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"The Fourth String reconfigures the typical Japan fish-out-of-water memoir into a meditation on music and mastery, relationships, culture and narrative."

The Japan Times



Listen to Janet's interview on Defying the Western Narrative on DIY MFA Podcast Episode #247


Janet discusses Risky Memoir Writing on the "Why We Write" Podcast of Lesley University

book cover picture


 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 30, gives up her return ticket home to become a lifelong student of her teacher. 


Part memoir, part biography of Sensei, The Fourth String traces a relationship and music that is steeped in loyalty, duty, and the important silences in Japanese life. 


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?"


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

photograph by Sharona Jacobs


"Impressively well written with a distinctive narrative storytelling style, The Fourth String is an inherently fascinating, thoughtful, and compelling read."

The Midwest Book Review


"This memoir provides a picture of the ever present tension between the traditional and modern in Japan. It also provides great detail on the learning and playing of Japanese traditional music."

The Asian Review of Books


"A detailed and intimate portrayal of the relationship between two women."

—Hippocampus Magazine