Nitta Oyako is comprised of Hiroshi Nitta and his son, Masahiro, who are from Sapporo on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. They are masters of the shamisen, a banjo-like, long-necked instrument, which is enjoying renewed popularity in Japan and around the world because of its powerful rhythmic sound, a sound that blends easily with contemporary rock and jazz music.
Hiroshi Nitta made the decision to become a professional shamisen player when he was in high school and has now honed his talents for 35 years. He has won numerous awards and appeared on several national television programs in Japan. He also founded a new shamisen association – Kougenryu- to promote the shamisen. As the leader, he holds the honorary title “lemoto” (which means literally “the root of a family,” as it was given to the “first man,” or founder, of a noble family in past times). In addition to concerts, various events, and demonstrations, he now performs all across Japan with promising young shamisen players and with his son, Masahiro.
Masahiro Nitta’s interest in the shamisen was not sparked until 1998 when he attended the celebrations for his father’s victory in the 1997 National Tsugaru Shamisen Competition. His father’s win both inspired him and boosted his confidence. In just seven months he won the All-Japan Junior/Senior High School Competition. His father is now not only his instructor and mentor, but also his partner. They have released three CDs and appeared on television several times. His first CD was a solo album in 2001 titled Shamisen Kid, followed by Yuki in 2002.
The shamisen, often spelled “samisen” in English, is a traditional long-necked and unfretted instrument with three strings of waxed silk played with a large pick-like object called a “bachi” (plectrum). Sometimes referred to as the “Japanese guitar,” its construction and appearance more closely resembles the banjo with its sound retaining its own unique resonance and special traditions. Tsugaru shamisen is traditionally a louder, stronger style of playing used for festivals, street performances, and other events conducted in larger and more festive venues.