it is a great one! I feel that I have to practice a lot to play it well.

I am sure that I love to play Japanese flute but I also love to play Shamisen. I can feel my progress as a beginner of Shamisen. I hope to be able to play it on a summer festival in two years.


This shamisen is under repair!
20 Mar

What's Special about Suiren?

Sui-ren started in 1996. It is one of the official Ren (‘team’) in Suginami Ward, Tokyo. The Ren joins the Koenji Awa-Odori (odori means ‘dance’) Festival every year.

The Awa-Odori music is usually characterized with a catchy bouncing rhythm, while Sui-ren mainly uses a flat sound. A big drum creates a dynamic sound under this rhythm. Sui-ren's sound is interestingly dubbed as Japanese Rock ’n’ Roll because of their exciting sound and performance. Many people come every year to see Sui-ren at the Koenji Festival.

A fan performance by the women’s group is also visually unique and elegant in nature. A dancer, in her traditional kimono, uses a folding fan quite gracefully as she sways and glides throughout the performance. When the performance starts, she puts it under her obi-belt. In the middle part, she takes it out from the belt and opens it, making a nice surprise for the audience. If you come to see Sui-ren, you should look forward to watching this fantastic fan performance!
6 Mar

Sui-ren’s Costume

Sui-ren’s main color is blue. Women wear pale blue kimono. On one sleeve, you can see one Chinese character which means "cool" because Sui-ren’s “Sui” means “cool”.

Men wear blue “Happi” and white short pants. “Happi” is a short kimono. They put a blue and gray Japanese towel (Tenugui) on their head. The women dancers of the “Men’s Dance” wear the same costume.

Big drum players wear grey “Happi” and black pants. All musicians except these players use kimono. Both male and female musicians put the kimono in the same way.

Usually in Japan, male and female wear kimono in different ways. The women usually place the obi on their waistline, which is wider than the men’s obi. On the otherhand the men wear the obi around their hip. It has a width of about 8 to 10 centimetres.

29 Jan

About Musical Band : Narimono

Each Ren(Team) has their own musical band. It is called “Narimono.” “Narimono” usually consists of some instruments such as the bell, drum, Japanese flute, and Shamisen(Japanese guitar). The “Kane”, which is the dish typed bell. The “Kane” player is the conductor of the band. He or she unifies the performers, including dancers. He/She sets the tempo, dynamics, and the beats. Other members always listen to the bell sound as an indication for them to start and follow the instructions. For example, when the bell player rings a slow and big sound, the other musicians will know if they will slow down with their beat. When the music becomes slow, the dancers will also start to move slowly too. The bell player takes control of the musical band and dancers.

The drum also has an important role in the team. A dancer always follows its rhythms and make the steps. A big drum, called “Odaiko,” makes big and low sounds. A musician carries the drum and plays with two wooden sticks. A small drum called “Shime-daiko” makes the high sounds. This drum creates an accent.

Along with the Japanese flute called “Shinobue”, which makes a beautiful melody. In Awa-odori, there are several typical songs. Each Ren(Team) has a slightly different melody line. When dancers compose their sequences, they sometimes follow the tune of the flute. If the song has a melancholy melody, they will dance slowly.

“Shamisen” is the different type of guitar. Shamisen can play melody, rhythm, and beats. It can add great accent in the music.

As for Suiren, Narimono consists of a bell, big and small drums, and Japanese flutes.

About the writer
Mayuko Kurosaka

She is a member of Sui-ren. She is a flutist. She's been performing for more than 6 years for the group. She was born in Kawagoe an old city in Saitama. She learned to play traditional instrument when she was a young or a kid. She works as a freelance writer.
you can join and be part of our dynamic and fun group. You are very much welcome to join, so don't hesitate!

For bookings of cast requests and tours, please contact me.