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Three-stringed plucked lute. Originally associated with the urban world of the pleasure quarters and theaters of the Edo period (1600-1868), it later became a concert instrument as well. It developed from an instrument apparently imported from Ryūkyū Islands in the mid-16th century. The back and sides of the instrument are made of wood, and the material that covers the top is cat or dog skin. Strings are made of nylon or silk, and they are plucked with a large plectrum made of ivory, wood, or plastic. The fingerboard is fretless, and shamisen notation indicates intervals rather than specific pitches. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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