Three Strings: The Shamisen

As promised last week, here are my findings on the Shamisen.

A Geisha And Shamisen
A Geisha And Shamisen

“The shamisen or samisen (三味線?, literally “three strings”), also called sangen (三絃?, literally “three strings”), is a three-stringed, Japanese musical instrument played with a plectrum called a bachi.”

“The shamisen is a plucked stringed instrument. Its construction follows a model similar to that of a guitar or a banjo, with a neck and strings stretched across a resonating body. The neck of the shamisen is fretless and slimmer than that of a guitar or banjo. The body, called the  (胴?), resembles a drum, having a hollow body that is taut front and back with skin, in the manner of a banjo.” -Wikipedia

A Geisha And Her Shamisen, 1955
A Geisha And Her Shamisen, 1955

“The Japanese shamisen originated from the Chinese instrument sanxian (Chinese: 三弦). The sanxianwas introduced through the Ryūkyū Kingdom (Okinawa) in the 16th century, where it developed into the Okinawan instrument sanshin (三線) from which the shamisen ultimately derives. It is believed that the ancestor of the shamisen was introduced in the 16th century at port Sakai near Osaka.


The shamisen can be played solo or with other shamisen, in ensembles with other Japanese instruments, with singing such as nagauta, or as an accompaniment to drama, notably kabuki and bunraku. Both men and women traditionally played the shamisen.” -Wikipedia

Shamisen crafter with a customer, 1909
Shamisen crafter with a customer, 1909

You couldn’t watch most Samurai era movies without hearing or seeing one. They have a very distinct sound that emotes a feeling of tradition and ethnicity Japan is known for. However, everyone who is playing this traditional instrument is not exactly staying with tradition.

For some reason “Riverdance” comes to mind when watching this video.

Random Riverdance Reference
Random Riverdance Reference

I don’t know why… Call me weird.

My wife does.

Anyway check out this video about the Shamisen. I watching love the “BEGIN Japanology” series when I can catch it.

Check us out on Facebook and Twitter. Or sign up for our Newsletter through our Website. We’re not just making a film, but trying to build a small community around it.

Related Articles


Author: hikikomori78

American Hikikomori is an upcoming short film that explores the emotional struggles of a Japanese teenager named Isamu Fujihara, when he moves to America.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s