Other String Instruments

Traditionally, musicians from the gagaku orchestra perform any repertoire from gagaku’s three main bodies of music and dance. A different string instrument, the wagon, is also used in some of these works.



This is a six-string koto of trapezoidal shape. It is approximately 190 cm long and 15 cm wide at its head and 24 cm wide at its tail (75 inches long and 6 inches wide at its head and 9.5 inches wide at its tail). It is used primarily for the accompaniment of kuniburi-no-utamai.

Photo © Research Institute for Japanese Traditional Music, Kyoto City University of Arts

Figure 1


The wagon sounds as written, and it is tuned to an A-430Hz. The strings are numbered from the lowest (first string - outer) to the highest (sixth string - inner, closest to the musician). Like the koto it has movable bridges under the strings that allows for two different tunings shown in Figure 2. The player holds a small plectrum in the right hand and plays rapid arpeggios across the strings. The left hand either plucks single strings or dampens the other five strings so that only one is left ringing after the production of an arpeggio.

Two tunings of the wagon

Figure 2