Skin Repair in Japan

Hi Everyone,
this is my first post on this forum so sorry if I ask stupid questions.
I moved to Japan two months ago (not the best timing…) and I live in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi.
Someone gave me a shamisen last week and I have no knowledge about shamisen appart from listening to some japanese music back in the days when I was studying the language in college and the fact that I understand more or less how it should be played because I’m a guitarist.

So I have a couple questions related to the instrument I have received and the potentials repairs needed.

  1. I understand that there are several different kind of shamisen, can anyone tell me which one this one is from the pictures below?
  2. I’d like to repair this instrument and to start learning how to play it, I can see the skin needs to be replaced on both sides but is there anything else that looks like it need replacement? I have the bridge in a separate pocket, it’s made of what seems like a bamboo base and bone top.
  3. It looks like getting the skin replaced is pretty expensive, but synthetic skins are cheaper and more durable. Considering that I’m a complete beginner I guess I won’t miss the warm tone of a classic animal skin. Is there a place you guys know and can recommend to get the skin replaced? Ideally in the Yamanashi region and alternatively in Tokyo. I’d like to find an affordable but reputable place that stocks good quality synthetic skins.
    I know I can always send the body of my shamisen to Bachido in the US to get that Hibiki skin installed, which sounds like a great product. But considering the fact that I now live in Japan it sounds a bit ridiculous to send my shamisen to get repaired in the US, but maybe it is my best solution since Bachido look like a very serious business with a lot of experience.

Any pointers or help would be greatly appreciated,
thanks in advance for it!

I’m looking forward to enter the world of shamisen and hopefully learn how to play it!

The rest of the images are in this google drive, let me know if I should take more

What an incredible gift! :exploding_head:

I’ll leave identification to the more experienced (measurements might help) but I want to give a slight warning about shipping overseas during this pandemic. Japan Post officially ceased all shipments to the USA in April (EMS, AIR and SAL), however I can tell you from experience that many shipments sent in March also failed to make it onto a plane. A number of those are still sitting at local branches. :sob: The backlog will be ugly when they start moving packages again, so supporting local business is heartily recommended.

http://www.you-4.net/kawahari.htm offers hibiki (they also sell Kyle’s book!)

Thanks @MMXIX for the insights, I didn’t think about that since it looks like inbound packages are OK in Japan right now. But that’s a very good point indeed!
Thanks for sending this link, it looks like this shop does the Hibiki re-skinning for 30,000yens plus taxes and shipping, it might end up being the same as sending to Bachido all costs considered, so I’ll definitely look into that!

Regarding the size of the instrument, the neck is around 63cm from the nut to the body and the body is around 20cm wide, I uploaded a couple more pictures to the google drive to show those measurements.

Thanks again for the help!
It looks like it’s gonna be difficult to get a skin replacement for cheaper than around 300$… but any pointers are still more than welcome :slight_smile:

Hey Vincent,

Welcome.

I’m based up in Toyama, so I don’t know the exact situation you’ve got in Yamanashi - but I’ll give you some general data.

1 - To precisely identify a shamisen, I need to know specific dimensions of a few places:
Neck width in three places ( near the head, at the middle, and near the body)
Overall length
Body width, not including the bevel (so the width of the flat side only)
Body length, not including the bevel (so the length of the flat side only)

Accessories can also provide clues. Look under the arm rest (doukekake). If there are any marks, they can tell us a lot. How tall or short is the bridge? What’s the bachi look like? All of these can be telling!

However, a casual glance has me thinking its a go-rin-dai shamisen - sometimes called a min’yo shamisen. Min’yo shamisen have a smallish body and a middling sized neck. They usually have a square cut neck near the body and a special device call an azuma sawari in the head. The bachi I can see in the pictures is sometimes used for practice by min’yo players.

2 From the pictures, I can’t see any glaring issues outside of the skin, but I don’t have the instrument in hand. You’ll need to inspect if for cracks or loose fittings.

3 Google up 和楽器 and your local area. You’ll likely find quite a few shops that will not require venturing to Tokyo. If you can’t and will end up sending it off, I’d recommend keeping it in Japan. Although Kyle does great work overseas shipping is… dicey right now.

You can have it reskinned in Tokyo by the bachido warehouse based there or you I can direct you to a personal recommendation in Nagoya or Toyama.

