Shamisen and Sushi

Noriko Britton sings with her shamisen trio.

I met Noriko at Hoshi Hana’s art opening last Sunday. She told me she played shamisen, and I asked when and where I could come hear her play. When I found out it would be the following Friday at Zeque (pronounced zeck-you) Sushi and Grill in the South Lake Mall in Pasadena, I called my friends and happily reserved a table for twelve. We all had a wonderful time.

Michiko, Takako, Hideko and Noriko.

The ensemble was, as follows:

In the lavender kimono, Michiko Yoshino (professional name, Bando Hiro Michiya), a traditional Japanese dancer, who sang some songs with the shamisen trio at the beginning of the set.

In the peach kimono, Takako Osumi (Kineya Yasuyo), shamisen player.

In the yellow kimono, Hideko Kamei (Kineya Kichi Kazu), shamisen player.

In the blue kimono, Noriko Britton (Kineya Roku Kensho), shamisen player.

An instrumental piece with fierce and complex rhythms.

Sometimes the songs were instrumental only and sometimes the women sang while they played. These were not songs for dance performance, but rather just for listening, Noriko explained to us later. Hoshi Hana told me that Noriko lived across the street from her parents since before her birth, and she had encouraged Hoshi Hana to learn music. “I was lousy at the koto,” she grinned. Hoshi Hana’s destiny clearly lay in the visual arts and in a world more bohemian than traditional, although she is beautifully bi-lingual.

Zeque’s appetizer specialty is a sort of giant sushi called a Mount Fuji, with three layers of rice and your choice of any three sushi toppings, two as fillings and one on top. One of these arrived with slices of avocado ornamenting the sides.

Just as we were all leaving, I saw the trio heading for the parking lot with their instruments and ran after them to photograph them one more time. So sweetly did they turn and smile.