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A Japanese Kokyu built by Masakichi Ueda c. 1920, Osaka, Japan.
The koky? () 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 material, shape, and sound are unique to Japan[clarification needed]. The instrument also exists in an Okinawan version, called k?ch? ( in the )Okinawan language.
The instrument is similar in construction to the shamisen, appearing like a smaller version of that instrument. It is 70 cm (28 inches) tall, with a neck made of ebony and a hollow body made of coconut or Styrax japonica wood, covered on both ends with cat skin (or snakeskin in Okinawa). 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 koky? was formerly used as an integral part of the sankyoku ensemble, along with the koto and shamisen, but beginning in the 20th century the shakuhachi most often plays the role previously filled by the koky?.
Since Shinei Matayoshi, a koky? and sanshin musician and sanshin maker, invented and popularized a four-stringed version of the koky? in order to expand the instrument's range, the koky? has become much more popular. A koky? society, dedicated to promoting the instrument, exists in Japan.
The koky? 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.
The koky? is similar to two Chinese bowed lutes with fingerboards: the leiqin and the zhuihu. In Japanese, the term koky? 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 koky?, along with the k?ch?, leiqin, and zhuihu. The specific Japanese name for erhu is niko.