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Traditional Craftmen in Minato City

Yoshitsugu Ito

Samisen (three-stringed lute) Yoshitsugu Ito

He creates the beautiful sounds of olden times.

It is said that Samisen was invented by Ishimura Kengyo* who was a “Biwa Hoshi (lute priest)” at that time and it was based on Jabisen (similar to the Samisen but using snake-skin) which was brought over from the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa) to Sakai in Osaka in 1562. After his device, cat-skin or dog-skin was used for this musical instrument.
The difference between Samisen and other stringed instruments is that the beam penetrates its sound chamber. Also, as both sides of the body are covered with separate skins, the timbre differs depending on the strength of the stretched skin.
Samisen comprises a body, a beam and a top part. The body is made of Karin (Chinese quince), and the beam is made of Karin or Shitan (red sandal wood) or Koki, in particular, which is regarded as the best material.

(*)Kengyo is a title expressing official class among the blind, used after Muromachi shogunate.

Process of making Samisen

  1. Preparing materials
    Wood materials used to make Samisen are “koki,” red sandalwood and Chinese quince (the material for the body is exclusively Chinese quince). Cut the rectangular wood into three parts for the long neck of the instrument. (top, middle and bottom parts)
  2. Shaping the long neck
    Join the three parts of the long neck. Whittle the wood with a small hatchet and a file to round the neck to the right size.
  3. Polishing
    Polish the long neck well using three different whetstones.
  4. Producing “Tenjin” with resonance groove and holes for tuning pegs
    Make the top (“Tenjin”) to be joined to the tip of the long neck. Shave to make the groove (“sawari-mizo”) to produce peculiar resonance of Samisen. Make holes to fix metal rings for tuning pegs with a burning rod to keep the wood from cracking.
  5. Joining the neck with the body
    Very carefully join the bottom of the long neck with the resonance chamber or the square body of the instrument framed with 4 boards.
  6. Covering the body with a skin
    Cover the body with the skin of a cat using wooden clips fastened on four sides of the frame. Put the body on a work stand and spread the skin by tightening the ropes that tie the wooden clips and the stand. (This process determines 80% of the quality of the sound of the instrument)
  7. Setting the pegs
    Whittle a piece of wood into a tuning peg. Adjust each peg exactly to fit the metal-ringed hole so the strings are kept in tune.
  8. Stringing
    String the instrument .(Thickness of strings varies depending on the character of the music played, the size of the neck and the body of the instrument)

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