Gunnar Jinmei Linder, 尺八(Shakuhachi) - Japanese bamboo flute


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Updated on 2012-01-14 (土) 16:22:45 (Standard Japanese Time)

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There are quite a lot of writings about the history of the shakuhachi, some less accurate and some more. Among the internet sources, the historical background chapter of Riley Lee's Ph.D. thesis is probably the best. There are some issues that need attention, but that is part of my still unpublished Ph.D. thesis.
Christopher Yohmei Blasdel's book The Shakuhachi – A Manual for Learning includes a chapter written by Kamisangō Yūkō, a well-known musicologist in Japan, which retells the background of the shakuhachi. Again, there are some aspects that will need some attention, but I will come back to these issues in my own thesis.


The following text is from an open seminar at Stockholm University, Department of Japanese Studies on April 17, 2009. The text was edited after the seminar (April 29, 2009).

Plate 1, shakuhachi played by the author

This text constitutes a study of the shakuhachi (plate 1), an end-blown vertical bamboo flute, with roots to the ney, prominent in Turkish (plate 2), Persian (plate 3) and Arabic (plate 4) music, and the Chinese xiāo (plate 5). In Japan, the shakuhachi has been part of the music scene probably since the eighth century CE, appearing and reappearing in a variety of parts of the music world and society during the centuries past, and still at present times.
Within the English speaking academic disciplin of Japanese studies, very little is to be found about the shakuhachi. Mostly there are some theses in musicology, and a number of popular books, aimed at an interested general public, and handbooks or manuals for non-Japanese practitioners of the shakuhachi.

Plate 2 Turkish ney

Plate 3, Persian ney

Plate 4, Arabic ney

Plate 5, xiāo
Play - Zhaojun's Lament

The shakuhachi has appeared in various forms during history (see plates 7 & 8). The types are gagaku shakuhachi, hitoyogiri shakuhachi (or simply hitoyogiri), tenpuku, and fuke shakuhachi. The terms are employed for historical reasons, and also indicate differences in the construction of the instruments. Another word that appears in historical records is tanteki, or “short flute”. This word is either used in relation to the term shakuhachi, or with visual references to a hitoyogiri shakuhachi. The tanteki is therefore not treated as a type of shakuhachi, but rather as an alternative name. In the Kyōkun-shō, a treatise on gagaku from 1233, it is said that “tanteki is called shakuhachi”.

1 Name, parts and construction of present day shakuhachi

The name of the instrument, shakuhachi, refers supposedly to its standard length: shaku is a length measure, and hachi means “eight”, referring to 8 of the length measure sun; the standard length is thus one shaku and eight (hachi) sun, which in today's measures is approximately one foot eight inches or 54.864 cm. The most typical features, that probably developed from the middle ages up to the eighteenth century, are:

• the use of the root end of the bamboo (probably an Edo period development);
• five fingerholes compared to the Heian period shakuhachi’s six holes (probably from around the Kamakura to Muromachi periods);
• an outwardly cut moutpiece (maybe also beginning in the Kamakura or Muromachi periods);
• a total of seven nodes (probably middle or late Edo period), compared to the predecessors, which had three or five nodes.

Figure 1, shakuhachi

Author's shakuhachi

The shakuhachi belongs to the group of end-blown air-reed vertical flutes. The upper sound-producing mouth-piece, uta-guchi, is cut in an angle outwards, normally with an inlay of bone or horn. There are five fingerholes, four on the front and one on the back. There is no left/right orientation, and the player may therefore freely choose which hand s/he prefers as upper and lower hand respectively. The shakuhachi is held with the lower hand's thumb and middle finger only, with the back of the upper edge, the ago-atari, leaning against the chin. The fingerholes are normally counted from down and up, and covered in the order indicated in figure 1 and plate 6.

