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The sanshin (三線, literally meaning "Three strings") is an Okinawan musical instrument and precursor of the Japanese shamisen. 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 its Chinese origins, the old Ryūkyū Kingdom (pre-Japanese Okinawa) having very close ties with 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.

The Okinawan 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 strings are white, except in Amami, where they are yellow.

Traditionally, players wore a plectrum, made of a material such as the horn of the water buffalo, on the index finger. Many still do, whereas others use a guitar pick or the nail of the index finger. In Amami, long, narrow plectra of bamboo are also in use.

In mainland Japan, many people refer to the sanshin as jabisen (蛇皮線, literally "snake-skin strings") or jamisen (蛇三線, "snake three strings") because the body of the instrument has a snakeskin covering. A bamboo bridge raises the strings off the skin.

In the years following World War II, many Okinawans made sanshin from empty tin cans, known as "kankara sanshin".

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).

See also

External links

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