Bringing Japanese Tradition Forward; Koto Covers

Cover songs are songs that take an original composition and alter it in some way. Many times it’s a single change; band, genre, instruments. This time it’s a specific instrument that’s being changed. These songs are all covered with the Koto.

The Koto is the official instrument of Japan. Also called a kin, this string instrument is typically made of paulownia wood or kiri wood and 13 silk strings. The koto is about 190 cm or 74 inches long. As a Zither, this instrument’s strings are the same length as it’s sounding board. Other zithers include the Alpine Scheitholt, Lyre, Lute, Viol, and Hammered Dulcimer.

Inspired by the Chinese guzheng, which originally had 5 strings. It was introduced to Japan in the early Nara period (710–784). By that time, it had increased to 12 strings. Later it increased to 13 strings. The modern koto and its cousin Guzheng are very similar with two major differences. the Guzheng has 21 strings made of metal while the koto has 12 or 13 strings made out of silk. During the Nara period, koto was a generic name for any and all Japanese stringed instruments. As the times (and instruments) changed, there grew to me many different names to diverse instruments. 

The modern koto comes from gakusō primarily used in Japanese court music. When it’s played, the performer is on the floor either kneeling or seated. Even in live concerts, this instrument is typically played sitting down.  It’s a beautiful instrument with a soft enchanting sound, as you’ll be able to hear below.

“The koto is a unique Japanese musical instrument. It has a history in Japan of over 1200 years and today does much to represent Japan’s traditional past,” writes Henry Johnson.

As with many traditional instruments from around the world, globalization and the influence of western culture have made traditions less prominent. This is the case with the koto in Japan. Regardless of its prominence, musicians such as June KuramotoReiko ObataElizabeth Falconer, and Yukiko Matsuyama bring the koto to modern music. Though that’s not the only musicians that provide koto music in a modern context. Cover musicians like the ones below do exactly that.

TRiECHOES feat. DJ Shota‘s cover of ‘Shape of you’ originally by Ed Sheeran

Rye‘s cover of ‘Fake Love’ originally by BTS

shaku8kozan‘s cover of ‘Telephone’ originally by Lady Gaga

Aun J Classical Orchestra‘s cover of ‘Uchiage Hanabi’ originally by Kenshi Yonezu

Sources Used

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2020). Koto. [online]

“Hugo’s window on the world of Chinese zheng”. Chime. Leiden: European Foundation for Chinese Music Research. 16–17: 242. 2005.

Johnson, Henry (1996). “A Koto” by Any Other name: Exploring Japanese Systems of Musical Instrument Classification”. Asian Music. 49: 38–64.

Johnson, Henry (2004). The koto: a traditional instrument in contemporary Japan. Amsterdam: Hotei Publ.

Landis, Brendan (2008) Koto [Photograph] Newstead Montegrade, Boston, Massachusetts: Flickr

 

 

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