This Satsuma Biwa takes the form of a traditional Asian lute. It is made from an auburn-coloured hardwood called Kuwa. The Kuwa Tree fragments are cut and left to dry for ten years before using. The Biwa features four tuners at the top of the instrument and a fret board running down the centre with four vertical strings. The wood cuts away at the lower portion of the body to reveal a stunning landscape scene made with traditional Japanese lacquer techniques. The scene is of a tranquil ocean, replete with rippling waves in gold togidashi. Against the waves, clusters of gold hirame flecks are used to resemble sprays of grass which lay at the ocean’s edge. Across the ocean, a series of cascading mountains are presented in gold takamakie. Gold kirikane flakes are used as highlights for the mountains, representing where the moonlight would naturally illuminate its surface. The lacquer artist is attributed as Nakata Kougetsu. This particular Biwa was made to order for Tokugawa Mito, bearing Mitsuba Aoi Family Crest, Mito. Named and Gold Painted on the back ‘Rengetsu’ by Morita Goyu (b. 1834-1915), a monk of Eiheiji Temple, a training temple for Soto Zen Buddhism with two of his seal marks: Taikyu Goyu and Kissho Sanou
Accompanying the Biwa is a Boxwood plectrum called Tsuge used to strum the instrument. The plectrum is triangular in form and is engraved with a Chinese Poem.
The biwa is a plucked string instrument originating from China which eventually reached Japan in the Nara period (710-794). It is often used to accompany the performance of traditional Japanese stories and is said to be the chosen instrument of Benzaiten (one of the Seven Japanese gods of fortune), goddess of music and poetry.