What kind of instrument is Biwa?

   
Biwa is a fretted lute. As you can find it displayed in Shosoin of Todai-ji, it’s a very old instrument. It’s been said that it came to Japan more than 1300 years ago from ancient India or Persia. In Japan, it seems like they used to play it in religious services and rituals. 
My biwa is called Satsuma-biwa and we use a plectrum to play it. So it also has an aspect of a percussion, too.

How did you start playing Biwa?


To tell the truth, it was my acupuncture doctor’s idea.
He knew that I had been playing instruments, and one day he said to me, “ maybe you should start playing instruments again?”. So I asked him, “which instrument would you suggest?”. And he answered, “ you were playing drums, so I think biwa is a good choice.”.
I knew nothing about Biwa. But it really didn’t take long till I got totally enchanted by it.
By the way, I had never told him that I was playing drums. This doctor is truly something....
He was like, “for you a biwa is the best, that’s it.”. Very specific!

What do you like best about playing or listening to biwa?


Basically Satsuma-biwa is used in narrative storytelling. When I sing it out loud, it’s very refreshing.
And I find it very soothing and calming too, as biwa has many overtones.
Another thing is that I love histories, so I always enjoy telling historical stories.

For the audience, I think you can enjoy very dynamic music, as it is very delicate and lively at the same time.
Many people think the stories tend to be dark and tragic like someone dies, but the true essence of it is a catharsis.
We can also learn how Japanese people lived their lives and how they faced the life and death.