The shamisen is a beautiful Japanese instrument, made up of a rounded body that’s typically bound in some kind of animal leather, a long neck, and three strings that are plucked with a large pick. It produces a unique twang that can be heard in many traditional Japanese performing arts, such as kabuki, puppet plays, and folk music.
Despite the fact that the shamisen has a place in modern music too, it isn’t a very popular instrument among young people; the average age of shamisen players is over 70 years old. That might be because the shamisen is an expensive instrument to buy and to maintain, and it’s hard to find schools that teach it. Sadly, this means that sales of the shamisen in Japan are just one tenth of what they were 50 years ago, which may lead to dwindling opportunities to listen to shamisen music in the future.
Shamisen manufacturer Komatsuya is hoping to change that. They want to introduce the shamisen to the world, with the hope that the instrument will be picked up by more people, and that the art itself won’t die off. That’s why they recruited world-renowned and respected "Final Fantasy" character designer Yoshitaka Amano to design a new limited-edition shamisen with a printed design, the first shamisen to ever have one.
The president of Komatsuya, Akio Komatsu, asked Amano to design a decoration for Komatsuya’s new kind of shamisen because he believes that the instrument itself is a work of art. Amano, touched by Komatsu’s goals for the instrument, wholeheartedly agreed to take part, and the “Amano Shamisen Project” was born.
For this first installment of the project, Amano created a completely original character named “Shaula”, which is the name of the second brightest star in the Scorpio constellation. Amano chose to create a female persona, because in his opinion the shamisen has a feminine shape, and the red color is meant to be representative of Japan. It’s a powerful, alluring image that looks beautiful on the body of this already elegant instrument.
This shamisen looks like a one-of-a-kind art piece, but actually a new technology developed by Komatsuya allows the company to put multiple Shaulas on the market. The company has spent more than 10 years researching and developing a special kind of man-made leather called “Ripple” that can be printed on, and Shaula is the debut product; in fact it’s likely the first shamisen to ever have a printed design on it.
Komatsuya’s “Ripple” produces the same tone as real leather, so Shaula can be used and played like a high-quality shamisen. It’s also more durable, which cuts down the maintenance cost of the shamisen, so with this new kind of technology, Komatsuya is hoping that the shamisen will become more affordable for prospective students, who will hopefully be drawn to the instrument thanks to Amano’s design.
Shaula, however, isn’t exactly affordable, owing to its collector’s quality. One of these lovely instruments retails for 432,000 yen. What’s more, Komatsuya is only selling 400 of them on their online shop. This probably isn’t a shamisen to be used at a beginner’s lesson, since it costs about as much as any other professional instrument, but it would certainly make a gorgeous and exclusive collector’s piece.
If you can’t afford to spend nearly $4,000 on a collectible item, but can’t pass up on the opportunity to possess an original design by Yoshitaka Amano, then you’re in luck, because Komatsuya is also selling a beautiful collector’s fan featuring the image of Shaula for a much more affordable price of 16,200 yen. Act fast, however; there are also only 400 of these in production, and they’re likely to sell out fast. The website is in Japanese only, so have a friend help if you need it.
The Amano Shamisen project is also slated to continue with a second piece, which is apparently going to be designed around the theme of 和 (wa), the Japanese character that’s used to mean both “peace” and “Japan”, so we can’t wait to see what it will be. In the meantime, we can always satiate our desire for more of Amano’s gorgeous character designs with his Cinderella picture book.
Source: Komatsuya, Yahoo! News
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