The setting is a tatami room of a traditional Japanese restaurant in Yamagata city that was built around 140 years ago, using traditional Japanese architecture, on the occasion of an imperial visit from Emperor Meiji. The time is before sunset, but set out in front of the elderly gentlemen that have gathered here is not food and alcohol, but tea and lyric books.


The shamisen accompaniment allows them to experience the essence of traditional music from the Edo Period, such as ballads (kouta) and short love songs (hauta) with short song lyrics that conjure up a rich, emotional world. The practice begins with a song associated with the season. At the teacher’s signal, the gentle vocalization harmonizes in unison with the sound of the picked shamisen. This group was started around 30 years ago by young executives from local enterprises, who are now the leaders of their organizations. There are also other groups that have been meeting for over 40 years, and in total she is teaching about 60 pupils, and even sometimes holds recitals.


As a geigi jikata, she started training with the shamisen in her teens, and has memorized over 1,000 songs. The guests in the tatami room make requests, which she easily responds to with masterful performances. In her mid-eighties, she fell over right after a banquet and broke her right femur. But because she had a booking, she surprised the doctors with her dedication to her rehabilitation and how quickly she recovered. Her popularity as a geigi has never faded, and even now she continues to play her shamisen kneeling down in tatami rooms, and is often invited to perform at large scale banquets in Yamagata.


While she has considered retirement, she has a stack of bookings to perform at important celebration dinners for patrons that span the next few years. So, it doesn’t look like she’ll be able to retire any time soon, and she continues to take her performances to ever higher levels.


Kikkuko Igarashi (Kogiku)

Born in 1924 in what is currently the city of Sakata (formerly known as the town of Matsuyama). When she entered into the geigi world there was as many as 130 Yamagata geigi, but currently there are only six. Her granddaughter, Kikuya, is endeavoring to continue on with the art and culture of the Yamagata geigi.

Cooperation: Kishokaku and Yamagata Prefecture RINRI Hojinkai Advisor, Ryuichi Suzuki

Translation: Media Research, Inc.

This article originally appeared in “Shinsei” magazine, October 2017 issue, published by RINRI Institute of Ethics. Partially rewritten to update for this internet release.

Spirit and Spine

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project direction
Gaku Okubo (ISUKE INC.)
Yoshitomo Tanaka (Vivot)
site design
title calligraphy
Kenryo Hara (Kikkokai)