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The Koto, A Japanese Musical Instrument

Michiko Takaiwa, a Japanese high school girl describes the koto and explains how it is played.

Japanese high school students play the koto.
Photo: Thomas Peters
Japanese high school students play the koto in their school club.


Description of the instrument
The koto, also called a kin, is a Japanese musical instrument. It is a 13-string board zither with movable bridges. Although it was derived from continental Asian models, it has developed structural characteristics that make it specifically Japanese.

Japanese high school students play the koto.
Photo: Thomas Peters
Michiko Takaiwa plays the koto.

How is it played?
The koto, which is made of paulawnia wood, is placed horizontally on the ground on a low table.

Then, it is played by plucking the strings with the thumb and the first two fingers of the right hand, either bare-handed or with an ivory piece called a plectrum.

Traditionally, since the 16th century, the musician uses the left hand to alter the pitch or sound of each string by pressing or manipulating the strings on the other side of each bridge.

History of the koto
The koto has been popular in ensemble, chamber, and solo music repertoires since the earliest periods of Japanese musical history to the present day. It is related to the Korean kum and the Chinese chin musical instruments.


More traditional Japanese arts:
How the Koto Became Popular | Chado, the Way of Tea
kebana, Japanese Flower Arranging | Hyaku-Nin-Isshu, a Card Game
Kyudo, The Way of the Bow | The Challenge of Kendo

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