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date: 22 November 2019


  • Henry Johnson


One-string zither of Japan. Its name refers to the place where it supposedly originated (suma: place name), and to its form (goto/koto: zither). It is also called ichigenkin, dokugenkin (one-string kin), hankin (half kin), hitotsuo (one string), and hitotsuo no koto (one-string koto). The sumagoto might have come to Japan from China and became well known in the early Edo period (1600–1868). A Zen Buddhist priest, Kakuhō (1729–1815), was the founder of the present-day performance tradition. The instrument’s popularity declined after the Edo period but revived after World War II. It is about 110 cm long, and about 10–11 cm wide towards the (player’s) right and about 9 cm wide towards the left. The single silk string rests on a bridge at the right and at the other end is wound around a large vertical tuning peg (there is no nut). The surface of the soundboard (usually of paulownia wood) has 12 finger position markers over a range of about two octaves. The soundboard is hollowed underneath and there covered with a backboard that has a soundhole towards each end and that extends slightly beyond the soundboard at the end with the tuning peg. The instrument is zoomorphic, with some parts named after the mythical dragon (e.g. dragon’s head, dragon’s tail), and is often adorned with decorative tassels. It is normally placed on a stand about 20 cm from the ground, and the player kneels facing one side. A short tubular ivory plectrum (...

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