Sanshin making proposed to become official craft

The Industrial Structure Council, an official organization operating under the ministry and tasked with carrying out investigations and deliberations on improving the economic strength of the private sector businesses, mas proposed Hiroshige Seko, the Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, to list Okinawan sanshin officially as a traditional craft product.

For a product to be designated a traditional craft product, it has to have a history of at least 100 years, must be made employing traditional methods and be established as a regional industry.

It is estimated that about 20,000 sanshins are made and sold in Okinawa every year. However, most of those are only assembled in Okinawa while about 70 percent of their parts are made and imported from overseas, including the neck and python skin used to cover the voice box. Thus, most of sanshin are actually not Okinawa products, but foreign. On the other hand, importing the parts from overseas means that instruments are cheap, and the hurdle to purchase one to try out is low.

But this poses a problem for people who actually make the instrument locally, especially regarding the future succession in the profession.

If sanshin is officially designated a traditional craft product, the local makers would be able to get government subsidies for promotional and successor planning programs.

Miki Nakamine, the secretary general of Okinawa Sanshin Makers’ Business Cooperative Association, says, “While anything that makes sanshin popular is good, we must protect the tradition, too. If sanshin making is designated officially as a product of traditional craft, finding successors and training young craftsmen would become much easier.”