This article needs additional citations for verification . (August 2019) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
The sanshin (三線, literally "three strings") is an Okinawan musical instrument and precursor of the mainland Japanese (and Amami Islands) shamisen ( 三味線). Often likened to a banjo, it consists of a snakeskin-covered body, neck and three strings.
Its close resemblance in both appearance and name to the Chinese sanxian suggests Chinese origins, the then Ryūkyū Kingdom (pre-Japanese Okinawa) having very close ties with Imperial China. In the 16th century, the sanshin reached the Japanese trading port at Sakai in Osaka, Japan. In mainland Japan, it evolved into the larger shamisen, and many people refer to the sanshin as jabisen (蛇皮線, literally "snake-skin strings") or jamisen (蛇三線, "snake three strings") due to its snakeskin covering.
The Sanshin is considered the soul of Okinawan folk music. Played by youth as young as 2, to the Elders with 100 years or more, there is a Sanshin in most Okinawan homes. It is the center of small informal family gatherings, weddings, birthdays, other celebrations, community parties, festivals. The Sanshin is held in great respect among the Ryukyu culture. It is often viewed as a vehicle, an instrument that carries the Voice of the Deities, and is regarded as a Deity itself. Of course, this respect is blatantly obvious in the Sanshin's traditional construction (detailed below). Sanshin are generally designed to last more than a life-time- they are an instrument of Legacy- often passed down through the generations of a Family.
There is a story that proves the Sanshin's Soulful steadfastness. It is a tale of the 'Husband & Wife Sanshin'- a pair of Sanshin made from the same core of Okinawan Ebony tree. They were owned by a husband and wife prior to World War II, At the onset of the War, the Husband was forced into Military service by the Japanese, and therefore had to leave his Wife and home. The pair of Sanshin, the soul of the couple themselves, were in danger during the inevitable war actions to come, which destroyed much of the inhabited parts of the main island and wiped out almost half of the native population. In an attempt to preserve his and his wife's sanshin, the Husband wrapped them up, put them into a wooden box, and buried them deep in the Okinawa forest. Later, they were dug up, and brought back to their rightful home, having made it safely through the violent war. They are currently preserved by the Son of the couple.
Traditionally, it was covered with the skin of the Burmese python, but today, due to CITES regulations, the skin of the python reticulatus is also used. Python skin is used for the skin of the body of the instrument, in contrast to the cat or dogskin used traditionally on Japanese shamisen. Though Okinawa is famous for the venomous habu viper, the habu is in fact too small for its skin to be used to make sanshin, and it is believed that the snakeskin for sanshin has always been imported from Southeast Asia.
Though the pythons used to make sanshin skins today are not an endangered species, the difficulty of distinguishing one snakeskin from another makes transporting real-skin (J: hongawa) sanshin internationally somewhat risky. Due to international wildlife protection treaties, it is not legal to export snakeskin-covered sanshins to some countries (such as the United Kingdom and United States).There is some room for interpretation of this in that the treaties specify that the restriction is for endangered species of snake.
Naturally-skinned instruments- while being absolutely unparalleled in sound quality (warm, deep yet pronounced tone)- are infamous for cracking and tearing- especially when the Sanshin is taken out of its natural habitat- the humid tropicality of the Ryukyu Islands. Up until recent times- skin breakage was never considered much of a problem- as the Sanshin's construction allows for it to be fully disassembled, re-skinned, and reassembled, usually with little time, cost, and inconvenience. If a skin broke, you just take it to your nearest Sanshin craftsman-who are heavily dotted throughout the Prefecture, and they would quickly repair the instrument. When Sanshin started its journey across the World, not only did this become a much bigger issue,( as they were no sanshin craftsman outside of Okinawa, and Western luthiers were/are unfamiliar with Sanshin construction or the use of natural skins), but the factors leading up to skin cracks/tears/breaks increased dramatically, in many parts of the world that are cold and/or dry, and perhaps with foreign players being unfamiliar with a Sanshin's sensitive nature.
This gave birth to the Artificial Sanshin 'Skin'. Artificial skins can made of a variety of materials, such as Nylon and Polyester. The quality, appearance, and price-point vary greatly- from the hard, thin-'skinned', and high-pitched, 'tinny'-sounding Polyester; to the more 'snake-skin-sounding' Nylon, which replicate the layered composition of natural snake skin. These artificially-skinned Sanshin are in-demand for several reasons, including Cost-effectiveness for beginners, and the fact that they can be taken into almost any environmental condition without the worry of damaging a natural skin. The highest-quality synthetic-skin Sanshin,(which can start as low as around US$300) are the go-to choice for professional Okinawan Folk Musicians who travel and play over-seas.
