The Japanese Koto

Koto is a relatively rare and venerable traditional Japanese musical instrument. It has a very beautiful yet dynamic sound, and unique methods the player must use to bring forth its lovely voice. Since it has a long history, the music of koto may vary from very old traditional Japanese music to pieces in contemporary styles. In addition, with its adjustable string bridges, it is capable of producing various scales – from typical Japanese pentatonic scales to Western music In contemporary ensemble music. The 17 string bass koto is often used in addition to the standard 13 string koto.

Koto music has undergone a lot of transformations at the hands of famous artists. Perhaps the most influential person in the development of the Koto is Yatsuhashi Kengyo (1614-1685). He was a talented blind musician living in Kyoto, who changed the limit of the six-syllable sound to a whole new style he named Uta Kumi. He is thus known as the “Father of Modern Koto.”


Koto was used as a major instrument in the chamber orchestra. Moreover, because of crisp, clear, and bright sound, Koto is still frequently used in Japanese folk music. Not only that, but Koto also continues to be combined with Western music to create new genres.

It can be said that the romance of this instrument is extremely suitable for sad pop or rock ballads. Typical of this combination are the Japanese bands Kagrra and Rin ‘of Japan; and British rock band named Queen.


Kagrra has incorporated traditional elements into his rock pieces, creating music that is both subtle and tragic


Rin ‘ is famous for its combination of modern pop and traditional Japanese instruments. The band members are all famous JoshiOchi-gen artists (17-string koto).


Queen band also used the sound of the Koto in the song “The Prophet’s Song”.


Learn more about Koto in Oregon

If you are an Oregonian and interested in Koto, we are pleased to introduce Oregon Koto-Kai

Oregon Koto-Kai is a group of people who love playing Japanese koto with passion! Founded by Mitsuki Dazai in February 2012 with six members, the ensemble held its first concert at Epworth United Methodist Church in Portland. They have performed across the state and are featured in many festive venues each year. Some of those venues include the Portland Japanese Garden, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Portland Rose Festival, and more.

Please visit the Oregon Koto-Kai website to enjoy lots of excellent videos about their Koto performances.