According to convention, the shakuhachi should consist of seven nodes or joints. There is no scientific proof that this aspect has any influence on the sound. Three nodes at the lower end, node four before hole 1, node five between holes 2 and 3, node six between holes 4 and 5, and node seven at the upper end. The upper end is cut in an angle, and the sound is produced by blowing on the edge.
The shakuhachi can either be made with a naka-tsugi (中継) mid-joint, where it can be divided in two parts, or made in one piece, which then is referred to as a nobe-kan (延管). There are three reasons to divide the shakuhachi in two parts. Firstly, by dividing the bamboo, it is easier to make a shakuhachi with seven nodes, with one node at the bottom and one at the top, and at the same time get the correct length. To make a nobe-kan in the exact length proves to be much more difficult, since you would like to have a node at the bottom for cosmetic reasons, and a node at the top, for practical reasons; the top node makes it possible to create a wider and slightly rounded ago-atari, the part that rests against the chin. Secondly, it is easier to work on the inside if the bamboo is divided into two parts. Thirdly, the naka-tsugi makes it easy to take the instrument apart, which is convenient for practical reasons when carrying the shakuhachi.

Plate 6, The author playing his own main shakuhachi in the standard length of 1 shaku 8 sun

Author playing 1,8

Plate 7, From left to right:
tenpuku, hitoyogiri, gagaku shakuhachi, fuke shakuhachi, and xiāo

five different flutes

Plate 8, Mouth-piece (uta-guchi) of various flutes.
From down to up:
gagaku shakuhachi,
fuke shakuhachi, and xiāo

mouthpiece of three different flutes

The inside can be covered by lacquer, to protect from spit and outer humidity. Under the top lacquer surface it is common to add a layer of what is called ji, a heavier and harder material. If applied, the instrument may be referred to as a ji-ari (地有). In old flutes there was no ji, and there has been a renaissance for the so-called ji-nashi (地無) shakuhachi. The ji gives a stronger and more powerful sound, but it is very difficult to make a well balanced instrument without the ji. On top of the ji a layer of lacquer, red or black, is applied. The lacquer makes the surface smoother, and it also has a protective function. Lacquer is used in ji-nashi instruments as well to protect the bamboo from spit.
There is a definite and obvious difference in timbre between ji-ari and ji-nashi. Some ji-ari shakuhachi have only a thin layer of ji, and the weight of the instrument is largely due to how much ji the instrument has.
Some performers play only ji-nashi, but the most common type is with ji covered with a layer of lacquer.

Even though the name states a length of 1 shaku 8 sun, the shakuhachi is available in various lengths, from 1 shaku 3 sun, up to 3 shaku or longer. The pitch of the standard 1 shaku 8 sun is a D, and each sun (inch) makes a pitch difference of half a step: a 2 shaku is a C, a 1 shaku 9 sun is a D♭, a 1 shaku 7 sun is an E♭, a 1 shaku 6 sun is an E, etc. This relation between one sun and half a tone-step is valid up to approximately 2 shaku 3 sun.

* Concluding remark

The content on these pages relate specifically to the shakuhachi as it appears in modern time, and does not relate to any difference in construction between shakuhachi in the Edo period and modern time. The differences that exist between ji-ari and ji-nashi will not be discussed here, and any possible difference between shakuhachi with a naka-tsugi on the one hand and nobe-kan shakuhachi on the other, are beyond the scope of the information included here.
Aesthetical differences, or differences in the history and development of the shakuhachi in respect to its construction, will not be discussed.

