Possibly Allergic to Akatsuki Shamisen? Help Needed!


After ordering the Akatsuki Shamisen, we finally received it around December 26th, 2018. We were so excited to finally have it and it is beyond beautiful. We un-boxed it, put it together, strung it up, and played with it for a little bit. Given the holiday season we didn’t really get a chance to play with it too much. It wasn’t shortly after that my face, neck, and arms were engulfed with blistery rashes that looked like poison-ivy. Thinking it could be some how poison Ivy, I treated it as such. Took photos to gauge the progress. As the rashes started to heal, others formed. It was hard to want to play the shamisen when covered in creams/oils in fear of damaging it so I have been pretty hands off. A few weeks later I am left baffled, confused, itchy with new spots and with 46 patch tests on my back from the dermatologist. I am hoping that it isn’t the Shamisen. It scares me even more that the Allergic Contact Rash brochure I was given literally calls out Urushi and furniture lacquer from the Japanese Lacquer Tree under the Poison Ivy section. I kid you not. My heart sank and have been feeling extremely sad since. Since I have to have these patches on for 5 days, I am going to try some isolated skin tests with the Shamisen tonight to really see if it is the cause. I don’t care if i become a blistery mess. I have to know! :frowning:

My question to the community is this: If my Shamisen is causing an allergic reaction, what can I do??? Has anyone seen this happen to anyone else before? Do I attempt to strip the current lacquer and try to put on something else??? Is that an easy process??? I am reaching out now to start formulating what I could possibly do in the event it is the Shamisen :’(

I will post updates as I find out more!


Hi adoring.artist,

Oh no!! I’m so sorry to hear that! It’s curious. I’m allergic to poison ivy (and got a bad rash when trying to do urushi lacquering at home), yet had no issues with the Akatsuki. Is there any chance you might’ve gotten the in contact with poison oak/ivy via petting a dog (my mom got it that way a few times) or some other way?

The Akatsuki is coated with urushi, but there haven’t been any cases of reaction from it (until now). I’ll tell my partner about it and see if the makers have any ideas of what to do. Perhaps it’s just a matter of setting the instrument on a shelf for a few weeks to let it cure longer? If not, I’d be happy to trade mine with yours, as I haven’t had any reactions from it. Somehow, we will find a solution! :slight_smile:

Please keep us updated! Thank you!


Again, not 100% sure if it is the Shamisen, but it is a very strong possibility when backtracking my steps. Even the blistery rash placements match up. I plan to run some skin tests after work. I also have someone that has very graciously volunteered to test the Shamisen despite being very sensitive to poison ivy ^.^""" We shall see!!! I am determined.

I was thinking that maybe there could be some residual particles or vapors from the urushi process that may just need to be wiped off or like you suggested, cured longer? Haven’t had a chance to do much research.

I will provide updates and thank you for looking into what I could try if it is indeed the Shamisen.


I got a reply from my partner! It seems I misunderstood something. The only part of the shamisen that has true urushi (the allergic kind made from the sumac sap) is on the dou. The sao has lacquer called ‘Shuai Urushi’ which, although has ‘urushi’ in the name, is not made from the resin and is not allergenic. It is a synthetic lacquer with a similar consistency and color can be added.

It’s possible the dou might still be uncured, but I doubt it for the following reason. The process used for the dou is called ‘fuki urushi’ which is applying a thin coat of lacquer and then carefully wiping it away, leaving only a microscopic amount of urushi on the surface. Because it’s so thin, it cures within 12 hours. (Shakuhachi can take weeks to cure, because a thick coating of urushi is applied without being wiped off) Their process is quite standardized now, so I can’t see why the dou would’ve been removed from the curing box early. (Of course, anything is possible)

My partner said that having the doukake over the dou means the only contact point should be on your leg, and if you have long pants, I think you should be fine. Otherwise, just leaving it in a warm bathroom with water around would be enough to cure the dou in a day (urushi cures in a humid environment around 70 degrees with 70~80% humidity) :slight_smile:


Status update: After writing that post I did try a few touch tests to see if any reactions would happen. Nothing happened so I went on to learn more and play the Shamisen off and on over that weekend. My left hand had still been blistery from the last time I had a reaction but was healing.

Then the reactions happened. Last week was hell as my left hand became engulfed in blisters and I was prescribed steroid creams. My right hand had minimal blistering. The blisters formed mostly on the palm, webbing, index/middle/ring finger. The dermatologist believes it to be a Colophony/Rosin allergy (Colophonium, Resin terebinthinae, Tall oil, Abietic acid, Methyl abietate alcohol, Abietic alcohol, Abietyl alcohol) after conducting skin patch tests. I am not convinced since I have had a violin for a few months which contains a block of rosin and that so many things contain it!!! The dermatologist and others have all told me that allergies can form at any time. Still not giving up either way!

