A koto is a type of stringed instrument that has either seven or thirteen strings. The thirteen-string version is based off of a Chinese instrument called a zheng. Kotos are flat and sit either on the ground or on a table, and the strings are made of either silk or metal. In Genji's time, the instrument was popular primarily among the wealthy, as kotos are expensive to manufacture.
Koto Term Timeline in The Tale of Genji
The timeline below shows where the term Koto appears in The Tale of Genji. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Paulownia Court
...They drink wine, play music, and sing. The bishop even talks Genji into playing the koto. This impresses all the priests and nuns and, importantly, Murasaki. She deems him handsomer than... (full context)
An Autumn Excursion
...never visits, and Genji reprimands her for complaining. He asks her to play a thirteen-stringed koto for him and she does, beautifully. They look at pictures until Genji's attendants surreptitiously remind... (full context)
The Festival of the Cherry Blossoms
The Orange Blossoms