Shamisen (三味線) is a Japanese musical instrument, its shape is similar to that of a banjo, except for its arm, which is thinner and longer. It has only three strings (as the name), its notes are the lower thirds and sixths, produces a distinct sound and associated with melancholy. It is played with a wide reed. Its body is made of wood covered with the skin of dogs or cats or even a snake in the past. Today it can be covered with a type of plastic fabric. For transportation, it can be disassembled.
Derived from a Chinese instrument, shamisen appeared in Okinawa around the 17th century, across the south of the Ryuku Islands. At first it was considered an instrument of the lower class, for being seen with street singers and geisha.
Over time, new forms for the instrument were developed, varying the thickness of the body, creating a difference in the melody that could be slightly observed. This instrument was normally seen with geishas and in kabukis (theater and dance house) - becoming the main musical instrument in the background - and also in bunrakus (puppet house).
Shamisen in Japanese culture
With the increasing popularity of kabukis in the Edo era, shamisen also became popular and was widespread throughout Japan, since then it is no longer considered an instrument of the lower class alone. At the end of the 18th century, shamisen was considered a classic concert instrument. Since then, classifications have been created for each style of shamisen use.
To this day, it is used in Japanese culture, although it takes years to master the technique of use. Even in Japanese paintings we can observe shamisen being portrayed in ancient times, either with geishas or in kabukis and bunrakus.
Below is a musical sample of the instrument. Itadakimasu!
Featured photo of Motoki Morinaga.