ko·​to | \ ˈkō-(ˌ)tō How to pronounce koto (audio) \

Definition of koto

: a long Japanese zither having 13 strings

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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 The final act of the 2021 Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz is the unique Californian ensemble Hiroshima, who play jazz on traditional Japanese instruments such as the koto, shakuhachi and taiko, as well as electric bass, guitars and keyboards. Christopher Arnott, courant.com, 18 May 2021 The closing night presentation of CAAMFest takes place at Herbst Theatre, with storyteller and activist Brenda Wong Aoki delivering a live performance set to music by Emmy Award-winning composer Mark Izu and koto master Shoko Hikage. G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle, 2 May 2018 In addition, the Taikoza performance includes the sounds of the shakuhachi and another Japanese flute, the fue, as well as the koto, a 13-string instrument. Sheryl Devore, Lake County News-Sun, 13 Mar. 2018 Students of instruments like the oud, the Japanese koto and the Indian vina might be eager to learn more about the komungo. John Adamian, courant.com, 7 Apr. 2018 Traditional Japanese folk dancers, sometimes with their faces covered by scarves, move to the drum, flute and koto music to create a visual and musical experience. Sheryl Devore, Lake County News-Sun, 13 Mar. 2018 Regular demonstrations include koto (Japanese harp) playing, wearing of the yukata (Japanese kimono) and chado (the Way of Tea). Brian J. Cantwell, The Seattle Times, 21 Sep. 2017 The Obon Festival is noon to 8 p.m. July 22-23, featuring Japanese food, Taiko drumming, cultural demonstrations, farmer’s market, koto performance, boutique items and game booths for children. Linda Mcintosh, sandiegouniontribune.com, 21 July 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'koto.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of koto

1795, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for koto


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Cite this Entry

“Koto.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/koto. Accessed 5 Dec. 2021.

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More from Merriam-Webster on koto

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about koto


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