Where Beauty Dawns


Brief Summary and History

Sanshin, which can very well be said to be the soul of the music of Okinawa, is made from ebony wood, rosewood and python skin. There are seven representative shapes for sanshin, each requiring an exceptionally high level of delicate and careful workmanship. It is not uncommon for decades to go by before a sanshin passes successfully from the initial stage of wood selection to final completion.

Despite its widespread popularity, the exact origins of the sanshin are yet unknown, although the musical instrument is said to be have been in existence for over 600 years. After the Chinese three-stringed lute known as “sanxian” was introduced to the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 14th century, master craftsmen of the kingdom’s Kaizuri Magistrate’s Office refined techniques for producing a musical instrument unique to Okinawa. The original pronunciation for the word “sanshin” is derived from the original Chinese pronunciation (“sanxian”) and represented in writing with the Japanese kanji for the word “string”. In the 17th century, the concept of using the sanshin as an accolade in recognition and reward of honor was developed. The sanshin occupies a special place in the hearts of the people of Okinawa, particularly in times of hardship and strife. In the aftermath of WWII, a type of sanshin termed “kankara sanshin” made with salvaged scrap materials provided much needed solace to those who bore loss and suffering as a result of the war. In recent years, there has been growing demand for sanshin from generations of Okinawa migrants located worldwide. The sanshin was officially designated as a prefectural traditional craft product on November 30th, 2012.

Basic data

MaterialEbony wood, rosewood, isu (Distylium racemosum), yew plum, python skin
Place of manufactureAll regions of main island of Okinawa
Main ProductsThere are seven main types of sanshin: Febaru, Chinin-dēku, Kubashundun, Kubanufunī, Hiranaka-chinin, Makabi, Yunā
Partnership name and date of establishmentSanshin Craftsmen's Business Cooperative Association of Okinawa, April 16th, 2010
Date designated by nationalNovember 7th, 2018
Date designated by prefectureNovember 30th, 2012
SourceSource: "An Outline of Promotion Strategies for the Craft Industry", official website of Sanshin Craftsmen's Business Cooperative Association of Okinawa (https://okinawa34.jp)