Published By: Sougata Dutta

Koto - a mind soothing instrument

Delight is in strings - mind-fullness is the gift of music!

Instruments are gifts of science. Every single one of them is special and has some unique meaning and history of creation. Japan is a hub of culture, tradition and elegance. Instruments are one thing but string instruments among them are a different story. Koto is unique and has a soothing sound. This huge instrument is made of wood, a hard material but can melt anyone’s heart.

Origin of Koto

China introduced Koto to Japan, Japan welcomed it with an open heart. In the Nara period, Koto came into play, and it was tough to understand and was hard to play. At first this was a centre of attraction into the court rooms. Later some women tried to learn and play that instrument openly. A blind woman among them gave courage to other people and spread the fragrance of Koto in every region. After some time people started to perform ensembles using Koto. Buddhist priests used to play koto as a solo artist in the Heian Period. But the long period of change and cultivation ended with some uniqueness. In the Edo period koto was played along with vocals. A school and a research centre for koto was Ikuta School, they added something new, an instrument called Shamisen along with the melodious tune of Koto. That blind performer was Miyagi Michio. And till today, a lot of young enthusiasts are still involved in this culture.

Design of the Koto

Koto is made of wood, directly cut from the Paulownia tree according to the size. There are different types of koto as per the string numbers. Mainly there are 13- string, 17-string and 25-string (the giant one) koto available. The koto is divided into two parts, the upper one is hollow long and has two holes for sound and air. The body is the base for the strings. Strings are equally spaced and have bridges under them. When one starts plucking the strings using three fingers, they are vibrated, and a beautiful sound can be produced. Brides are set in different positions and they can be moved. A skilled player can always replace the bridges during a performance for better and unique sound. In order to pluck the strings, the player needs to use nails made of a hard plastic-like material to create a more beautiful loud and clear sound. The idea of the Koto came from the tale of the Dragon and this instrument roars like one too, which can earn anyone's respect and draw attention.

Try hearing some music like ‘Rokudan’, a piece of koto