2 A Short Historical Overview and Basic Terminology

As an instrument, the shakuhachi may go back as far as to the first century CE China. It developed in Japan from the Nara (710–784) to the Muromachi (1378–1573) periods, and its present form originates in the type of shakuhachi that was more or less finalised at the latest during the eighteenth century. There are accounts of the shakuhachi being used in chanting of Buddhist sutras in the ninth century, but originally the shakuhachi was used in the court music imported from the kingdoms on the Korean peninsula and the Tang dynasty China in the Asuka (538–710) and Nara (710–784) periods. From the middle of the ninth century, the shakuhachi disappeared from the reformed court music, gagaku, which incorporated both Chinese music (tōgaku) and Korean music (komagaku).
During the Middle Ages, the shakuhachi was used by mendicant monks, musicians of popular music, laymen and princes at the court. Most famous, though, are the komusō of the Edo period, monks of a certain Rinzai Zen Buddhist sect called the Fuke sect.
The komusō used the shakuhachi for religious purposes, and the pieces they played are referred to as honkyoku, fundamental pieces, and the contrasting generic term for all other pieces is gaikyoku (or rankyoku during the Edo period). During the Edo period (1603–1867), the shakuhachi was acknowledged as a religious implement, used by the komusō, and officially forbidden to be played by laymen. As implied with the very use of the word rankyoku, disorderly pieces, denoting wordly music, the shakuhachi was played in ensemble with the widely popular string instruments shamisen and koto; a practice of ensemble playing had already begun, regardless of the official prohibition.
In the beginning of the Meiji period (1868–1912), at a time of strong anti-Buddhist movements, the Fuke sect was abolished in 1871. Since the Meiji period the shakuhachi got a more fixed position within the chamber music in ensembles with koto and shamisen, and the new music that saw the light in this era and on. The previously officially ackonowledged komusō had to make a living by playing in ensembles with string instruments in order to survive, since their privilege as mendicant monks, takuhatsu-sō, diappeared with the sect.
The shakuhachi has since been used in modern (Western) music, besides the earlier traditional, or classical, repertoir. After the WWII the shakuhachi has been employed in world music as well as jazz and contemporary art music, and was introduced in the West during the 1960's. A number of adaptations have been tried. In the 1920’s a hybrid form, called an ōkuraulo, using the mouthpiece of the shakuhachi and the body of a Western transverse flute was constructed. At this time also seven-holed and nine-holed shakuhachi were constructed, to better accomodate the instrument to Western music. By adding more holes, it was possible to achieve an even tone colour even for half tones, which is not easily done on a shakuhachi with five holes. The seven- and nine-holed shakuhachi are still used today by some performers, whereas the ōkuraulo became extinct. Monty Levenson, an American shakuhachi builder, created a new type of ōkuraulo, which he calls a shakulute.

Some basic genre definitions

I understand the word “traditional” as denoting music that was established (meaning composed and performed) before the beginning of the Meiji period, and to some extent music that was composed in the Meiji period, but on a format that relates to the pre Meiji period music. The material under study is the Kinko-ryū shakuhachi, which began to develop during the eighteenth century.
Several lineages, schools or guilds have developed since the Edo period and on. They can be classified in respect to their repertoires, and their lines of transmission. Within the Kinko-ryū shakuhachi a total number of thirty-six honkyoku are transmitted. Apart from the honkyoku, a vast number of gaikyoku, or ensemble pieces are transmitted. Within the Chikumeisha guild of Kinko-ryū shakuhachi a total number of seventy-one gaikyoku are transmitted in the learning process, but the number of ensemble pieces, gaikyoku, performed is vastly greater. The traditional gaikyoku repertoire for the shakuhachi consists of pieces composed for shamisen, koto and vocals, with a shakuhachi part added by the shakuhachi performers themselves. The pieces, the ensemble style and the repertoire is known under the generic term sankyoku. The repertoire that is being performed today includes but is not limited to sankyoku; it also incorporates late nineteenth and early twentieth century new music, so-called shinkyoku, and the whole genre of pieces composed by koto and shamisen performers such as Miyagi Michio and Nakanoshima Kin'ichi.

Modern day shakuhachi in the West

In modern day Japan and in the Western world alike, the typical and most wide-spread view of the shakuhachi is as a religious implement of the Fuke (Rinzai) Zen monks, the komusō. The Fuke sect was established in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and, as mentioned above, eventually abolished during the anti-Buddhist movement in the very beginning of the Meiji period. As a religious implement, the shakuhachi grew in popularity in the West during the 1960's, partly due to the activities of the shakuhachi masters Yamaguchi Gorō (1933–1999; designated Living National Treasure in 1992), Yokoyama Katsuya (b. 1934), and Yamamoto Hōzan (b. 1937; designated Living National Treasure in 2002), and the scholarly and educational work of Tsuge Gen'ichi. The former three made their contributions through performances and teaching in the late 1960's, and Professor Tsuge taught at Wesleyan University, in their World Music Program intermittently for 12 years beginning in 1966. Yamaguchi Gorō was the first Japanese Artist in Residence at Wesleyan 1967-68, Yokoyama Katsuya premiered the Takemitsu Tōru piece “November Steps” with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Ozawa Seiji and with biwa player Tsuruta Kinshi, in November 1967, and Yamamoto Hōzan performed at a jazz festival at Newport, USA, in 1967.

