The Kennedy Center

The Washington Toho Koto Society


The Washington Toho Koto Society is a group of over one hundred players and friends. The association was organized by Kyoko Okamoto in 1971 to promote the enjoyment of Japanese koto music. The Society has earned wide acclaim and has participated in many national events. These events have included Presidential inaugurations, Japanese Embassy events, Japanese Sister City and State programs, National Cherry Blossom Festivals, and many international folk festivals. The repertoire of the Society ranges from early 17th century koto music to contemporary compositions. Performances have included ensembles incorporating other traditional instruments (shamisen, shakuhachi) and also Western musical instruments.

The koto, or thirteen-string zither, produces an evocative sound recognized in Japanese surveys as the most distinctively Japanese voice in Japan's spectrum of musical instruments. The six-foot long zither is made of paulownia wood (kiri) with movable bridges supporting the thirteen strings which are plucked with three ivory picks worn on the right hand. The left hand also manipulates the strings to create more varied sounds. A precursor to the koto was found to exist in prehistoric times in Japan, but this more elaborate zither was introduced from China via Korea in the eighth century. In the mid-17th century, the koto moved beyond use by the courtier, priest, and scholar to become a popular instrument for the common people.

Kyoko Okamoto, a native of Japan, graduated from the Kyoto University of Foreign Studies. She is a certified koto teacher of the Ikuta School of Koto in Japan, where she studied with Kazue Ehara of Ashiya. She teaches privately and holds faculty appointments at the University of Maryland at College Park and the George Mason University in Virginia. Ms. Okamoto's lecture-demonstrations and recitals have delighted college and community audiences nationwide. She has recorded for film productions by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Symphony Orchestra.

Watch Past Performances

Video 4/11/2012: The Washington Toho Koto Society

The Washington Toho Koto Society is dedicated to promoting an understanding and appreciation for the koto (zither), Japan’s national instrument.

The Washington Toho Koto Society