These days, with the Sanshin's popularity rapidly expanding all over the world, and the desire of players to have a most traditional Sanshin (not to mention the legal issues)- a type of hybrid skin has been developed. Called the Kyoka-bari style- this is a natural python skin that is fitted and stretched with a strong, synthetic reinforcement fabric underneath. This proves a great compromise for those in dryer/colder/hotter climates. Like with its un-reinforced predecessor, it is still good practice to maintain regular oiling of the reinforced Kyoka-bari skin to prevent over-drying and cracking. There is also a tailor-made product to avoid skin-breakage- naturally oily leather circular pads that you lay on either side of the sanshin body during case storage. This prevents over-drying which leads to breaking.
The wooden parts of the Sanshin- the Neck (Sao), head/body (Dou), and head (Ten), can be made with any of a large variety of hardwoods. Traditionally, the neck or Sao is crafted with the solid black core of the Okinawan Ebony tree, a species native to Okinawa- and the only ebony in the whole of Japan. This black ebony core is amazingly strong and highly sought-after for its attributes to traditional sound quality. Typically, Ebony trees no younger than 100 years old are used in Sanshin construction- the time necessary for the tree to grow a big enough black core to produce one or more instrument necks. One special note of beauty- outer flanges where the core passes into the main wood body of the trunk go from black to deep red/brown- presenting a unique natural contrast.
Instruments made with Okinawan Ebony are among the most expensive Sanshin made and sold today. Even Ebony instruments that forego authentic snakeskin for the cheaper and more durable Nylon and Polyester skins can be several times more expensive than an instrument made with other hardwoods.
The other, more common hardwoods (used mainly for convenience, availability, and cost-effectiveness) include: Oak, Apitong, and Rosewoods (any number of Species)
There are 3 strings, called Gen. They can be made of Nylon or Silk. They are first attached to the base of the Dou (head), at the point where the end of the neck pole sticks out. A silk thread-piece, known as an Itokake or Genkake is fitted onto the wood piece, then the strings are individually attached to the 3 loops of the Itokake, using a simple draw-thru knot. The other end of the string are brought up the body and neck, and are the individually wound onto their respective pegs, called Karakui. Itokake, once only available in Gold color, are now being made in a variety of colors, to match a variety of Doumaki.
Karakui, the tuning pegs, are generally made with whatever wood the neck is made from, but Ebony is most common, and desired for its strength. Acting much like the tuning pegs of the violin, cello, and other traditional western wood string instruments- Karakui will require the use of Rosin (made of Pine resin, oils, ash, etc.), after an initial period. The Rosin is applied as a thin and tacky layer, adding grip between the two wood pieces. Karakui are infamous for breaking with the slightest impetus, and are therefore readily available individually or in sets of 3. Karakui also act as another face of expression for the Sanshin- they can be carved in a variety of different styles and designs, and finished in a range of colors, textures, and some can even be 'tipped' with Jade, Coral, or other stones, shells, and natural decorations. Another part of Sanshin's body is susceptible to damage- and that is the head, or 'Ten'. It can be scratched, dented, or even completely broken off, if mishandled. A textile, simply called a Ten cover, is a small, elastic-reinforced slip-cover that is generally padded and quilted, to provide a bit of protection against surface damage. These Ten covers can be used at all times, or can be removed during play. Use during play will not effect sound quality. Ten covers come in as big of a variety as Doumaki, many made to match.
The finishing touch, and arguably 'the Soul' of every Sanshin, is the Doumaki- the decorative textile that surrounds the head of the Sanshin. Dou, meaning 'drum' and Maki, meaning 'Wrap'. Most often, Doumaki are made from modern fibers and methods, and display the Royal Crest of the Ryukyu Kingdom (Hidari Gomon), in rich black and gold. These days, a wide variety of both modern-made and traditional hand-woven Doumaki can be found both in Japan and by world citizens via the internet. They can range from US$10 (for traditional design and cheaper materials), all the way to US$175, for the magnificent hand-woven Doumaki, made with hand-spun silk or the famous Basho-fu, 'silk' made from the trunks of Okinawan Banana trees. These high-end Doumaki may also incorporate leather, python skin, Bingata fabric (Okinawan 'stencil & paste' dyeing), Minsaa weavings (traditional Ryukyu '4 & 5' Square patterns_ and other natural/modern materials.
