Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Sanxian.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.6
Region: Far East Asia.
Description: The kokyu [胡弓] is a traditional Japanese string instrument, the only one played with a bow. Although it was introduced to Japan from China along with the shamisen. Its materials, shape and sound are unique to Japan. The instrument also exists in an Okinawan version, called kūchō [胡弓 くーちょー] in the Okinawan language.
The kokyu is similar to two Chinese bowed lutes with fingerboards: the leiqin and the zhuihu. In Japanese, the term kokyū may refer broadly to any bowed string instrument of Asian origin, as does the Chinese term huqin. Thus, the Chinese erhu, which is also used by some performers in Japan, is sometimes described as a kokyu, along with the kucho, leiqin and zhuihu. The specific Japanese name for erhu is niko.
Since Shinei Matayoshi, a musician who played the kokyu and a maker of the sanshin. He invented and popularized a four-stringed version of the kokyū in order to expand the instrument’s range, the kokyū has become much more popular. A kokyū society, dedicated to promoting the instrument, exists in Japan.
The kokyū has also been used in jazz and blues, with the American multi-instrumentalist Eric Golub pioneering the instrument’s use in these non-traditional contexts. One of the few non-Japanese performers of the instrument, he has recorded as a soloist as well as with the cross-cultural jazz band of John Kaizan Neptune.
Playing Techniques: It has three, or more rarely four, strings and is played upright. With the horsetail-strung bow rubbing against the strings. In central Japan. The kokyū was formerly used as an integral part of the sankyoku ensemble, along with the koto and shamisen. Beginning in the 20th century the shakuhachi most often plays the role previously filled by the kokyu.
Construction: The kokyu is similar in construction to the shamisen, appearing like the smaller version of the instrument. The scale length of the kokyu is 70 cm [28 inches]. Has a neck made of ebony and a hollow body made of coconut or Styrax japonicus [Japanese Snowbell] wood, covered on both ends with cat skin or snakeskin in Okinawa.
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