Shamisen Lessons


Lessons are by appointment, and should be scheduled at least one week in advance.

Makoto teaches primarily because she enjoys introducing people to traditional music, not in order to make money. Because of this, her tuition fees are EXTREMELY low. The lesson fees go toward the maintenance of the instruments, which is quite expensive; periodic replacement of strings; the cost of photocopying notation; and to help cover the expenses involved in organizing student concerts.

Lessons are taught in either English or Japanese.

Lesson Fees

Lesson Fees include the loan of a shamisen and its maintenance fee.

Since shamisen is the base and "conductor" of a nagauta ensemble, it is important for students to understand shamisen rhythms and the singing melodies before taking on other instruments such as drums or flute. If a student has interest or talent in other areas, she can also teach those instruments. But shamisen lessons are the first step into nagauta. The various lesson options are:

Lesson LengthPrice
60 mins.¥1500
90 mins.¥2000
120 mins.¥2500

Lesson fees are paid at the end of each lesson. Most students take one lesson per week.
Makoto is more concerned about the quality of the lesson, so if your lesson runs over by a few minutes, it's no problem!
Lessons can be arranged for any day (including weekends) from 9am to 4pm.

Makoto accompanies her student during a lesson.

Do I need my own shamisen?

Makoto can provide you with a shamisen for the lesson!
For the first few months, until you are sure the shamisen is something you are truly interested in, you will not need to buy an instrument. Makoto has instruments at her house which you can play during your lessons. However, if you decide to continue (as with any other music study), you will probably need to consider purchasing an instrument in order to practice at home between lessons.

Buying a shamisen is similar to buying a violin; prices and quality range from low-cost unplayable junk to concert-grade instruments costing the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars. When the time comes and you wish to purchase an instrument, Makoto will help you. She has a relationship with the shamisen makers Kameya and they can provide a student-model shamisen of good quality at a reasonable price.

A typical shamisen lesson

There is no exact pattern to shamisen lessons and Makoto adjusts both the lesson content and style to meet the needs and requests of her students. If a student has a request to learn to play a particular piece of music, that's completely fine. Or if they want to practice previous pieces that's fine too. Because it can be hard to find space to practice at home (Japanese apartment walls are notoriously thin), practising during the lesson is completely fine too.

For completely new students however, Makoto often finds it useful to begin with an explanation of shamisen musical notation as well as an explanation of shamisen tuning before trying to play. If you haven't played shamisen before this initial explanation makes it much easier to start playing and progress.

For both long term and new students Makoto highly recommends having some Japanese snacks to help the lesson along!

The Classroom

The shamisen lessons take place in Makoto's apartment, which is situaten near to Komazawa Olympic Park, in Meguro-ku, Tokyo. There are two stations about 15 minutes walk away, and bus stops nearby too.

Makoto and her students play the taiko drums together.


For long term students there will also be opportunities to give performances throughout the year. In order to inspire my nagauta students' training, I encourage everyone to perform. There may be small gigs throughout a year, but mainly I will prepare one large recital for all players once a year, held in a large hall in Tokyo, assisted by professional musicians.

Usually, student recitals are very costly in Japan. However, I am working hard to make such concerts affordable for my students. Students can expect to pay between ¥20,000-30,000 for performance-related costs, such as rental of the hall, and fees to stage assistants and professional musicians.