Cheers

Hi Christopher,
thanks for continuing the conversation!

So on your advice I measured more precisely the body and here are the measurements:

  • Neck width at top (under the chibukuro) 2.65cm
  • Neck width at middle 2.7cm
  • Neck width at bottom (near body) 2.8cm
  • Overall length 101cm
  • Body width 18cm
  • Body length 20.5cm
    I added new pictures to the google drive to cover all of those measurements ands more.

I also used a more precise ruler that on the pictures for the neck width because the differences were pretty subtle.

I also took pictures of the bachis and measured the biggest of them: 19cm long for 10cm wide
And the bridge is 0.7cm tall for 7.5cm long.

Inside the body there doesn’t seem to be much information, only the numbers 1847 are visible from the hole in the back. No fancy engravings in sight.

I inspected it more and yes it doesn’t seem like there is any cracks in the wood, it’s in pretty good condition.

There’s also a tab book inside the case that I took a couple pictures of.

Regarding the reskinning, from the search I made using your advice, It doesn’t look like there is any shop near me that does it. So I think I’ll end up sending it for repair.
I’m gonna ask the Bachido store if they can do the Hibiki skin in japan because the reskinning page on the website doesn’t say so.
I’d like to get a synthetic skin as it looks like it ticks all the boxes for me, no animal hurt, cost efficiency and durability. Do you recommendations offer synthetic skins?

thanks again for your help!
Vincent

Vincent,

Based on your data, I’m confident in calling this a min’yo shamisen. The size lines up with dimensions expected for full size shamisen with a go-rin-dai sized body.

The koma and bachi both look appropriate for min’yo, and your song book reads “Japanese Min’yo” on the cover.

Congratulations!

All the shops I know offer synthetic skins and natural skins - the caveat being that Hibiki (which is a Bachido original thing) isn’t too wide spread. You’d need to talk to the grand abbot himself for better data there (@Kyle_Abbott).

Most shops carry the lower quality faux leather, many carry Ripple (sourced from Komatsuya), and a few might have other variants that I am unaware of.

Thanks Christopher for confirming this, it’s great to know a bit more what it is, and Min’yo sounds like an interesting genre from what I gathered online!

I have a couple questions related to that:

  • The price of skin replacement is based on the type of shamisen but most of the time they only show three types: Tsugaru, Nagauta and Jiuta. Which of those three types does the Min’yo shamisen come close to?
  • Do you have a recommendation on whether Hibiki is better than other synthetic skins like Ripple?

I sent an email to the bachido store to ask about getting hibiki done in Japan so we’ll see what they say :slight_smile:
I’ll report back here.

Thanks again for your help, it’s very apprciated!
Vincent

@VincentB

I can’t speak for the shops you’ve looked at, but most of shops I’ve worked with lump their skins in the following ways:

Tsugaru (High Class Dog)
Tsugaru (Regular Dog)
Nagauta/Min’yo/Jiuta (High Class Dog)
Nagauta/Min’yo/Jiuta (Regular Dog)
Cat
Man-Made

These are further divided by just front, just back, and both sides replaced.

Some stores even further divide the quality of the skin into things like “special high class”, or give detailed pricing on different artificial brands.

As far as I know, skins made for tsugaru are fundamentally thicker and use a different part of the animal that the base kind utilized on other types of shamisen.

Min’yo are right in between nagauta and jiuta sizing, but since the prices are usually lumped together in my experience… Well, I’m not sure how to advise you there.

Re: artificial skins.

Both tsugaru and nagauta Ripple have slightly harsh sound and can actually be rough on the wrist to play due to the tension in the skin. There’s also a texture to it that can be damaging to bachi and fingers alike. One of the shops up here actually sands the texture down to help with this.

The glue used is also stronger than the standard kind used with natural leathers, which can be damaging to the body when finally replaced. Which it will need to be - though perhaps not for a decade or more.

If it sounds like I’m coming down hard on Ripple, it’s only because I’ve looked at it at length. Most of these comments are nit-picks and not really worth worrying over at length. It is leagues ahead of most man-made options.

As for Hibiki:

Hibiki sounds warmer than Ripple, but I cannot vouch one way or the other how it feels to play. You’d need to reach out to the Ripple / hibiki users for better first hand data.