Snakeskin Shamisen

I just purchased my first Shamisen. It has a snakeskin. It is in a hardcase. I will take it back to America with me when I leave. I will be flying out of Haneda and arriving at Dulles in DC. I am planning on putting it in my suitcase. I tried, but easily got confused on how to claim it. Has anyone done this before. Any help would be great.
Thank you in advance.

Hello Mark.

That is a Sanshin, not a Shamisen. That is an instrument that is originated in Okinawa, inspired on an instrument from China. Shamisen evolved from the Sanshin.

I would like to note that, if this Sanshin has real snake skin, which judging by the photo it is indeed real snake skin, that is illegal to import in the US without a CITES certificate.


Isn’t the CITES certificate required only if it’s an endangered species? But maybe I’m being bold to assume that the type of snakeskin is listed on the bill of sale or packaging.

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Thank you for your reply. How do I obtain a CITES certificate. I looked online, but it’s kind of confusing.

In all likelihood customs won’t give you a hassle since it’s a single instrument (versus someone trying to import a dozen for re-sale). For extra peace of mind, see if you can get something from the seller that states that the skin is not a protected or endangered species.

eta: Your sanshin is beautiful. :slightly_smiling_face:

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I am sorry to say, but that is python skin (Python reticulatus), which is Appendix II of the CITES, meaning it requires permits to import or trade in most countries.
In California, though, they are pretty much illegal to be imported or traded due to local laws.

Hi Mark
Enjoy your sanshin!
If any questions, please ask here.

I know many players have brought their personal sanshin with python skin (hongawa) back and forth between America and Japan without problems. Someone said that Vietnamese python skin was used which is not on the CITES list, though Burmese python is. Don’t know if true.
In America, python infest and thrive in the Florida Everglades due to illegal release of pets.
I brought my sanshin with fake skin from Japan through US Customs and declared it as a musical instrument. The inspector didn’t open the case. Good luck!