In addition to synthetic skins, another modern cost-cutting adaptation is the 'New Wood' Sanshin- an instrument that abandons any type of 'skinning' of the body, and instead utilizes a thin panel of wood composite. This wood face is then finished and decorated in any number of fashions. This 'New Wood' design has pioneered the seemingly popular 'Sanshin Kit'. This 'DIY' kit generally includes pre-fabricated parts- the Sao/Neck, the Dou/drum head base, and the Karakui/tuning pegs- all of which come 'unfinished', awaiting the new owner's creative hands. Wood parts can be further sanded, stained/painted, oiled, lacquered, etc... whatever the heart desires. Kits come with a traditional Doumaki, but the die-hard artisan may choose to create their own unique, personally-designed textile. It seems that in recent times, with the US Dollar and the Japanese Yen not exactly being of equal value, the cost of shipping to countries outside of Asia, is higher than the cost of the Kits themselves.
A very unique 'evolutionary-tangent' of the Sanshin came about just after the Battle of Okinawa- the deadliest action in the Pacific War. Civilians were corralled into US camps following the Battle, during the US take-over. The Okinawans, allowed to bring nothing with them, insisted upon carrying on musical and dancing arts so important to their culture. With the assistance of their US captors, and their rations, a new type of Sanshin was made- using a tin can, and most likely a broom pole. This changed everything for the downtrodden prisoners, bring a bit of peace and joy to their otherwise bleek situation. This war-born Sanshin is now called Kankara Sanshin, or 'Can-Sanshin, Can-shin, etc.'. It is also the subject of the 'DIY-Kit' approach to Sanshin
Traditionally, players wear a plectrum, made of a material such as the water buffalo horn, on the index finger. Today, some use a guitar pick or the nail of the index finger. In Amami, long, narrow bamboo plectra are also used, which allow a higher-pitched tone than that of the Okinawa sanshin.
A bamboo bridge raises the strings off the skin, which are white, except in Amami, where they are yellower and thinner. The traditional names for the strings are (from thick to thin) uujiru (男絃, "male string"), nakajiru (中絃, "middle string"), and miijiru (女絃, "female string"). The sanshin has five tunings called chindami (ちんだみ):
Sheet music for the sanshin is written in a unique transcription system called kunkunshi (Okinawan : 工工四pronounced [kuŋkunshiː] ). It is named for the first three notes of Chinese melody that was widely known during its development. Its creator is believed to be Mongaku Terukina or his student Choki Yakabi (屋嘉比 朝寄, Yakabi Chōki) in the early to mid-1700s. A set of kanji are used to represent specific finger positions. Unlike European musical notation, kunkunshi can only be interpreted specifically through the sanshin.
The shamisen or samisen (三味線), also sangen, is a three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument derived from the Chinese instrument sanxian. It is played with a plectrum called a bachi.
The erhu, is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument, more specifically a spike fiddle, which may also be called a Southern Fiddle, and sometimes known in the Western world as the Chinese violin or a Chinese two-stringed fiddle.
Okinawan music is the music associated with the Okinawa Islands of southwestern Japan. In modern Japan, it may also refer to the musical traditions of Okinawa Prefecture, which covers the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands in addition to the Okinawa Islands. It has its roots in the larger musical traditions of the Southern Islands.
The biwa (琵琶) is a Japanese short necked lute, often used in narrative storytelling. The biwa is the chosen instrument of Benten, goddess of music, eloquence, poetry, and education in Japanese Buddhism. The biwa is a plucked string instrument that was first popular in China and then spread throughout East Asia. It is said to have arrived in Japan from China during the Nara period (710–794), and is even thought to have roots that trace back to Persia. It is generally 60 centimetres (24 in) to 106 centimetres (42 in) in length and made from wood. The instrument consists of a water drop shaped body with a handle, and while there are generally four strings, five stringed varieties also exist. In Japan, the biwa is generally plucked with a bachi instead of the fingers, and is often used to play gagaku. In addition, it is used as musical accompaniment when blind monks recite scriptural texts, or when reciting The Tale of theHeike, a war chronicle from the Kamakura period (1185–1333).
The kokyū (胡弓) is a traditional Japanese string instrument, the only one played with a bow. The instrument also exists in an Okinawan form, called kūchō in the Okinawan language.
The music of Central Asia is as vast and unique as the many cultures and peoples who inhabit the region. Principal instrument types are two- or three-stringed lutes, the necks either fretted or fretless; fiddles made of horsehair; flutes, mostly open at both ends and either end-blown or side-blown; and jew harps, mostly metal. Percussion instruments include frame drums, tambourines, and kettledrums. Instrumental polyphony is achieved primarily by lutes and fiddles.
