Visually-impaired shamisen musician to represent Ibaraki

Yo is visually-impaired but works as a professional samisen player. He gives credit to this Japanese three-stringed musical instrument for helping him overcome hardships in life. Based in Ibaraki Prefecture, where he was born and raised, Yo has been performing the Tsugaru-jamisen style for over 35 years. His motto is "Always Give the Best Performance," and plays Japanese classics and contemporary original pieces that he has written himself. His wide range of activities include concerts, lectures and song-writing.

As an advocate for people with visual impairments, Yo believes in the concept of Tokyo 2020 which aims to create an inclusive society with diversity and harmony where people accept each other with or without impairments.

"It is my great pleasure to participate in this global sports festival as a torchbearer. As a Japanese citizen and a resident of Ibaraki, I would be glad to be a member of a welcoming party, giving the best hospitality to people from all over the world," he said.

What prompted you to start playing the samisen in Tsugaru-jamisen style?

My grandmother gave me a small samisen on my third birthday. I was delighted to have a toy that made sound. I was making a lot of noise with it. She saw me enjoying it and thought that maybe I was destined to play it. So I started going to Tsugaru-jamisen classes.

What are some of the challenges you encountered in the past 35 years as a Tsugaru-jamisen player?

Musicians get better by looking at other performers and copying them, so it was very difficult for me to master the basics of playing samisen – how to hold it, how to move my fingers, and how to hold a plectrum (samisen pick). My teacher in Aomori, the home of Tsugaru-jamisen, was so strict during my training there and said, 'you have to steal the techniques' and never taught us anything. But on the last day of the training course, he said to me, 'your sound became much deeper'. I was so happy that I nearly cried.

What do you expect of the Tokyo 2020 Games concept of diversity and harmony?

No matter what impairment or disability people may have, everyone shines. I wish from the bottom of my heart for everyone to accept each other's differences and promote a barrier-free society where people can live in towns that are kind to all people. I hope Japanese hospitality will spread from Japan to the world, be acknowledged and multiply.

As an Ishioka City Ambassador, please tell us about the charms of your city.

Ishioka is near the centre of Ibaraki Prefecture, protected by Mt. Tsukuba, one of the top 100 mountains of Japan, on the western side. It is home to many organic farms and sake breweries, thanks to the pure streams flowing off the mountain. It has an ostrich farm, billboard architecture and the largest lion's head in Japan. On the day of Ishioka Festival, over 400,000 people come to watch the lion dance parade, called Horojishi. I performed live there, too.

What would you like to convey to people when you run as a torchbearer?

Hope brings courage! Listen to the sound of my heart!


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