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Saitō Ryokū on the "noble, lovesick" koto vs the "common, lustful" shamisen (although the word he uses is "samisen", because he was straight out of Edo):

The koto is a flower, it admires other flowers: it is inviting. The samisen is a moon, it floats like the moon: it is provocative. A beggar pauses at the side of the road or at one's front gate: if he plays the koto, it rings with misfortune, one's thoughts turn to ruin; if he plucks the samisen, the song is one of vice, one's thoughts turn to decline.

"Think on the Mount Li of old...": this is a koto song. "When you stayed all through the night...": this is a samisen song. The aware of the koto is sought at leisure, and is at last concerned with another. The aware of the samisen is pursued in haste, and is ultimately about oneself.

Reverse the two, call the koto a moon: it is but a veiled and hazy one. Call the samisen a flower: it is brittle and dying.

(Of course, these are merely "miscellaneous impressions" that Saitō formed "in town" and "at festivals".)

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Leonardo Boiko:

Poor beggar; damned if you do, damned if you don’t… I bet if he plays shakuhachi Saitō will say it’s a song of death and sadness and whatnot.


"The aware of the koto is sought slowly ... The aware of the koto is pursued in haste ...": I take it that the second "koto" should be "s(h)amisen", right? Or is Saito being really subtle here?


Patrick: Fixed, thanks! He ain't THAT subtle.

Leonardo: Definitely. I'm not sure what it would "be", though, now that the moon and flowers are taken. Maybe a quiet pond.


I am strongly of the opinion that more Japanese rock bands should utilize the shamisen. It's like the sitar for badasses.


It's true--it's hard to think of a song that couldn't be improved by more shamisen.

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