I found a fantastic souvenir: a sanshin kit. The sanshin is a traditional (around 500 years old) Okinawan instrument. Its salient features are a squarish body covered with snakeskin, and a long thin neck with three strings. It is similar to the Japanese shamisen, which it predates; the shamisen, a slightly larger instrument, was apparently based on the sanshin.

Near our hotel, we found a sanshin maker, and had an interesting conversation about the sanshin and its construction. The neck and body are separate pieces, and he was making a batch of necks. For a neck made from the traditional dark hardwood (I don’t know its name) sourced in Okinawa, he quoted a price of JPY 300,000 (approximately USD 2,500). The “practice” sanshin necks were a mere JPY 20,000 (USD 165).

My sanshin, however, is even more humble. It seems that, in the austere postwar years, materials and expense made it impractical to produce sanshin in the traditional manner. Instead, people turned to readily available materials: tin cans. The kan kan sanshin employs a length of generic wood for the neck, and half of a large tin can for the body (like a catering pack of peeled tomatoes, for example).

At Ryukyu Village I came across some kits for sale for JPY 3,500 (USD 29). They had finished ones, too, but it is both cheaper and, I hope, more fun to make it myself. The neck is roughly shaped, but requires sanding and finishing. I’ll probably lacquer it for a reasonably authentic look, and decorate the can so that it looks appealing. I’ll try to photograph the process and document it later.