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Janet Pocorobba’s “The Fourth String” reconfigures the typical Japan fish-out-of-water memoir into a meditation on music and mastery, relationships, culture and narrative. Pocorobba was 28 years old when she and her then-boyfriend arrived in Japan in the late ’90s to teach English.

A talented musician, Pocorobba was drawn to an English advertisement offering free shamisen lessons, an instrument she’d never played before. Thus started her lifelong relationship with the shamisen and her teacher, “Sensei” — though Sensei never accepted that title for herself. Offering free lessons to non-Japanese, Sensei rejected teaching native students or teaching for money as a way to subvert the strict, hierarchical systems within the traditional Japanese arts, only offering a vague explanation to Pocorobba, it’s “complicated.”

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