Photo/IllutrationSeberu Pico Co. President Tomoyasu Ninomiya plays the Shamiko, a samisen of his own design, in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward. (Kenji Tsuji)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A small Tokyo firm is hoping to hit the right note with a souvenir offered ahead of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games--a musical instrument with a modern twist on the traditional samisen.

The Shamiko has been developed by Seberu Pico Co. to promote the charms of Japanese culture and instruments as Japan prepares to host the world’s biggest sports event.

Designed by Tomoyasu Ninomiya, 70, Seberu Pico president, it comes with fun features that not only appeal to foreign tourists but should also attract a young audience at home.

Seberu Pico has been manufacturing jewelry parts and other items for about 45 years in the capital’s Katsushika Ward. A samisen player himself, Ninomiya has been an active member of a musical club at the company since about five years ago.

When the metropolitan government came up with a project to produce new Tokyo souvenirs as a measure to promote the benefits of small and midsize companies, Ninomiya wanted to get involved.

“As I have been a part of ‘monozukuri’ (conscientious manufacturing), I wanted to make a souvenir from Katsushika,” said Ninomiya, who turned his attention to the samisen.

Assembled in contemporary style, the Shamiko has a body of rubberwood and three strings made from nylon. What makes it unique is that the body is made of “masu,” a square wooden box used to measure rice.

Traditionally, the samisen’s body is covered with skin from cats and other creatures. But in the Shamiko, that has been replaced with highly durable Japanese traditional “washi” paper to follow the spirit of animal protection and reduce production costs.

In addition, the body is designed in a way that the owners can print patterns on them, allowing them to change its look to suit their preference. It can also be used for indirect lighting when an LED bulb is placed inside the body.

To start with, Ninomiya made several products aimed at foreign tourists, themed on ancient Japanese literary works including “The Tale of Genji” and “Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.”

The company also makes use of its expertise in manufacturing jewelry parts to show ways to decorate the Shamiko and offers color schemes not available to the traditional samisen to make it “Instagrammable.”

As well as being fastidious about the design, Ninomiya also offers sheet music showing numbers to show which fingers to use to hold down the Shamiko’s strings so that the owner can easily enjoy playing it.

“I want to carry on the tradition without being a nuisance to the tradition of the samisen,” Ninomiya said. “You can play it with a five-minute practice. I want everyone to play around and have fun with the Shamiko.”

The instrument is expected to be priced from 15,000 yen ($134) to 50,000 yen, with sizes varying depending on the type of masu measuring box used for the body.

The Shamiko Kaikan hall opened near Keisei Aoto Station in November last year to promote the Shamiko. In addition to an exhibition space to introduce Japanese culture, events are held to encourage exchanges with visitors using the instrument.

For more details about the instrument and how to order it online, visit the Tokyo Kakumaru brand’s website at (