The biwa is the Japanese teardrop lute used in court music or to accompany epic poems. The biwa originated from the Chinese pipa and came to Japan as a gift from the Chinese Tang court (618-907 AD). These original Chinese instruments are still preserved at the Shoso-in Imperial Repository in Nara, Japan. With either four or five strings, there are five main varieties of biwa, each with its own history, function, shape, and techniques. These are the Gaku biwa used in Gagaku or court music, the Moso biwa used by blind monks, the Satsuma biwa originally used by samurai, the Heike biwa used for reciting the epic poem of Heike, and the Chikusen biwa, which is the most modern and common. The Moso biwa style has effectively disappeared.
|© R. Raine-Reusch, May 2002|