Thank you!

Last week end the USO Bazaar was held in Camp Foster field house and we joined it!!!
We had so much fun and we had the best chance ever to show our beautiful instruments on base! We sold 14 Sanshin in 3 days! We had booking for Sanshin lessons and we had new customers in our shop this 3 days asking us more about Sanshin and Okinawan music. Could it has been better than this? We wan to say thsnk you to all people stopped by our small shop and to all the one wanted to play a little song with us, we want to say thank you to the USO staff and to all those people that just enjoying our music, dancing with us made this week end the best week end! Thank you all!

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Visit us at the USO SPRING BAZAR held in the Camp Foster Field House next weekend!!! Our sanshin are on sale at discounted prices exclusively during the event. Don’t miss this great opportunity!
Up to 20% OFF on New Wood Sanshins!
10% OFF on K.K. Mono and K.K. Capri!
10% OFF on our Master pieces: Hongawa Sanshin Traditional Set and Free Style Set!
We will join the USO SPRING BAZAR
March the 4th: 4-8pm
March the 5th: 10-8pm
March the 6th: 10-8 pm
Visit Asoviva at the USO and enjoy playing Sanshin with our staff!!!

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O’ Sole Mio!

Fun time playing O’ Sole mio!
I couldn’t resist from playing the most popular Italian song with a Sanshin. The sound was quite different from the original performance, and I’m not a good player but still lot’s of fun! Once again you don’t have to a be a very good player to enjoy playing the Sanshin and you really can play all kind of music from different styles and traditions, as I did with this old, popular and very famous Italian song!

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Easy to play! Easy to enjoy!

I play the guitar since I was very young, but I cannot play any other music instrument. I’m working for a sanshin shop and I was always curious to know how to play the three-stringed instrument. I always felt shy to ask someone at my work to show me how to play the instrument. One day, during a lunch break, I finally picked up a sanshin for the very first time and tried to play Shima Uta, the only Okinawan song I know and I often play with my guitar. How did it go? I enjoyed it so much! I am not a very good player, but it’s still so much fun. Just as you don’t have to be a pro surfer to enjoy riding a wave, you don’t need to be a professional music artist to enjoy playing the sanshin!

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Sanshin, Diving and Surfing!

surfing okinawa

surfing okinawa

When people visit Okinawa, they will simply be stunned by the beauty, and the incredible gradation in colors of Okinawan sea. Divers always look for protective points for their safety, while surfers look for totally different sea conditions. Because Okinawa is so popular place for diving, many people assume that Okinawan sea is calm and it doesn’t produce any waves. However, this is a wrong belief. From Cape Hedo in the far north to Suicide Cliffs in south, Okinawa offers many different kinds of waves in various places. In late October, as winter approaches slowly, the north winds start blowing and this produce choppy and very big waves on the east coast. Once a big low pressure pass away, the winds turns from north to north-west, which produce smaller and clean, perfect waves. This is the typical swell condition during winter through mid-March. Spring is when all surfers patiently wait for typhoon season and in June, typhoons approach near the island, which offers you some beatiful surfing days. In summer, swells last a couple of days and because the swell is created very far from the coast, waves are defined and very organized and no wind disturbs. This is the best time for surfing in Okinawa and in fact, also many surfers from overseas come look for quality waves.
Enjoy all the richness and allures of Okinawa, including Sanshin music, diving and surfing.

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Dou and Snakeskin

The body of the sanshin (the dou or chiiga) is like a drum – a wooden frame with a skin stretched over the top and bottom of the frame.  Traditionally snakeskin is used. However, synthetic skin made from polyester has gained popularity as it is more afforable and durable than genuine snakeskin. The least expensive form of a sanshin has no skin, and uses a wooden top and open back to generate sound.

sanshin body line upleft to right: wood sanshin, genuine snakeskin, synthetic skin.

Artificial skin: Can vary in quality. Better sanshin use a high quality durable form of polyester. As some countries prohibit the import of genuine snakeskin, an artificial skin sanshin provides a good alternative. Being synthetic also allows for some creative designs on the dou!

sanshin designs

Genuine Snakeskin – Hongawa:
Burmese PythonMost sanshin are traditionally made using Indian Python or Burmese Python(pictured) imported from Thailand or Vietnam. It has always been this way. The local snakes are simply too small to provide enough skin for the drum. Although you will often find them at the bottom of a bottle of Habushu (snake liquor).

stretching snakeskin over the body of a sanshinThe snakeskin is treated first, then stretched across the wooden frame of the dou. A higher tension for the skin will result in a higher tone, and will vary according to a customers request. Genuine snakeskin is more prone to tearing than synthetic snakeskin and a second layer of either artificial or genuine snakeskin is used to improve durability.

