What was the original shamisen skin?

When the ancestor of the shamisen (SanXian) first arrived in Japan, the dou (body) was covered in snake skin.

Soon after, the skin of snake was replaced with dog and cat. This remained the standard material in Japan until recently. Many shamisen players would swear by this skin even though public resentment was strong enough that natural shamisen skin couldn’t even be produced in Japan anymore.

However, as long as it was being made somewhere, there was very little motivation to develop a different material (availability of synthetic skins were few and not encouraged). Besides, many players refused to use anything other than what they were used to.

Those outside of this narrow aesthetic bubble either had to grudgingly accept the only natural skin choice or suffer with poor-sounding plastic skin, or simply refuse to play shamisen altogether. Truly, many who were interested in shamisen had very few options outside of this rigid paradigm.

Until… now!