* Concluding remark

These pages deal with the traditional shakuhachi music, and its transmission of today. It does not relate to modern music, i.e., music composed in the post Edo period time.
By honkyoku I will refer to the koten honkyoku, the classical honkyoku, of Kinko-ryū.
By gaikyoku I will refer to the jiuta-sōkyoku ensemble pieces that were composed during the Edo period, and such pieces that were composed in the early Meiji period in that same tradition. The generic term for this genre is sankyoku-mono, where sankyoku refers to "music for three instruments".

3 Survey of the literature

There is very little to be found in investigating literature about the shakuhachi before the Meiji period. Up to that point, there are a number of writings in the Edo period relating to the actual playing of the shakuhachi, or the hito-yo-giri shakuhachi, for example, the Shichiku Shoshin-shū (糸竹初心集), A Collection of Pieces for Beginners of Strings and Bamboo, written by Nakamura Sōsan (中村宗三, 16xx–16xx) in 1664, which includes a number of pieces for the hitoyogiri shakuhachi, and a short introduction to its origins. Together with Ikanobori (紙鳶), Kite, from 1687 and Shichiku Kokon-shū (糸竹古今集), A Collection of Old and New Pieces for Strings and Bamboo, published in the Shichiku Taizen (糸竹大全), The Complete Works for Strings and Bamboo, in 1699, contain important historical data of the shakuhachi. The most important of the Edo period historical texts, in relation to the founding of the Fuke sect, is Kyotaku Denki Kokuji-kai (虚鐸伝記国字解), compiled in 1779 by Yamamoto Morihide (山本守秀) and published 1795, in which the most likely never-existing Kyotaku Denki is quoted and translated from kanbun to eighteenth century Japanese.
From the Edo period are also Kinko Techō, written by Kurosawa Kinko III (1772–1816), the most likely founder of the kinko-ryū shakuhachi, and the grandson of Kurosawa Kinko I (1710–1771).
At the end of the Edo period, Hisamatsu Fūyō (久松風陽, 1791–1871), a student of Kinko III, became the leader of the kinko-ryū, since the brother of Kinko III, Kinko IV (d. 1860), who was not an accomplished shakuhachi player, had given up his position. Hisamatsu wrote Hitori Kotoba (獨言), A Monologue, in 1818, Hitori Mondō (獨問答), A Solitary Dialogue, in 1823, and Kaisei Hōgo (海静法語), Sermon of the Calm Sea, in 1835. The first two texts are aimed at beginners of shakuhachi, introductory writings pertaining to the right way of playing, a correct mind-set, and certain basics about repertoire, etc. The last text is an inflammatory call for the shakuhachi-playing komusô monks to stick to the right path, especially directed to those who deviate from the Way of Kinko-ryû. They are important texts in the study of the shakuhachi, both its religious and musical aspects.
From the sixteenth century, in the late Muromachi period (1378–1573), we also have song texts (kouta) with remarks to the shakuhachi, for example, Kangin-shū (閑吟集) from 1518, and Sōan Kouta-shū (宗安小歌集). In the Edo period we have the whole repertoire of jiuta-sōkyoku (地歌箏曲) song texts, which do not refer to the shakuhachi, but the shakuhachi has been a part of the ensemble, most likely at least since the late seventeenth century.
There are other historical texts, both from the same time and earlier, where shakuhachi is mentioned, but there is no historical treaty on the shakuhachi. The shakuhachi is mentioned in the two gagaku treatieses, the 1512 Taigen-shō (体源抄) and the 1522 Maikyoku-kuden (舞曲口伝), both authored by the gagaku musician Toyohara Muneaki (豊原統秋, 1450–1524).
The Taigen-shō is a treatise on the court music, gagaku, which implies that the shakuhachi at that time was an instrument of the gagaku; the shakuhachi had, however, disappeared from the gagaku ensemble during its reformation in the middle of the ninth century. In Taigen-shō it is stated that the claim by dengaku performers, that shakuhachi is a dengaku instrument, is not correct, but that shakuhachi is a gagaku instrument. Both the Kyōkun-shō (教訓抄), a treaty on gagaku from 1233, written by Koma Chikazane (狛近真, 1177-1242), as well as the Zoku Kyōkun-shō (続教訓抄) from 1322, written by Chikazane’s grandson Koma no Asakuzu (狛朝葛, 1249-1333), both have remarks about the shakuhachi.
The shakuhachi also appears in tales and personal writings. In Kojidan (古事談), probably compiled in 1215 by Minamoto no Akikane (源顕兼, 1160–1215) a remark about Jikaku Daishi (Ennin) playing the shakuhachi is made; in Imakagami (今鏡) from 1170 by Fujiwara Tadatsune (藤原為経, dates unknown), Emperor Go-Shirakawa is said to have ordered an attempt to revive the shakuhachi at a New Year’s banquet in 1158; in Yoshino Shūi (吉野拾遣), Gleanings of Yoshino, a compilation of events at the Imperial court published in 1358, there is a remark that the son of Emperor Go-Daigo (後醍醐), prince Kanenaga Shinnō (懐良親王), was an accomplished shakuhachi player; the Yamashina Noritoki Kyō Nikki (山科教言郷日記), Diary of Lord Yamashina no Noritoki, states that on the 24th of March, 1408, Emperor Go-Komatsu (後小松) played the shakuhachi.
Around the same time shakuhachi also appears in a variety of poems and songs, for example some poems by the Zen Budhist monk Ikkyū Sōjun (一休宗純, 1394–1482), who wrote a number of so called dōka, or waka with a Buddhist content. He also wrote a collection of poems named Kyōun-shū (狂雲集), A Collection by Crazy Cloud, in which he refers to the shakuhachi in three, Fuke Zen-ji (see below) in four, and flutes in general in a total of nine poems.
Among texts that relate to Buddhist temples we have the Tōdai-ji Kenmotsu-chō (東大寺献物帳) from 758, the Saidai-ji Shizairyūki-chō (西大寺資材流記帳) from 780, and the Hōryū-ji Kokon Mokuroku-shō (法隆寺古今目録抄) from 1238.