Determining the quality of the snakeskin:
The simplest way to illustrate, is to show you a comparison between a very high quality dou and one of lesser quality.

Hongawa - snakeskin sanshin

The high quality dou on the left has larger symmetrical scales that are uniform in size across the visible surface. This also indicates it has been taken further down the back of the python. The lesser quality dou on the right has scales that range in size from small in the center to larger on the sides, and are uneven in appearance. The smaller scales in the center indicate the skin is taken from behind the neck of the python. However, the difference in sound between the two may be negligible.

Doumaki or Tiigaa is a decorative cover for the dou which hides the seam where the skin (genuine or artificial) is attached to the side of the wooden frame. There are hundreds of different designs for the doumaki, the most popular ones featuring the Royal Ryuukyuu Crest, and other Okinawan motifs.

doumaki, tiigaa for the sanshin

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Shot of the Day

snakeskin sanshin closeup

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Sou, monkey’s tail and chicken breasts

After my last post about the bachi, I decided to do a series of posts taking a closer look at each part/aspect of the sanshin.

The neck of the sanshin – the sou, to me, is the most beautiful part of the sanshin. It is a single piece of handcrafted wood, normally around 80cm in length from the head of the sanshin (ten) to it’s end at the base of the sanshin (sarunoo – lit. monkey’s tail). Unlike a guitar, the sou has no frets.

parts of the sou - the neck of the sanshin

It is normally made from ebony wood, rosewood, oak, or ironwood – the most highly prized being Ryuukuu kokutan wood that grows naturally in the Yaeyama and Yonaguni islands. Once the tree has been felled it is left to dry and harden over many years. For kashi (evergreen oak) this can be 8-10 years. For kokutan, it will be closer to 20 years!

Once the wood is ready, The center of the tree (the strongest section) is roughly cut away, before the process of carefully measuring and shaping the neck begins. Handcrafting the sou will normally take around 6 months, from shaping to painting and finishing.

The shape of the neck can be classified into 7 major types (there are many more variations), the 3 shown below are:
Chinendeku (left) – the neck is thick, and the ten curves back greatly, featuring a unique raised edge in the middle of the head, and a prominent ‘chicken breast’ (the bulbous base of the neck).
Makabe (middle) – the work of Makabe Sato, and the most common type of neck, made popular for it’s beauty and balance.
Kubanufuni (right) – literally ‘Bone of Kuba’, it is the most slender of the necks, named for it’s resemblence to a bone. The head is also very vertical, featuring only a slight curve.

Even though 2 necks may share the same style, there will always be variations in shape as a result of the handcrafting process. The signature of the craftsman can often be found on the sou, below the base of the neck.

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Horn of the Buffalo

bachi lineup

Another one of the unique things about the sanshin is the pick used for playing. The bachi is like an extension of your index finger, a weighted plectrum that curves to a fingernail like tip. Your index finger is inserted into a hole at the base of the bachi, with your thumb and middle finger adding support above and below. The strings are hit perpendicular to the pick, in a downward motion, “playing” rather than “playing down under the weight of the bachi itself.” Only the tip of the bachi will hit the strings – about 1mm.

Traditionally the bachi is made from the horn of the water buffalo, but ceramic or glass bachi are also very common. As you can see from photos above/below, the bachi also comes in various shapes and sizes. A larger bachi is used for slower songs, giving a stronger resonance to each note (eg. Teinsagu nu hana from the previous post). A smaller bachi is better for some of the livelier Okinawan folk songs with faster, upbeat tempos.

Although, it is traditional to use a bachi, you can just as easily play the sanshin with a guitar pick or even with your own fingernail (it’s best to grow your fingernail about 5mm from the tip). For traditional songs you should still hit the strings perpendicular and downwards. For everything else, you can pick or strum in any style you wish.

 bachi bachi

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The Balsam Flowers

Here’s a video I finished putting together today, of Lisa playing what is probably the most well known of all the Okinawan folk songs:

Teinsagu nu hana – The Balsam Flowers

*This is the first and last of the six verses. The lyrics of the song are Confucian teachings.

Lisa is an invaluable member of the staff at Asoviva. A talented sanshin player and singer, she is also a great teacher, and has been helping both Okinawans and tourists alike come to grips with the sanshin for the past five years.

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