The SHAMISEN is a three stringed, long-necked lute, often compared to a type of banjo. It has a fretless wooden neck and a body which makes an oblong frame over which is stretched a skin. The silk strings are struck with a large plectrum, called a 'bachi'.
The modern Japanese shamisen originated from a traditional Chinese instrument called a 'sanxin'.
This instrument transfered across to the Ryukyu islands, (present day Okinawa), where the 'sanshin' is still played as an important part of their folk culture.
Travelling to mainland Japan the sanshin under went several changes, notably incresing the neck length and replacing the original snakeskin playing head with cat or dog skin.
Further changes continued as the instrument migrated northward to the Tohoku area of Japan, resulting in the range of different sized shamisen available today.