The koto is a string instrument that originated in China and came to Japan in the 7th–8th century. The Japanese koto is a large instrument, about six feet long, consisting of a hollow body made from Paulownia wood (kiri). Underneath the body are two sound holes, one at each end. There are 13 strings each the same size and gauge. Movable bridges, called a ji, are placed along the length of each string. The ji lift the strings off of the body so that they will resonate when plucked. The strings are tuned by sliding the movable bridges back and forth. At first the koto was used only in court life but, later it was played mainly by blind musicians. (Almost all Japanese pre-modern music was played by blind musicians or monks and court people.) In the 17th century (Edo period), Yatsuhashi Kengyo (1614–1685), a blind koto master, succeeded in making the koto a solo instrument by composing many new pieces for the instrument. Thus he is known as the father of modern koto music. In the 20th century, Michio Miyagi (1894–1956), who was also a blind koto player, modernized the koto yet again by introducing western styles of music in his compositions.
“Rokudan” (Six Steps) Yatsuhashi Kengyo (d.1685) Contemporary KOTO selection
“Tori no Yoni” (Flying like a bird) (1985) Tadao Sawai