Students in kimono perform a shamisen recital

Hear from previous students

Makoto has been an inspiration and a fantastic motivator in introducing the world of nagauta to us. Once totally unaware of this tradition, I now have a keen interest in a all things kabuki and no: going to the theater, listening to NHK radio at 11 am, as well as playing the music in the form of shamisen and tsuzumi. Thank you Makoto for allowing us the RARE opportunity to take part in something important in this fascinating country.
--Carina Cameron, UK
Former Prime Minister Mori made the call for more volunteers in Japan. Makoto Nishimura has set a wonderful example as a skilled nagauta teacher. Having the chance to learn various Japanese instruments without the hassle of hidden money and iemoto system has made living in Tokyo more bearable. Learning from Makoto continues to enrich my life here.
--Aaron Comsia, USA
Studying nagauta with Makoto this year has not only enabled me to experience a new kind of music, but has also given me insight into the life of a musical community that would otherwise have been closed to me. Thanks, Makoto, for giving me this opportunity!
--Elizabeth Davidson, UK
I remember the smell of autumn. Walking on a street in my quiet residential neighborhood, I remarked to my companion, "You'd never know we were on the other side of the planet. All the world is the same." Then I heard...plink...plink...plink...coming from somewhere, drifting by on an evening breeze. It was the first time I'd ever heard a shamisen. Since then, a generous, patient, and talented teacher and friend has taught me how to make those very sounds, and I've never again forgotten that I'm in Japan. Thank you, Makoto.
--Javier Fernandez, USA
What grabbed me about Makoto's advertisement back in August 1999 were the words, "Learn something about Japanese culture." That was exactly why I had decided to come to Japan, so my journey with nagauta began. The sounds, the slightly awkward way of holding the bachi, and the exquisite beauty of the shamisen itself, all intrigued me. The pleasure of riding the wave of beautifully scripted Japanese notes to the gentle sounds of tsuyu or high-pitched cicadas or yakiimoya san, only height the pleasure of learning nagauta with such a dedicated teacher as Makoto. Thank you, Makoto, for so much of your time and energy.
--Caroline Flavin, Ireland
What first impressed me about Makoto was her love of nagauta and enthusiasm for teaching shamisen. She is a full-time worker , who is undoubtedly tired by the time she returns home, and yet she finds the time to practice. Above and beyond her own learning, she generously teaches all of us . Why? Because she loves the music. From Makoto, I am learning not only to play shamisen, but to love the music as well.
--Christine Foster, USA
Makoto has been an inspirational teacher. She is kind, patient, and talented, some of the best qualities of an excellent teacher. Even though she has gone through the same beginner music pieces with me over and over, she is always excited about it. She has helped me develop my appreciation for Japanese music, especially the shamisen. Thank you, Makoto.
--Angela Im, USA
As with many things that have happened in my four and half years in Japan, my enjoyment of Japanese traditional music has taken me by surprise. I started shamisen lessons with Makoto in April, and I only wish I had started sooner ! Every lesson and workshop is an opportunity to learn and experience things I didn't even know existed.
--Gretchen Jude, USA
Before I met Makoto I had absolutely no idea what traditional Japanese music sounded like. Nor did I have any idea what the instruments used to play it looked like. On my first meeting it was overwhelming to sit with a shamisen awkwardly balanced on my lap, terrified that I was going to drop it. With a huge wooden plectrum fitting clumsily into my right hand, I desperately tried to follow Makoto's instructions and make some music instead of noise. Earlier on I had admitted, "I know nothing about music." She just looked at me with a knowing smile and replied, "Of course you don't. That why I invited you learn about it." She seemed to have no doubt that was exactly what I would do.
--Sally Langer, Australia
My first picture of traditional Japanese music was that of a jungle, as of a bird's view, thus monochrome but full of secrets. Now, being guided on the path of nagauta, which reveals beauty and explains its construction, the jungle shows its paradise. There could be no other way to explore but with Makoto. Allerbesten Dank.
--Jorg Maurer, Germany
A sensei is more than a teacher. Without Makoto, I would have never discovered Japan's past and the beauty of its music. But her teaching has always extended beyond shamisen. Through her, I have learned: to surround yourself with "nice spirit," to not waste time on things that have "no meaning," to give generously and expect nothing in return, to find beauty in hidden places, to not try to change what you cannot, to support your dream life with a stable job, to maintain your dignity at all cost, and to always, have a plan. Thank you, Makoto, for your many rare gifts.
--Janet Pocorobba, USA