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date: 22 November 2019


  • Henry Johnson


Generic Japanese term for two-string zithers: ni (two); gen (string); kin (zither). Artefacts of various types of two-string zithers exist from the Jomon period (c10,000 bce–200 bce) and the Yayoi period (c200 bce–300 ce). Some of these ancient instruments have been reconstructed and used in performance. The type of instrument known today as nigenkin was devised in the 19th century, beginning in 1820 with the yakumogoto, which was invented by Nakayama Kotonushi (1803–80). The name refers to Japanese mythology (yakumo: eight/many clouds) and to the form (goto/koto; zither). It is also known as nigenkin, izumogoto (koto of Izumo), and tamagoto (treasure koto). It is made of a wooden (often paulownia) plank with the underside scooped out to form the soundboard, which is about 109 cm long and 11 to 12 cm wide. The bottom is covered by a backboard with two soundholes. The two silk strings, sounded by a plectrum, are tuned in unison and have a range of about two octaves. The surface of the soundboard has 31 finger position markers. The player normally kneels before the instrument, which rests horizontally on a small stand. The right-hand index finger wears a short ivory tube (...

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