Shamisen: Features, price, and history of the ethnic musical instrument


We will introduce and explain the genre, performance, types, and how to play the traditional shamisen. The shamisen is said to be a traditional Japanese musical instrument, and its roots can be traced back to China before BC. The shamisen is famous as a musical instrument with a history of 400 years, and its basic design has hardly changed. It is a plucked string instrument that is played by plucking the strings. It has a flat, rectangular wooden body covered with cat or dog leather on both sides, and is played by plucking the strings attached to a rod that extends through the body, usually with a ginkgo-shaped plectrum. It has now become a famous musical instrument in Japan.


This musical instrument was created and created in Japan and Ryukyu respectively. People make detailed performances using strings (spools of thread). They are broadly divided into thin, medium, and thick, all of which have similar tones. It is used when necessary in Kabuki etc. Just like other musical instruments such as the taiko, koto, and koto, it must be tuned and used. Tsugaru songs and songs are famous. Even beginners can use it and change the expression by stretching it. With practice, you will be able to grasp the main points. Recently, there are many players who actually sing with rosewood.

About the price

Shamisen can be purchased for tens of thousands of yen to hundreds of thousands of yen. Prices will be adjusted depending on the material. The number of craftsmen is increasing all over the world, and in fact they are being used in a variety of ways, making them a representative Japanese musical instrument. It is used in jiuta, joruri, jiuta, etc. Of course, in addition to shamisen music, the biwa also plays a strong role. You can easily start playing in an ensemble as a performer from the beginning.

History of shamisen

The shamisen is a traditional Japanese musical instrument, but its roots are in China. The stringed instrument called “stringed bag” that existed in the Qin era of China in BC changed with the times, and became an instrument called “sanxian” in the Ming dynasty around the 13th to 14th centuries. As the name suggests, the Sanxian has three strings, and the body is a musical instrument with a snake skin. It is mainly used for accompaniment of songs, and it seems that it was rarely played alone. At the end of the 14th century, the Sanshin was introduced to the Ryukyu Kingdom by trade, and the shape of the Sanshin developed independently, which is still well known. Sanshin has been popular with people mainly in Okinawa from around the 15th century to the present.

The shamisen was introduced to Japan by the trade between Japan and the Ryukyu Kingdom around the 16th century, and was improved and produced in about half a century. Unlike the sanshin and sanshin, the body of the shamisen is often made of dog or cat skin. In the Edo period around the 17th century, a shamisen that was completely the same as the modern shamisen was completed. During the Edo period, there were strict restrictions on music, with gagaku being limited to aristocrats, Nogaku to samurai, koto to the blind, and shakuhachi to the komuso. The only thing that was widely put into the hands of the people was the shamisen. Because of such a background, the shamisen spreads all at once. At first, it was a favorite of the upper class in urban areas, but eventually it spread to the common people and to rural areas, and achieved its own development. In particular, if a woman excels in performing arts such as shamisen, she could even marry an upper class house. However, in the 20th century, powerful rivals emerged and declined. With the advent of Western musical instruments such as guitars and basses, they will gradually disappear with the times.

Features of shamisen

The main parts of the shamisen are the torso and the rod, and the sound is produced by playing the three strings stretched from the torso to the rod with a plectrum or fingers. There are no frets like a guitar, and you can make sounds of various scales by pressing the points called “Kansho” well. Wood is used for the torso and rod, and red wood and karin are used. The skin used is that of dogs and cats. There are many performance genres, including Nagauta, Kouta, Sankyoku, folk songs, and contemporary performances. Most of the powerful performances you hear on TV are Tsugaru shamisen performances. Originally introduced from China, it is a “sanxian”, but nowadays, it is sometimes used as a sound effect in rakugo and manzai, and sometimes it is played by a geisha in a tatami room.

Types of shamisen





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