Gekkin (月琴)

Gekkin (Chinese name: yueh-chin, yueqin; English name: moon guitar, moon-zither; and Vietnamese name: {-D}{a`}n nguy{e^.}t) is a traditional musical instrument in China, Japan and Vietnam.

It is a plucked string instrument of the lute family and has a round sound box and a short neck. The number of strings differ depending on the period and country and it has typically two to four strings and, in the case of four strings, two courses of paired strings are strung. For strings, silk yarn was used in the past and wire was also used later and, at present, nylon steel yarn is the main stream. Tuning method also differs depending on the period and country.

Pressing the strings ten to twenty-four frets with finger, and the string is picked to make sound. It has no hole for resonance. When playing, the player sits on a chair and places the gekkin on the thigh and play keeping the sound chamber a little away from the player. Some gekkin are provided with a mechanism called narido in the sound chamber; in the narido, unstable metal parts are equipped and sound is made by swinging or hitting it.

The root is said to be ruanxian (4 or 5-stringed Chinese lute) or ruan, but it is not clearly known.

The Yi, a minority race, play a gekkin with a hexagonal sound chamber and a gekkin with a long neck. Gekkin is used for Ming and Xing-era Chinese music (popularized in Japan before the First Sino-Japanese war) in Japan. While a gekkin used for Ming-era Chinese music is "ruanxian" (4 or 5-stringed Chinese lute) with a long neck, the "gekkin" used for Xing-era Chinese music is one with a round sound chamber. These two instruments are completely different from each other.
As Ming-era Chinese music declined early under the pressure of Xing-era Chinese music, if they simply mention "gekkin," it means gekkin used for Xing-era Chinese music (refer to photographs) (For the difference in appearance between "ruanxian"(gekkin for Ming-era Chinese music) and gekkin for Xing-era Chinese music, refer to figures of "Ming and Xing-era musical instruments" on the page for Xing-era Chinese music.)
Gekkin for Xing-era Chinese music were imported from China through Nagasaki, but, later, it was manufactured in Japan imitating the Chinese instruments and it came to be used for performances of Japanese folk melody other than Xing-era Chinese music. It became popular from the Edo period to the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate and Meiji period such that it was played by enka-shi (street performer of pop songs), hokai-ya (performer singing Hokai-bushi - Japanese traditional songs) in Kadotsuke (performance in front of the gate of houses) and goze (blind female who sings or plays shamisen (three-stringed Japanese banjo) as well. In "Ryoma ga iku" (Ryoma goes) by Ryotaro SHIBA, there is a description in which Ryoma SAKAMOTO's wife Oryo plays (Mostly because of this book, gekkin is well-known today). However, after it was treated as a "musical instrument of the enemy" during the time of the Sino-Japanese War, the gekkin players decreased. Situations around this time were described in details by "Kyubun Nihonbashi Katsukawa Hanagiku no Issho" (Old story of the life of Hanagiku KATSUKAWA of Nihonbashi) by Shigure HASEGAWA and "Nisshin Senso Ibun" (Harada Jukichi no Yume) (Another Story of the Sino-Japanese War - Jukichi HARADA's dream) by Sakutaro OGIWARA. It also appeared in Seishi YOKOMIZO's detective story "Jo-obachi" (Queen Bee).

[Original Japanese]