One important work from the Edo period is the Kiyūshōran (喜遊笑覧) from 1830 (more data to be added!)

In modern times, the historical research started with Kurihara Kōta (栗原広太), who in 1918 wrote the first historical survey of the shakuhachi, Shakuhachi Shikō (尺八史考), A Historical Study of the Shakuhachi, a book that was reissued by the kinko-ryū shakuhachi guild Chikuyūsha in 1975.
Kurihara’s book was, however, preceeded by the historian Mikami Sanji (三上参次) (1865–1939), who held a speech with the title “Fuke-shû ni tsuite” (普化宗に就いて), “About the Fuke sect”, already in 1902. The speech was published as an article under the same name in Shigaku zasshi dai 13-hen dai 4-gô (史学雑誌第十三編第四号), History Magazine 13th Ed., No. 4, in April 1902.
Up to the 1920’s at least, the prevailing view on the shakuhachi was in accordance with the 1795 Kyotaku Denki Kokuji-kai, in which it is stated that the Buddhist monk Shinchi Gakushin (心地学心) or Muhon Kakushin (無本覚心) (1207–1298), posthumously given the name Hottō Enmyō Kokushi (法燈圓明國師) by Emperor Go-Daigo, brought the shakuhachi to Japan after having concluded his studies of Chan Buddhism in China 1251–1254. This tradition was supposedly transmitted from the ninth century Chinese Chan Buddhist monk Fuke Zen-ji (普化禅師).
The central document is the so called Keichô Okite-gaki, a document supposedly handed over to the Edo bakufu in 1614, in which the Fuke sect is given a number of special privilegies. Based on literary style and the name of the persons who signed the document, Mikami showed that this document most likely was a forgery. Kurihara reports further doubts about the legendary view of the origin of the Edo period shakuhachi tradition, and quotes a number of inconsistenses in respect to the forming of the Fuke sect in the seventeenth century.

