Musician and author Janet Pocorobba

Join us for a fascinating reading, talk, q&a with Janet Pocorobba, author of The Fourth String. Janet will also be bringing her shamisen and playing a few tunes!

The word sensei in Japanese literally means "one who came before," but that's not what Janet Pocorobba's teacher wanted to be called. She used her first name, Western-style. She wore a velour Beatles cap and leather jacket, and she taught foreigners, in English, the three-stringed shamisen, an instrument that fell out of tune as soon as you started to play it. Vexed by the music and Sensei's mission to upend an elite musical system, Pocorobba, on the cusp of thirty, gives up her return ticket home to become a lifelong student of her teacher. She is eventually featured in Japan Cosmo as one of the most accomplished gaijin, "outside people," to play the instrument.

Part memoir, part biography of her Sensei, The Fourth String looks back on the initial few years of that apprenticeship, one that Janet's own female English students advised her was "wife training," steeped in obedience, loyalty, and duty. Even with her maverick teacher, Janet is challenged by group hierarchies, obscure traditions, and the tricky spaces of silence in Japanese life.

Anmoku ryokai, Sensei says to explain: "We have to understand without saying."

By the time Janet finds out this life might not be for her, she is more at home in the music than the Japanese will allow.

For anyone who has had a special teacher, or has lost themselves in another world, Janet Pocorobba asks questions about culture, learning, tradition, and self. As Gish Jen has said of The Fourth String, "What does it mean to be taught? To be transformed?"


"Moving and provocative, The Fourth String charts a profound journey into the heart of another culture. What does it mean to teach and be taught? What does it mean to transform and be transformed? Are teacher and student finally, above all, comrades? This memoir --part biography, part autobiography, part portrait of an alchemy -- is as transmuting as its subject, and a joy to read."

-- Gish Jen, author of The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap

"Elegantly spare yet detail rich, The Fourth String is a beautifully crafted, moving memoir."

-- Alexandra Johnson, author of The Hidden Writer, recipient of PEN/Jerard Fund Award Citation for nonfiction.

"An insightful and deeply generous book written by a woman as open to surprises within herself as she is to the revelations she discovers about her temporarily adoptive country of Japan. Janet Pocorobba is by turns curious, funny, sensitive, and always, always brave."

-- Pamela Petro, travel writer and author of Travels in an Old TongueThe Slow Breath of Stone, and Sitting Up With the Dead


Janet Pocorobba's involvement with Japan includes two decades of performing and lecturing on Japanese arts on two continents, in concert halls, schools, museums, and backyards. Her work has been published in the Rumpus, Harvard Review, The Writer, Kyoto Journal, Indiana Review, and others. She is currently associate professor and associate director of the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University. Janet lives in Vermont and can be reached at www.janetpocorobba.com.

Event date: 

Thursday, March 14, 2019 - 7:00pm

Event address: 

Water Street Bookstore
125 Water Street
EXETER, NH 03833