The sanxian is a Chinese lute—a three-stringed fretless plucked musical instrument. It has a long fingerboard, and the body is traditionally made from snake skin stretched over a rounded rectangular resonator. It is made in several sizes for different purposes and in the late 20th century a four-stringed version was also developed. The northern sanxian is generally larger, at about 122 cm (48 in) in length, while southern versions of the instrument are usually about 95 cm (37 in) in length.
Huqin is a family of bowed string instruments, more specifically, a spike fiddle popularly used in Chinese music. The instruments consist of a round, hexagonal, or octagonal sound box at the bottom with a neck attached that protrudes upwards. They also usually have two strings, and their soundboxes are typically covered with either snakeskin or thin wood. Huqin instruments usually have two tuning pegs, one peg for each string. The pegs are attached horizontally through holes drilled in the instrument's neck. Most huqin have the bow hair pass in between the strings. Exceptions to having two strings and pegs include variations of huqin with three, four, and sometimes even more than five. These include the zhuihu, a three stringed huqin, the sihu, a huqin of Mongolian origin, and the sanhu, a lesser-known three-stringed variation.
The yueqin or yue qin, formerly romanized as yüeh-ch‘in and also known as the moon guitar, moon lute, gekkin, wolgeum, or la-ch‘in, is a traditional Chinese string instrument. It is a lute with a round, hollow wooden body which gives it the nickname moon guitar. It has a short fretted neck and four strings tuned in courses of two, generally tuned to the interval of a perfect fifth. Occasionally, the body of the yueqin may be octagonal in shape. It is an important instrument in the Peking opera orchestra, often taking the role of main melodic instrument in lieu of the bowed string section. The frets on all Chinese lutes are high so that the fingers never touch the actual body—distinctively different from western fretted instruments. This allows for a greater control over timbre and intonation than their western counterparts, but makes chordal playing more difficult.
The tro is Cambodia's traditional spike fiddles, bowed string instruments that are held and played vertically. Spike fiddles have a handle that passes through the resonator, often forming a spike, on the bottom side where it emerges. The family is similar or distantly related to the Chinese erhu or huqin. The instruments have a soundbox at the bottom of the stick, covered with leather or snake skin. Strings run from pegs at the top of the stick and secured at the bottom, running across the soundbox. The larger the soundbox, the lower the pitch range. Instruments in this family include the two-stringed tro ou, tro sau thom, tro sau toch and tro che, as well as the three-stringed tro Khmer spike fiddle. The two-stringed tros are tuned in a fifth, while the three-stringed tro Khmer is tuned in fourths. The tros, with the exception of the tro Khmer, are strung so that the bowstring is permanently placed between the two stings. When the musician plays, the placement of the bow causes the strings to be played at once, one from below and one from above. In contrast, western fiddles are played with the bow pushing on each string from the outside, as is also the case with the tro khmer.
Traditional Japanese musical instruments, known as Wagakki in Japan, are musical instruments used in the traditional folk music of Japan. They comprise a range of string, wind, and percussion instruments.
Rinshō Kadekaru was a Japanese-Okinawan singer who was known as a representative Okinawan folk, shimauta, singer of the post-war era.
The kankara or kankara sanshin is a Japanese three-stringed folk plucked instrument, initially an improvised derivative of the Okinawan sanshin that was developed in the Ryukyu Islands during the Shōwa period.
Seijin Noborikawa, born in Uruma, Okinawa, was a master Okinawan musician and min'yō folk singer, and a headliner of the Utanohi music festival.
The heike shamisen, is a Japanese musical instrument, member of the shamisen family. Like its other counterparts, the heike shamisen has three strings, a slender neck, a body taut with skin, and it is plucked with a plectrum called a bachi.
The gottan, also known as the hako shamisen or ita shamisen, is a traditional Japanese three-stringed plucked instrument, often considered either a relative or derivative of the sanshin, itself a relative of the shamisen.
Kōrēgusu also called kōrēgūsu (コーレーグース) and kōrēgusū (コーレーグスー) is a type of Okinawan chili sauce made of chilis infused in awamori rice spirit and is a popular condiment to Okinawan dishes such as Okinawa soba.
Choichi Terukina is a well-known Ryukyuan classical musician and sanshin grandmaster.
Ryukyuan culture are the cultural elements of the indigenous Ryukyuan people, an ethnic group native to Okinawa Prefecture and parts of Kagoshima Prefecture in southwestern Japan.