In the 1930’s Nakatsuka Chikuzen (中塚竹禅) began a study of the history of the kinko-ryū shakuhachi, and in investigating the material he began to question the generally believed historical (legendary as it may be) background. Nakatsuka did a thorough research of the historical records pertaining to the Fuke sect and Hottō Kokushi, building on the findings of Kurihara Kōta. Nakatsuka’s investigation has become the basis for all further historical studies of the shakuhachi. His research was published in the magazine Sankyoku between 1936 and 1939 in a total of 43 articles, and reissued as a book, Kinko-ryū Shakuhachi Shikan (琴古流尺八史観), A Historical View of Kinko-ryū Shakuhachi in 1979.
The most crucial finding that Nakatsuka came up with was that the document that connected the komusō and their Fuke sect to Zen Buddhism, the Kyotaku Denki, was a forgery. Nakatsuka found no evidence of any connection between Hottō Kokushi and the shakuhachi what so ever. Among present writings about the shakuhachi, the only one who still insists on that Hottō Kokushi brought the shakuhachi to Japan is Takahashi Kūzan, who states that Hottō Kokushi “...followed Zen master Mumon Ekai and while thoroughly learning Zen he also received the transmission of Fuke shakuhachi from Chōsan, who was a follower of the Fuke tradition.” , and then also refers to the writings of Kusunoki Masakatsu, a fourteenth century general at the South court and a legendary shakuhachi player, to support his statement.
In the post WWII-era most books and other writings on the shakuhachi are, with a few exceptions, based on Nakatsuka and Kurihara. One of the most well-established scholars on the shakuhachi is Kamisangō Yūkō (上参郷祐康, ), professor in musicology at Tokyo Geidai, who wrote Shakuhachi no Ryakureki (尺八の略歴), A Brief History of the Shakuhachi, in 1974. The text was also included in the Shichiku-ron josetsu: Nihon ongaku ronkô jisen-shû (糸竹論序説 − 日本音楽論考自選集), A Preliminary Discussion on Strings and Bamboo: The Author’s Selection of Studies on Japanese Music, a private publication from 1995. This text was translated and adapted for the book Shakuhachi – A Manual for Learning by Christopher Yohmei Blasdel in 1988. Other modern writers on the shakuhachi are Ueno Katami, who wrote his Shakuhachi no Rekishi, A History of the Shakuhachi, in 1983. Apart from numerous private scholars, for example Kanda Kayū (神田可遊) and Kosuge Daitetsu (小菅大徹) of the Komusō Kenkyū-kai, the most thorough research on the shakuhachi and its fundamental repertoire, the honkyoku, has been performed by Tsukitani Tsuneko (月溪恒子), professor at Osaka Geidai. One of her most prominent books is the Shakuhachi Koten-honkyoku no Kenkyū (尺八古典本曲の研究), Research of the Traditional Shakuhachi Honkyoku from 2000.
Visual material including the shakuhachi is fairly abundant, especially from the Edo period. The oldest appearance is on the drawings on a long bow, which belonged to Emperor Shōmu (701–756) and now is kept at the Shōsō-in in Nara. Other visual appearances include the twelveth century Shinzei Nyūdō Kogaku-zu, paintings of instruments of the time. There are also a number of illustrations of craftsmen, the oldest from (??). From 1496 and 1500 we have the 32-ban Shokunin Uta-awase and 71-ban Shokunin Utaawase, which both depict what might be shakuhachi players.
Among actually existing shakuhachi the oldest ones are from the eighth century, kept at the Shōsō-in.

4 About the shakuhachi and its nomenclature

As mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, there are different names used for the various shakuhachi that appear in history: gagaku shakuhachi, tenpuku, hitoyogiri shakuhachi, and fuke shakuhachi. These names need further clarification.

gagaku shakuhachi (雅楽尺八)

The first shakuhachi that seems to have entered Japan around the eighth century is nowadays referred to as gagaku shakuhachi, since it was prominently used in the gagaku court music in the Nara and Heian periods. The oldest existing historical texts in Japan where the word “shakuhachi” is used are from the eighth century.

