Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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4. Koto.

The Koto (fig.7) is the Japanese member of the family of long zithers with movable bridges found in several East Asian countries. The best-known members of the family are the Zheng and the se in China, the kayagŭm and the Kŏmun’go in Korea (see Korea, §I, 4(ii)), the Đàn tranh in Vietnam and the Wagon and the koto in Japan. All these instruments probably originated in China with the possible exception of the wagon, which has been claimed to be indigenously Japanese. The exact date of the introduction of the koto into Japan is unknown but is generally assumed to have been at the beginning of the Nara period (710–84) or shortly before.

During the Nara and Heian (794–1185) periods the word ‘koto’, the original meaning of which is obscure, was applied to several types of string instruments, like the Sanskrit word ‘vīnā’ in India. Examples were the kin-no-koto (the shichigen-kin, kin or Chinese qin); the sō-no-koto (the or koto); the shitsu-no-koto (the shitsu, or Chinese se); the biwa-no-koto (or biwa); the yamato-goto (or wagon); the kudara-goto (the harp, kugo); and the shiragi-goto (the Korean kayagŭm). Later the term came to be applied exclusively to the sō-no-koto. The shitsu-no-koto, kudara-goto and shiragi-goto are no longer used in Japan, while the names of two of the other instruments lost the suffix -no-koto to become simply kin and biwa, and the yamato-goto became wagon.

(i) Construction and performing practice.

(ii) Repertory and social context.

(iii) Schools.

(iv) Innovations since the Meiji era (1868–1912).

(v) One- and two-string koto.

Japan, §II, 4: Instruments and instrumental genres, Koto.

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