【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】~Sanshin (Okinawa Prefecture)~

【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】~Sanshin (Okinawa Prefecture)~





【Production area of Sanshin】

Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture, etc.



【What is Sanshin?】

Sanshin is a musical instrument made mainly in Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture.

Sanshin is used as a central instrument in Kumiodori, which was registered on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2010, and Ryukyu Kageki, an Okinawa Prefecture Intangible Cultural Property.

Today, not only classical music and folk songs, but also club music and pops are performed in all genres of music.

The unique sound produced by the sanshin continues to attract many people.


In November 2018, it was designated as a traditional craft.



【Features of Sanshin】

It consists of three main parts: the neck, the body, and the spool.

The feature is that “snake skin” is used for the body part.

There are a total of 7 types of traditional shapes, which are classified mainly by the shape of the neck.

In addition, each model has the names of the master craftsmen who created it.


①Makabe type


Among the seven types, the Makabe type is the most popular.

It is said to be the most graceful type with a thin neck and a feminine silhouette overall.


②Haebaru type


This is the oldest of the seven types.

In the history book “Kyuyo”, it is stated that the name comes from Haebaru, a master craftsman at the time.

Since it was written in 1710, it can be assumed that the Haebaru type existed before then.

It is characterized by a small curve at the tip (top) and a thin neck.


③Chinen carpenter type


It is characterized by a wide tip (top) and a large curve.

It is said that the bass sounds especially well.


④Kuba Shunden type


As the name suggests, it is said to be a mold made by the craftsman Kuba Shundon.

Among the seven types, it is characterized by its thickest neck.


⑤Kuba’s bone shape


It is said that the name was given because it resembles the petiole of a Kuba leaf when viewed from the side.

The neck is thin, and it has a delicate image.

As it looks, it is said to be a model that produces a delicate sound.


⑥Hiranaka Chinen type


It is a slightly smaller version of the Haebaru type, and is characterized by a rounded center.

It is the lightest among the seven types.


⑦Yonagushiku type


It is said to have been created by Yonashiro, a sanshin master craftsman.

It is said to be loud and resonate well.


Making a sanshin requires the sophisticated skills of craftsmen, and it is not uncommon for it to take decades to complete.

Also, holding a sanshin covered with snake skin is a symbol of wealth, and has long been considered auspicious.


For example, two sanshins are displayed in the alcove and are called “husband and wife sanshin”.

Also, the sanshin is stored in a box made of lacquer and is called a “kazari sanshin”, and both are valued.

In addition to being a familiar instrument, it is indispensable to Okinawan culture and the people living in Okinawa as it has various values and meanings.



【History of Sanshin】

In the latter half of the 14th century, the sangen, which was brought to the Ryukyu Kingdom from mainland China, is the prototype of the sanshin.

In the 15th century, the sanshin was recommended as a courtesy for the samurai class.

At the beginning of the 17th century, it was officially recognized as a court instrument of the Ryukyu Kingdom and was used in all kinds of events.

Also, around this time, a post was created to supervise sanshin producers.

As a result, master craftsmen who have mastered the techniques of sanshin production have been born one after another, and wonderful musical instruments have been produced.

Due to the prosperity of Ryukyu’s unique culture such as Kumiodori, the sanshin came to gain a solid position as a major court instrument.


The turning point came in 1879.

The Ryukyu domain became Okinawa Prefecture, and the samurai who were the bearers of the sanshin lost their status.

However, it became an opportunity for former samurai to descend to various parts of Japan, and the sanshin spread to the common people.


Many sanshins were damaged during World War II, but the famous instruments that escaped damage in the war began to be protected as important cultural properties.

The sanshin culture, which began during the Ryukyu Kingdom era, continues to be handed down even today, overcoming various difficulties.



【Production process of Sanshin】

①Determination of type


From the seven shapes introduced earlier, the craftsman decides which shape to make the sanshin.

After the decision is made, the necessary dimensions are copied onto the wood using drawings and paper patterns.


②Cutting and filing


While looking at the wood grain, cut out the neck according to the dimensions, and then file it.

The upper part of the neck is very important in determining the kata, and it is also an important part that affects the overall balance of the sanshin.

Therefore, it is all done by hand by craftsmen and finished with careful checks.


③Lacquering and polishing


The process of applying lacquer and polishing is repeated 3 to 10 times.

By doing this work, cracks caused by drying will be prevented and the finish will be beautiful.


④Snake skin molding


Cut the snake skin to fit the body of the sanshin.

After cutting, cloth tape is stretched on the back side to reinforce the material, and the material is rounded to match the shape of the body, then sewn onto the fastener.

At this time, nails are used to fix the snake skin so that it does not shift.


⑤Apply skin


The front and back of the body are covered with leather twice.

After stretching both sides, drive a wedge into the fastener.

As the skin is pulled and stretched as it is hammered in, the craftsman adjusts it to fit the size of the body.




Once the spool is attached to the neck, it is inserted into the body.

This series of assembly work is called “buate”, and it greatly affects the sound of the completed sanshin.

Craftsmen carefully adjust the angle of the neck and body as they work.

Assembly work such as “fitting the mouthpiece”, “wrapping the body”, “attaching the thread”, and “winding the string around the kakurai” is completed when the bridge is set up.





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