Today, I bought my first shamisen!
A shamisen is a traditional Japanese musical instrument that somewhat resembles a banjo. The one I bought is nagauta style, the smallest type of shamisen. The next size up is jiuta and the largest is tsugaru. This type is also the type played my geiko (geisha) and maiko.
(***UPDATED 7/22/10) Here is a picture of my new beauty, accessories added:
It has been my dream for years to own a shamisen, and now I was able to get a fairly inexpensive one. I paid about $250 for it. It is used and has synthetic skins, which does not produce as nice of a sound as cat or dog skins, but it is practical for someone like me who does not have the need to have an expensive instrument because I'm just playing for myself. Also, it's a first instrument, so I don't want to pay too much for something I may not end up liking.
The instrument itself is completely intact, but it is missing a few accessories. While not completely necessary, they extend the life of the instrument. I need a doukake, which is a cover for the top of the instrument that protects it when you are playing. I also need a hiza gomu, a cloth that keeps it from slipping off of your legs while you play. The last piece I need is a yubisuri, a piece of cloth that you put over your finger to help it slide along the back of the shamisen for easier play and to protect the wood.
Hopefully, I will learn some basic songs and maybe one day I will be able to do more. =)