My path going forward that I started to take last week was to wear gloves every moment until my hands heal and then come back to the Shamisen. Doctor recommended 3 weeks. I have been also working to sterilize the house. Trying to rule out everything while healing up. I might look goofy, but it is worth it if I can figure out what it is :slight_smile:


adoring.artist: Oh man that is so sad! you have my sympathy :sweat:


It has been almost a month since my last update. My hands healed up, and I took your advice on attempting to further cure the Shamisen for a few days. On Monday of this week I went to wipe it down with some light water and a basic white shirt to see if anything comes off and to wipe off any potential particles that could’ve caused the reaction. What I found was that the Itomaki and parts of the Tenjin caused the white shirt to stain a deep red (color of the Shamisen). Looking more into it, the cut out box where the Itomaki insert into the Tenjin and the Itomaki itself do this without end in that I could probably strip out the color. I am not sure if those parts were suppose to be sealed with something else or should be doing this? No where else does this happen. After trying to clean those parts in specific, my hands have had light reactions all over. Hoping it wont be too bad. Baby steps! I am hoping that if it is just those parts, I can seal it with something else and be good to go!!! It does make some sense since the tuning hand had the absolute worst of it.

Any thoughts or further insight??


Aah, now that is interesting! The itomaki are made from kouki wood which doesn’t have any urushi nor sealer on it. (Itomaki are typically only polished without sealer) Kouki is basically red sandalwood. I wonder if it’s possible to have a reaction from that?

As I mentioned in an earlier message, the only part of the shamisen which has true urushi (the allergenic kind) is on the dou. The sao/tenjin has a non-allergenic synthetic kind, and so if you got a reaction from the itomaki/inside of the tenjin (Which has exposed kouki), oil from the wood could be causing it!

If that’s true, then a light lacquer should coat it right up and you’d be ready to rock! :slight_smile:



This might be a n00b question, but is it possible to have the residue coming off the itomaki and tenjin lab tested?

If the blisters continue, perhaps a Musician’s Practice Glove might help?

Good luck, don’t give up! :angel:


Well, the only answer I would need for a health perspective is what type of finishing oils were used as it could contain rosin//Colophony if it is that. But it’s an interesting idea?

I’m doing more skin tests. One arm has red oils from the Itomaki, and the other from the Tenjin. I am totally prepared to try a lacquer or play using gloves.

I had no idea that Kouki could have so much oil! Haha.


A week of skin tests later, I have found that the reaction has so far only happens from the Tenjin section of wood. And it is a S L O W reaction from a quick dab on the skin… It seems like it takes 3-4 days for a full on rash to develop regardless of how many times I scrub my arms clean. Could be the Karin? Who knows! But it sounds like a simple solution is near!!!

What would be an appropriate product to use to seal the unfinished wood sections? Any recommendations? Totally understandable if there are multiple product recommendations for specific uses on only the Itomaki or the Tenjin. I am a total noob with most of this :>


In Shamisen of Japan Kyle mentions tung oil “varnish” for finishing DIY shamisen, but that was written in 2013. Maybe more advanced, durable sealants have become available? :thinking:


Wow, that’s very interesting results! I think it’s a given that this is new territory for all of us. :slight_smile:
Oh yeah, kouki is suuuuuper oily. In fact, when you wipe down a kouki shamisen, even when it is polished, red oily residue will come off. Most shamisen players will carry a ‘saofuki’ cloth to clean their shamisen after playing, and one similarity you’ll see is that everyone playing a kouki shamisen will all have red stains on their saofuki. :wink:

I could see how even karin might have allergenic properties. From what I’ve heard, the sawdust from tropical woods can be very hazardous to some people. I believe karin is also a tropical wood, and thus, perhaps symptoms could occur from touching?

Oh yeah, Tung Oil Varnish could do it! Basically, I believe it’s about the same ‘Wipe on Poly’, heavily diluted polyurethane. A very thin coat can be applied without wipe marks or streaks. I haven’t yet heard of any other products that could be easily applied (without spraying) like that.


The oil comment could not be more true. Even my older kouki-shamisen, which are essentially as cured as they’ll ever be and black as night, still leave a smear now and again.

The younger ones have stained my yubikake, my fingernails, everything.