ko·​to ˈkō-(ˌ)tō How to pronounce koto (audio)
: a long Japanese zither having 13 strings

Did you know?

A Japanese musical instrument, the koto is a long zither with movable bridges and usually 13 strings. It lies on the ground or a low table, and the strings are plucked by picks worn on the fingers of the right hand while the left hand alters the pitch or ornaments the sound of individual strings by pressing or manipulating them. It is played solo, in chamber ensembles, especially with the shakuhachi (a bamboo flute) and the samisen (a three-stringed instrument resembling a banjo), and in gagaku music, the traditional court and religious music of Japan. The koto is Japan's national instrument.

Examples of koto in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Yumi Kurosawa Trio Palmer Auditorium, 270 Mohegan Ave., New London Catch the Yumi Kurosawa Trio, which consists of Japanese koto virtuoso Kurosawa, violinist Naho Parrini and percussionist Yousif Sheronick, on April 5 at 7:30 p.m at Connecticut College’s Cummings Arts Center. Christopher Arnott, Hartford Courant, 30 Mar. 2024 All of the stories benefit from the music of Mattea Mazzella, who complements his comic acting skills with some hypnotic sounds from the harp-like koto, ethereal tones from his shakuhachi flute and propulsive rhythms on taiko drums. Rob Hubbard, Twin Cities, 21 Jan. 2024 Some of the traditional instruments that can be heard from time to time in the score are the zither-like koto; the shakuhachi, ryuteki and hichiriki flutes; the stringed shamisen, biwa and kokyu; and the massive traditional taiko drums. Jon Burlingame, Variety, 14 Mar. 2024 Bridging the stories are interludes during which the koto weaves its spell while a small white butterfly (with light bulb attached) flutters about. Rob Hubbard, Twin Cities, 21 Jan. 2024 In addition to Cook’s archive of Japanese koto, New Orleans blues, and Trinidadian music, there were recordings like 1965’s Cook’s Tour of High Fidelity. Philip Sherburne, Pitchfork, 6 Nov. 2023 Hiroshima was founded in the mid-seventies with a sound built around the koto, a distinctively Japanese-sounding stringed instrument. Colin Marshall, The New Yorker, 6 July 2023 Dan Kuramoto recalled a student from Tokyo University approaching the band after a concert and marveling at its use of the koto. Los Angeles Times, 29 Oct. 2022 At a large Asian American community picnic in Griffith Park in the early 1970s, Kuramoto spotted June Okida playing the koto, a zither-like instrument that typically has 13 strings. Los Angeles Times, 29 Oct. 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'koto.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



First Known Use

1795, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of koto was in 1795

Dictionary Entries Near koto

Cite this Entry

“Koto.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/koto. Accessed 13 Jul. 2024.

More from Merriam-Webster on koto

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!