Koto: The National Instrument of Japan


In doing some research on the Shamisen, I stumbled onto the Koto and was suddenly reminded that this instrument (and it’s cousins) are largely and undeniably associated with Asian culture.

“The koto (箏) is a traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument, similar to the Chinese zheng, the Mongolianyatga, the Korean gayageum and the Vietnamese đàn tranh. The koto is the national instrument of Japan. Koto are about 180 centimetres (71 in) length, and made from kiri wood (Paulownia tomentosa). They have 13 strings that are strung over 13 movable bridges along the width of the instrument. Players can adjust the string pitches by moving these bridges before playing, and use three finger picks (on thumb, index finger, and middle finger) to pluck the strings.” – Wikipedia

circa 2008, near the Japan Sea. Photo I snapped on our way out of the hotel.
circa 2008, near the Japan Sea. Photo I snapped on our way out of the hotel.

I’m a big fan of string instruments and the peaceful sound they can produce. I can remember sitting in the hotel lobby of a popular onsen in northern Japan, waiting to check out , feeling a calm come over me. When we got up to leave I hadn’t realizes a woman had been softly playing a koto on a small stage.

It was beautiful. A nice end to that part of our trip.

“When the koto was first imported to Japan, the native word koto was a generic term for any and all Japanese stringed instruments. Over time the definition of koto could not describe the wide variety of these stringed instruments and so the meanings changed. The azumagoto or yamatogoto was called the wagon, the kin no koto was called the kin, and the sau no koto (sau being an older pronunciation of 箏) was called the sō or koto.

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Japanese Koto | Haji Maji from hajimaji.com

The modern koto originates from the gakusō used in Japanese court music. It was a popular instrument among the wealthy; the instrument koto was considered a romantic one. Some literary and historical records indicate that solo pieces for koto existed centuries before sōkyoku, the music of the solo koto genre, was established. According toJapanese literature, the koto was used as imagery and other extra music significance. In one part of “The Tales of Genji (Genji monogatari)”, Genji falls deeply in love with a mysterious woman, who he has never seen before, after he hears her playing the koto from a distance.”

I’ll leave you with the “Koto Concerto” I found.

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Author: hikikomori78

American Hikikomori is an upcoming short film that explores the emotional struggles of a Japanese teenager named Isamu Fujihara, when he moves to America.

3 thoughts on “Koto: The National Instrument of Japan”

  1. Its really a great and useful piece of information. Im glad that you shared this useful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

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