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Workshops by Special Advisor for Cultural Exchange 2009

Master Chieko Fukuda is a professional player of koto and shamisen, traditional Japanese musical instruments. She is the Special Advisor for Cultural Exchange, appointed by the Commissioner of the Agency of Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan.

She was here in Penang to conduct her koto and shamisen workshop sessions at School of Arts (USM) and Chung Ling National High School on March 4 and March 5, 2009, respectively.

A koto consists of a six-foot long shallow resonating box made from Paulownia wood with a set of thirteen strings stretched over adjustable ivory bridges, while a shamisen is a three-string lute with a fret-less fingerboard about 38 inches long. These two traditional musical instruments are used in many Japanese traditional events.

Workshop 1: At School of Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang

Master Fukuda listens attentatively while an Arts student sings “Seri Mersing”, a Malay folk song. She says there are similarities in terms of the beauty of folk songs in the Asian region.
A student gets a chance to learn to play Sakura song under the guidance of the Master. She says remembering the notes by numbers is not helping a player to succeed, but to “feel” the strings with ears is undeniably vital.

Master Fukuda explains that the front resonating box is covered by dog skin while the back one is by cat skin. She says whoever possesses the shamisen must appreciate the sacrifice of animals to furnish the instrument to its perfection. The story of a young man who seeks shelter in the house of a young woman from the rain one evening draws laughter. However, it does convey a message of true love that blossoms under the good signs of bright sun next morning admist cranes frolicking on white icy land.

Workshop 2: At Chung Ling National High School, Penang Island

On another occasion, Master Fukuda had a chance to hold a Japanese traditional musical workshop with about 60 Chinese Orchestra members of Chung Ling (National) High School. The interactive session which lasted for 2 hours had brought the students tremendously nearer to Japanese traditional musical instruments and the enchanting sounds produced by them.

Master Fukuda pays a tribute to the Second World War Memorial prior to the workshop session. The Chinese Orchestra students host a grand welcome for Master Fukuda with an inspiring ensemble of “The Great Wall”. Master Fukuda is also keen to know the similarities and differences of traditional Japanese musical instruments, especially koto, with its “counterpart” from China, guzeng.

Tian Hang Shu, 17, is a fast learner, who can master the sakura song in five minutes under Master’s guidance. Tian has been a member of the Chinese Orchestra for four years. Solo performance with students as vocalists; while Master Fukuda plays the koto. The students are singing Sakura song taught by her. The comparison of Japanese koto and Chinese guzeng. The sounds produced are different, the pitch and the numbers of strings used are not the same.