Name: Ichigenkin.
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Long > Fretless.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 314.122.4
Country: Japan.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: The ichigenkin [一絃琴, literally “one-string zither”, also sumagoto] is a Japanese single-stringed zither. Its body is a slender, slightly curved plank carved from kiri [Paulownia tomentosa] wood.

Origins: The ichigenkin is an extremely rare single string zither with an uncertain origin. Possibly adapted from the Chinese qin, the ichigenkin has a history as a philosopher’s instrument and at one time; it was a preferred instrument of members of the Samurai class. Presently used to accompany vocal music, the ichigenkin is capable of extreme subtlety while producing a surprisingly full and complex sound.

Playing Techniques: The raw silk string of the Ichigenkin is plucked with a tubular plectrum placed on the index finger of the right hand while a tubular ivory device similar to a guitar slide placed over the middle finger of the left hand slightly depresses the string. Though not so hard that it presses against the hardwood soundboard.

To vary the pitch. Both the plectrum and slide are referred to as rokan. As with the Chinese guqin, from which it was likely originally adapted, the ichigenkin has no frets, so sliding tones are an important part of the technique of the instrument.

Schools & Lineage: There are a number of small ichigenkin schools in Japan, with Seikyodo Ichigenkin in Tokyo being the only historically unbroken line. Issui Minegishi, the current Iemoto hereditary grand master of Seikyodo is active in bringing the ichigenkin into the 21st Century by commissioning some of Japan’s top composers such as Sukeyasu Shiba, and Yuji Takahashi to write for the instrument.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites: asza.com [Ichigenkin article].

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