Sanshin, the banjo from Okinawa

07 Oct 2016 in Discover Japan

Have you ever heard about sanshin, this unique traditional Japanese 3 strings banjo ?

Sanshin instrument

History let us know that the sanshin appeared about 600 years ago. This traditional string instrument can be found in the Ryukyu islands, an archipelago near Taiwan in the Okinawa prefecture. Its name may derive from the Chinese “sanxian”, a similar instrument brought over by immigrants in the second half of the 14th century. However, sanshin was originally reserved for entertaining the royal court. The instrument was eventually taken up by the general public, and remains very popular to this day.

Japanese sanshin

The sanshin’s shape is reminiscent of the banjo. It is composed of a small round voice box and a neck in a single piece that is about 60 cm long. The instrument could be manufactured of mulberry, rosewood or hibiscus wood, although ebony is often preferred for its acoustic qualities. The voice box is then covered with two python skins and sheathed with a band to hide the place where the skins are sewn together.

Sanshi player

Aside of  its unique shape the sanshin stands out by its use of three unique strings. Made from silk or nylon – for more modern versions – they produce unique sounds. Played in the G and B scales, the rather high-pitched notes are even more surprising when accompanied by a singer. Each afternoon, HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island invites a local artist to play the sanshin and sing in the hotel lounge. They often sing and play the same notes at the same time, which will invariably impress you. Do not miss it, the mastery of song and instrument is so astonishing!

Japanese sanshin musician



Taketomi’s Tanadui festival

08 Aug 2019 in Discover Japan

Experience a week of Okinawan celebrations with the locals. Read more


Seijin No Hi: Japan’s Coming of Age Day

05 Jan 2018 in Discover Japan

Every January, kimono-clad young people celebrate their coming of age – in often raucous style. Discover the festivities! Read more


Tales of a Japanese gardener

15 Sep 2017 in Discover Japan

Get an insider’s view on Japanese gardens! Read our exclusive interview with a Kyoto-based gardener. Read more



Gagaku, Japan’s ancient performing arts

09 Nov 2016 in Discover Japan

Come and discover the musical traditions of Japan with Gagaku, inscribed on UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage. Read more


24 hours at Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone

04 Jun 2019 in Discover Japan

Enjoy riverside views, local arts, and an atmospheric walk on an ancient trade path. Read more


The 117 temples of Kōya-San

06 Mar 2019 in Discover Japan

Experience Buddhist life first-hand at this sacred mountain complex. Read more

most popular articles