This gagaku shakuhachi was made of bamboo, with three nodes, even if there are some historical instruments from this time made of jade and stone. The instruments made from other material had the three nodes carved, to make them look like bamboo, which may indicate that they were precious items, rather than practically used instruments. Another aspect that differentiates the Nara gagaku shakuhachi from later types of shakuhachi is that they had six fingerholes, compared to the five of later instruments; there were five fingerholes on the front, and one on the back, whereas later five-holed shakuhachi, and the shakuhachi used today, have four fingerholes on the front and one on the back. There are eight gagaku shakuhachi from the eighth century at the Shōsō-in in Nara, and one belonging to Hōryū-ji (presently at Tokyo National Museum), which supposedly was an instrument used by Shōtoku Taishi (574–622), but it is doubtful whether this instrument actually is from the seventh century, as discussed below in Chapter 1.
Historical records indicate that the gagaku shakuhachi was used up to the twelveth century (see “3 Survey of the Literature”, above), but there are no clear and unquestionable historical evidence, which tells us that the shakuhachi used actually was a gagaku shakuhachi after the ninth century; it could have been any type of shakuhachi as far as we know.

tenpuku (天吹)

The tenpuku is of unknown origin, but in construction it is partly similar to the gagaku shakuhachi, partly similar to later shakuhachi, and partly to the Chinese dòngxiāo, or dōshō in Japanese. It contains three nodes, as the gagaku shakuhachi, but has five fingerholes, like later shakuhachi. It is short, approximately 30 cm and thus similar in length to the gagaku shakuhachi, but the mouth-piece is cut from the inside out, in a similar fashion to the Chinese dōshō. Furthermore, the bottom node is not completely opened, but has a small hole, unlike other types of shakuhachi in Japan.

Plate 9, Illustration of tenpuku in the book Tenpuku

Plate 10, Illustration of tenpuku in the book Tenpuku

Plate 11, Photo of tenpuku

During the period of Warring States, sengoku-jidai 1467–1568, the tenpuku is said to have been used by the warriors in the Satsuma domain (present day Kagoshima). “Its origin is unclear but according to historical records it did exist at the time of Shimazu Tadayoshi (1492–1568), and now it is only transmitted in Kagoshima.” During the Edo period it was used in Satsuma together with the lute satsuma biwa, and was transmitted also at schools during the Meiji period. “In Meiji 39 [1897], musical instruments were regarded as a hindrance in the study, and biwa and tenpuku were forbidden. This led to that the tenpuku tradition, which is transmitted orally with no musical notation, declined rapidly.”
The tenpuku has been transmitted orally by Ōta Ryōichi (1888–1957) to Shirao Kunitoshi (1920–??), but only seven short pieces are still being transmitted. The pieces are “‘Shirabe’ (シラベ), ‘Anoyama’ (アノヤマ), ‘Tsutsune’ (ツツネ), ‘Takane’ (タカネ), ‘Ichiyana’ (イチヤナ), ‘Tennoshiyama’ (テンノシヤマ) and ‘Senpesan’ (センペサン). The durations of these pieces range from thirty seconds to four minutes. The first three are solo pieces, while the remaining four were performed with songs.”
Lee argues for that there may be a connection between the tenpuku and the Edo period fuke shakuhachi. He puts forward two arguments. Firstly, that both the fuke shakuhachi (as well as modern shakuhachi) and the tenpuku performs pieces that are “...strictly classified as either solo pieces or ensemble pieces”. This is of course true but to make a similarity between the chamber music ensemble of the Edo period, with vocals, shamisen and koto, and the tenpuku and song, seems a bit far-fetched. Lee also argues that the names of the pieces relate to the fuke shakuhachi tradition: “a connection can be seen in the titles of the tempuku solo pieces. All three of the solo piece titles are also used in the fuke shakuhachi tradition, though not always as titles.” He then continues to argue for that the piece “Takane” should be related to parts of solo shakuhachi pieces in which some pieces contain a section called takane, high sound. However, the tenpuku piece “Takane” is according to Lee’s own listing not a solo piece, wherefore the comparison staggers. It is only the piece “Shirabe” which can be related to fuke shakuhachi, where shirabe is used in the name of some pieces as a suffix. There is also a piece called “Hon-shirabe”, main (or fundamental) shirabe, in the solo shakuhachi repertoire, but the word shirabe also means “tune”, “tuning”, “melody” in normal Japanese. The original meaning of shirabe is also “search”, “investigation”, etc., thus indicating that the “Shirabe” pieces should be regarded as “tuning in” pieces. They are included as preludes to some pieces. There are “Shirabe” pieces also in other musical traditions in Japan, so the use of the word shirabe does not seem to be in any way a proof of a connection. Finally, Lee reiterates Tsukitani’s survey of tenpuku and shakuhachi honkyoku pieces.

