The KOTO is one of a number of different types of zither that have developed across the countries of North-east and South-east Asia.
Originating in China the instruments 'guqin' and 'guzheng' spread eastward through Korea, (where a variant called the 'gayageum' is played), to Japan, where this developed into the koto.
During the Heian era (794-1192 AD) the koto played in court orchestras, a style of music known as 'gagaku'. It then fell into decline until the mid 1600's, when it became popular among the daughters of nobility and was seen as an essential skill of 'cultured people'.
The modern koto has thirteen strings stretched over the 180cm long hollow body of the instrument. The strings are played using three finger picks attached to the right hand and tuning is achieved by changing the position of the individual bridges holding each string.