The Parts of the Koto
The names for the parts of the koto were decided by likening the instrument to a dragon stretched out along the ground. Some of the parts' names are written with Chinese characters meaning "dragon's back" and "dragon's tail."
Ryuko (dragon's back)
This section is the main body of the koto. The musician uses their right hand to pluck the strings on the right of the ji, the supports under the strings.
Ryubi (dragon's tail)
After the koto is strung, and the strings are run through holes in the instrument's body and tied off, the leftover string is coiled into two bunches—one of six strings and one of seven—on the part to the left of the ji (called the ryubi, or "dragon's tail") and kept there in case a string breaks later.
These supports are slid up and down the instrument to adjust the pitch of each string. With their notched tops to hold the strings in place, they also help transmit the vibrations of the strings to the ryubi or “dragon tail,” for a fuller and richer sound.
The koto is not played directly with the fingers. Instead, the musician puts tsume on the thumb, index finger, and middle finger of their right hand and uses these to pluck the strings.