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Shamisen

Friday, October 2, 2009

The photo of my friend, Satomi, it was taken by me at Culture night in Itako hotel, Tokyo when she was playing Shamisen! The shamisen is similar in length to a guitar, but its neck is much slimmer and without frets. Its drum-like rounded rectangular body, known as the dō, is covered front and back with skin in the manner of a banjo, and amplifies the sound of the strings. The skin is usually from a dog or cat, but in the past a special type of paper was used and recently various types of plastics are being tried. On the skin of some of the best shamisen, the position of the cat's nipples can still be seen.

The three strings are traditionally made of silk, or, more recently, nylon. The lowest passes over a small hump at the "nut" end so that it buzzes, creating a characteristic sound known as sawari (somewhat reminiscent of the "buzzing" of a sitar, which is called jawari). The upper part of the dō is almost always protected by a cover known as a dō kake, and players often wear a little band of cloth on their left hand to facilitate sliding up and down the neck. This band is known as a yubikake. There may also be a cover on the head of the instrument, known as a tenjin...

March 2007

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