A year ago, I was fortunate enough to be serenaded by a lovely student, and his three-stringed instrument, the sanshin. Sanshin in Japanese actually translates to “three strings”.  If you have heard the sanshin (it’s sometimes played in Jusco) you’ll certainly recognize the *dink* dink *dink* like sound.

Unfortunately, I was not able to record my student- but here you go. A talented local Okinawan on You Tube. It’s almost as though the musician is gently “plucking” a lovely harp. A perfect song to enter the pearly gates- or on a lighter note to have a fruity cocktail at the seawall.  It’s an interesting little instrument that serves a variety of important Okinawan cultural events.


As always my inquisitive nature had to fire away after a soft serendae. It went something like this:

When do you “bust out” the sanshin?

I was explained that the sanshin is played when you build a tomb, have a family graduation, a wedding ceremony, the arrival of a new baby as well as when you are having a new house built. We also use an “amp” (see picture below) so that the music can be heard better.

What kind of forked- tongue reptile is the skin from?

In the past, they actually used Burmese pythons.

What is the sanshin pic made of?

Traditionally, it was made of elephant tusk (but now that is illegial to buy).

He went into some other interesting and complicated explanations about the three cords and their positions.




If you want a good local sunshine experience – you can buy this CD at Jusco for about 1,000 yen. The cover of the album looks just like the cover on this disc (writer frequently loses stuff, including cd cases). For a great poem about losing things, click here.

Back to the CD. I bought this on a whim, liked the design- and have quite enjoyed the music!



  1. Yoshi- I live in Sunabe. I checked the place this morning (it is close to Coffee Casa). I got a phone number off of their sign- 936-2808. I think it’s going to be in Japanese (the sign was). Let me know what you find out! Thanks! 🙂

  2. Yoshi- I also know there is a place here in town. I live by the seawall and I often walk by a place (about three houses to the left of the turkish gyro place) that, my guess does sanshin lessons. Last time I tried to get info- no luck. Let me try again. If you go- there is a heavily planted outside (looks like a garden shop), small parking place and pic of a sanshin.

  3. The Airman Family Readiness Center (bldg. 99 I think) on Kadena does a sanshin class on Thursday evenings that is several classes long where you can learn to play one. I believe they provide the sanshin, as well. Check with them when their next class is.

  4. I was told that you absolutley may not take “python skin” back to the states. But, many sanshin are made with “fake” python skin that will be no problem at PCS time. You can even get sanshin with a customized graphic of your choice (including a pic of your family). So, maybe avoiding “real” snakeskin is the best course of action.

    BTW, I really would be interested in lessons, too.

  5. Sarah- That’s really interesting about not being able to send them back…I wonder if it has to do with the “snake skin”….I will try and find out.
    Also, does anyone know about lessons? Will look into that as well!

  6. Not sure if you would like to mention this- but I’m pretty sure it is illegal for any Americans to take the Sanshin off the island. Americans can buy them, but can’t bring them back stateside- I’m not entirely sure of the reasoning behind it but I do remember at our new comers briefing they made that very clear. It might have changed now but I just thought it was important to note.

  7. Love this post about the sanshin…You are always so creative with your posts!!! I think I also heard on the radio that they are going to be doing a sanshin class on base…I could be totally wrong it wouldn’t be the first time, but they also said, again if I heard things correctly, you didn’t need to own one that they would have them to use for the lesson…hopefully someone will chime in with more information if it is true!

  8. Writer also loses baby bottle caps (at the Rose Garden, I was meant to pass it on to you last week but it appears that I’ve also mastered the art of losing things LOL). Cool poem…

    That’s interesting that the sanshin is played on certain occasions, I didn’t know that, I thought it was one of those “bust out” anytime instruments. I heard the sanshin a lot when I lived on Yoron but depending on who was playing it, I either liked it or didn’t. It’s definitely a different type of music that can take some getting used to…….