Yet another air travel question :)

Hi all; I'm new here. Never even touched a shamisen yet but that will change in January when I start taking lessons and I am soooo excited :)

I'm going to Japan for five weeks in February and my teacher says he can hook me up with a decent tsugaru shamisen for beginners from a shop he already has a relationship with (I think it'll be around the 65,000円 range) and have it sent to my hotel, which is perfect.

The only thing is, I am most definitely on a budget and I wasn't planning on buying an expensive hard case to take it home… after all, as a beginner, I have no idea where I'll be with it in a year or two's time.

Is it true that the sao of some beginner shamisen can't be dismantled? I wonder if this price range would be dis-mantle-able? (Good word invention, I know.)

I was hoping to follow Kyle's advice here on the site and put carefully pack the dou in my carry-on and maybe carry the sao wrapped in bubble wrap or in a soft-style case in my hand. Or, would it be crazy to bring the whole shamisen in a soft-style case in carry-on? I'm flying out of Narita so I feel like they should understand why it's delicate and not force me to chuck it in the hold at the gate… the most delicate thing I've ever travelled with was a wedding dress and they were lovely about it, but we all know how air travel can be.

Any suggestions/ideas/etc. welcome!

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Hey there,

I have made good experiences with the airport staff at Narita, just talk to them at the baggage check-in. They've let me take a biwa on board a few years ago and last year I could take my new shamisen, along with the hardcase (which was pretty big) and everything, on board too.
It may depend on the Airline too, but if you're flying with ANA, Lufthansa or other Star Alliance Members, then there should be no problem.

And if the Sao can't be dismantled, just bubble wrap it and put it in a soft case, if you can't fit it in your luggage. But if the whole sao should fit in your suitcase and they tell you that you can't take it on board, just wrap all your clothes around it, remove the itomak and it should be safe too. Japanese Airport workers are very considerate and careful and the unpacking process in London or other parts of Europe isn't that violent.

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That's really helpful—thank you! I'm flying KLM which isn't Star Alliance, but I'm sure it'll be fine. I'm really impressed that they let you take all that as carry-on! Definitely makes me feel better just hearing others' experiences. I totally can't afford a hard case just for one journey so I'll be sure to get to the airport early and speak to the check-in staff.

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Some cheaper shamisen are what's called “nobezao”, which are crafted from a single piece of wood. They can still be broken down into neck and body, but no further.

However, as others have said, you'll likely be able to take that as carry on. I would personally feel very, very nervous to do so because instruments can and do get broken in transit.

Something to remember, however, is you may be able to get a used hard case for just a few thousand yen if you shop it.

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I flew from Japan last year with KLM and got caught out! There policy is one piece of baggage (up to 22kg) and one carry on. While I was visiting Japan I was given a free hard case. I split my baggage between the hard case and my suitcase, so that the total for the two together still did not exceed 22kg. I had mistakenly thought this was okay, but KLM's policy is per bag, so even though the weight fell within their restriction the hard case counted as an extra bag, and therefore left me with a £85 excess charge. A not so free case!

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To be honest I think I’ll try to take it in a soft case as my only piece of carry on (with a wee purse for phone and passport stuff). My husband will be travelling back with me as well so I can always give him my spare luggage if we need to shift things around a little… if I can find a shamisen that can be dismantled then hopefully none of this will be an issue in the first place! Fingers crossed! I absolutely can’t wait for my first lesson and to check out the shops in Japan. Come on February!

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