Japanese koto. Instrument for traditional Japanese music.

JAPAN, KOTO, music, instrument

A Japanese woman plays the koto.

The Koto is a Japanese stringed instrument derived from the Chinese Zheng and similar to the Mongolian Yatga, the Korean Gayageum and the Vietnamese đàn tranh. The koto was introduced from China to Japan during the Nara period (710-793) as an instrument of court music (Gagaku). One of the most famous pieces for koto is called Rokudan no Shirabe.

The koto has a narrow sound box sometimes eighty inches in length with a convex upper surface, and is furnished with four low feet which rest on the floor when the instrument is to be played. A large number of strings of tightly twisted silk soaked in wax are stretched from end to end of the instrument and pass over little movable bridges. In producing music the strings are plucked with tsume which are worn upon the fingers of the right hand and which can be clearly seen in the illustration.

The instrument is very difficult to master, and in order to become a finished performer, instructions must begin in early childhood. There are many varieties of kotos, the number of strings each possesses being the chief individual characteristic.

Source: The imperial history and encyclopedia of music by William Lines Hubbard. New York, I. Squire, 1912.