Definition of samisen in US English:


(also shamisen)


  • A traditional Japanese three-stringed lute with a square body, played with a large plectrum.

    • ‘The rest of the day is taken up with lessons in dancing, singing and playing the shamisen.’
    • ‘She played her favorite tunes for us on her shamisen (three-stringed Japanese banjo), wishing him a happy future.’
    • ‘The musician twangs away on a three-stringed shamisen.’
    • ‘Emerging from a door behind a screen was a geisha; in her arms was a shamisen.’
    • ‘There had been few artistic entertainments of any sort-the only music, besides her inconsequential samisen demonstration, had been the guests' drunken singing to a geisha's sake-affected strumming.’
    • ‘During his teenage years, it was a fashion of that era to perform ‘karate and bo dances’ accompanied to the music of the shamisen.’
    • ‘While he is enjoying a pastoral scene on the riverbank with the shamisen player and the children - the film's most peaceful moment - he sits down to drink with his other servant.’
    • ‘They enter o-chayas/okiyas at a young age to learn the traditional arts - dance, music, which is performed mostly on stringed instruments like the samisen and the koto, along with conversational and entertaining arts.’
    • ‘Special students, myself included, dressed in matsuri coats and played the large taiko drums, while others placed samisen and fue for the crowds.’
    • ‘The shamisen is a lute instrument with three strings.’
    • ‘It is most effective when traditional instruments, such as the samisen, are used.’
    • ‘There is also a solo musician who sits by the chanter and plays the shamisen.’
    • ‘The small, intimate restaurant glowed with the lit gas lanterns; the shamisen player played a beautifully grotesque arrangement of the centuries old song that probably had no end.’
    • ‘Thematically as well as visually, this image also derives to some extent from Japanese prints, especially those of Utamaro, who often portrayed women playing the samisen, a banjo-like instrument.’
    • ‘She turned her head slightly and noticed a samisen propped up against one corner of the room.’
    • ‘So they left the company of the light and music of the Tea House and samisen and trudged back into the darker, quieter, and somehow muddier streets that lead from the town.’
    • ‘He killed him, and I am certain that was her, sitting upon that stage, playing that shamisen.’
    • ‘He plays the futozao shamisen, a three-stringed instrument from which she extracts a soft array of sounds, from subdued scrapes, to slow, meditative plucking, to ratcheting and vibrating string-bends.’
    • ‘The one really distinctive thing about this track is that every time the vocalist sings "Zubat is Coming!", there's a crusty, reverbed, ancient pluck on a shamisen: it's perfectly timed, and one of the few times actual Japanese instruments are used in this series.’
    • ‘The room was silent save for the haunting cry of a samisen's vibrations, and the occasional trade of words between patrons.’


Early 17th century: Japanese, from Chinese san-hsien, from san ‘three’ + hsien ‘string’.