Ymashita Keisyuudou

Learning a traditional drum from Shirabeo workshop which exists only one in Japan.

Text : Ayumu Sasaki / Photo : Kaina Honma


  There is a craftsman who produce ‘Shirabeo’ in a quiet residential area which locates in northeast of Shimogamo-jinja Shrine down south from Kitaoji-dori through west Shimogamohigashi-dori from Takanogawa River. Shirabeo is a vivid color strap for Japanese traditional musical instrument such as Ookawa (large hand drum), Kotsuzumi (small hand drum), and a traditional Japanese drum for playing Nohgaku, Kabuki and Minyo (Japanese folk song) and it has an important role to adjust the pitch of a tone.

  At the end of Heian era, these drums were used for Shirabyoshi (a rhythm of Japanese court music) and Sarugaku(form of theatre), and after Nohgaku was established in Muromachi era, these drums as a musical instrument used for accompaniments have been made of 2 pieces of leather, a body with gold lacquer design on cherry tree and Shirabeo strap to attach leathers to the body. When you grab this strap while you play, it will give you a high sound, then when you loose it, you will have a soft sound. A material of Shirabeo strap is a cannabis. Spending a week by putting it in water for a while and remove harshness, and then stepping and squeezing to make it soften, and finally drying it out.

  Once it’s dried out, it needs to be tapped many times over to make it fibrous and twist to make a rope by hands. Adding these fibrous cannabis to make it longer. 8.7m for small hand drum and 10m for large hand drum. Finally, it will be dyed and after it’s dried 70%, some protruded parts, called ‘Hige’, will be cut off perfectly and finished after it is completely dried out. “Not too soft and hard. I have to make it puffy with core feeling around together”, says Mr.Yuji Yamashita, the fifth of Yamashita Keishudo.

  Mr.Yamashita was going to inherit his family business, a contractor, as the third son. However, he says, “My elder brothers came back home and told me that they were going to succeed our family business, so that I needed to re-think what to do in my future then, and I met my master the fourth of Yamashita Keishudo, Mr.Shujiro Yamashita. That was the time I also met Shirabeo for the first time. I was 18 years old, then started living and working as Shirabeo craftsman since then”.

  Good Shirabeo has brightness and softness with hardness together. “The finest Shirabeo can tell you exactly how different it is comparing with the others. What you usually see is a vermilion color strap, but once it gets higher level like the heads of each school, purple and white Shirabeo strap will be used. There are hundreds of hand drum players in Japan, but we are only 5 remain in this world”, he says. One of them is him, Mr.Yamashita, and he has 2 apprentices there.

  You can have an experience of twisting a dried cannabis to make a rope and beating a drum at Yamashita Keishudo. You are able to know what Japanese hand drum is by watching his live instructions and through a film of overview which actually takes days to complete.

  It is really hard to make sound by bringing a drum in my left hand and supported by my right shoulder, then tapping to make a sound of “PON!”. However, he gave me some advice in several times while I practiced, I started hearing a good sound little by little. This will be the absolute impressive experience if you have never touch a Japanese hand drum ever before in your life.

  You have to make a reservation to have these workshops by phone. It needs to be more than 2 people and you need to ask if you bring more than 10.




ADDRESS : 68 Shimogamo Morigamae-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City (MAP)

PHONE : +81(0)75-781-2873

HOURS & FEE of trial workshop : about 1h30min / 2,000yen (reservation required)