Definition of samisen in US English:


(also shamisen)


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

    • ‘Special students, myself included, dressed in matsuri coats and played the large taiko drums, while others placed samisen and fue for the crowds.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The room was silent save for the haunting cry of a samisen's vibrations, and the occasional trade of words between patrons.’
    • ‘The shamisen is a lute instrument with three strings.’
    • ‘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 rest of the day is taken up with lessons in dancing, singing and playing the shamisen.’
    • ‘She turned her head slightly and noticed a samisen propped up against one corner of the room.’
    • ‘She played her favorite tunes for us on her shamisen (three-stringed Japanese banjo), wishing him a happy future.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It is most effective when traditional instruments, such as the samisen, are used.’
    • ‘Emerging from a door behind a screen was a geisha; in her arms was a 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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘He killed him, and I am certain that was her, sitting upon that stage, playing that shamisen.’
    • ‘The musician twangs away on a three-stringed shamisen.’
    • ‘There is also a solo musician who sits by the chanter and plays the shamisen.’


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