The distinctive sound of the shamisen is immediately identifiable as the sound of traditional Japan. Often played by geishas during ceremonial dinners, they’re an important part of Ishikawan culture, but not the kind of thing that should be locked away in a cabinet. In the Higashi Chaya neighbourhood you can visit a maker of these old instruments, and learn to have a go yourself – though don’t be surprised if plucking the strings with the spatula-like plectrum, the bachi, is harder than it looks.