Tsukitani claims that the outlines of the structure of the melodies of the three solo tempuku pieces show a number of correlations to the fuke shakuhachi piece "Sanya no kyoku" (三谷の曲, "Three Valleys Piece") (Tukitani 1986:20). Tukitani et al., (1991:7) further speculate that similar connections between the titles of the remaining tempuku solo pieces and certain names or terms found in the fuke shakuhachi tradition, as well as those connections mentioned above between the hitoyogiri tradition and the fuke shakuhachi tradition, suggest that the solo pieces of the tempuku and hitoyogiri in some cases may have acted as prototypes for pieces in the more recently developed fuke shakuhachi solo repertoire.

The possibility of shakuhachi playing monks or samurai meeting and exchanging traditions with the tenpuku playing samurai is of course not hard to acknowledge. What influences that may have had is much more difficult to speculate in.
In 1981 the Tenpuku Dōkō-kai was established, and the seven short pieces are still being transmitted. Apart from Tsukitani’s theory about a connection between the tenpuku pieces and the shakuhachi honkyoku of the Edo period, there are no historical records connecting the tenpuku to any other type of shakuhachi, and the tenpuku as an instrument and a tradition has no relevance to the present study. There is but one book about the tenpuku, which is called simply Tenpuku, issued in 1986 by the Tenpuku Dōkō-kai.

hito-yo-giri shakuhachi (一節切尺八)

More problematic, and of higher relevance, is the so called hito-yo-giri shakuhachi. Literary the name means “one-node-cut”, and is a description of the constrution: the hitoyogiri consists of only one node, compared to three for the gagaku shakuhachi.

Plate 12, Illustration of shakuhachi (hitoyogiri) in the Taigen-shō (from Blasdel 1988 : 78)

The oldest visual appearance of the hitoyogiri is in the Taigen-shō from 1512. The illustration of what is called shakuhachi is a vertical flute consisting of one node (plate 12). There are illustrations of instruments in five different lengths, and accordingly, pitches. With the Japanese names for pitches they are in hyōjō (E4), sōjō (G4), ōshiki (A4), and banshiki (B4), thus indicating that “shaku-hachi” as a definition of length, is not a defining quality of this instrument. A shakuhachi of the “shaku-hachi” length is in pitch ichikotsu (D4).
In Taigen-shō, the word hitoyogiri is not used, but the illustrations show instruments with one node, they are “one-node-cuts” or hito-yo-giri in a literary sense. Regarding these shakuhachi Kamisangō Yūkō says that they were “... hitoyogiri in the broad sense of the word. However, at this time, the term ‘hitoyogiri’ was not yet in use.” The word had never been used in any text relating to the musical tradition as such, but it may have been alluded to by the 15th century monk Ikkyū Sōjun. This reference is however not clear, and there are no other early remarks about a hitoyogiri. Ikkyū and his poetry is discussed further in Chapter/Section xx below.
The word hitoyogiri is used in later texts for an instrument with one node, but always in the pitch ōshiki (A4). This later hitoyogiri is mentioned in Momoyama and Edo period texts, beginning with the first remark of a hitoyogiri no shakuhachi, “a shakuhachi of hitoyogiri type”, in the 1664 Shichiku Shoshin-shū (糸竹初心集). The book is aimed at learners of hitoyogiri, koto, and shamisen.
Nakamura writes that the “hitoyogiri shakuhachi should be 1 shaku 8 bu in length” whereas the “komusō shakuhachi should be 1 shaku 8 sun in length”, and thus that the “hitoyogiri shakuhachi is tuned in [the pitch] ōshiki [A4]”. He also names the founder of the hitoyogiri shakuhachi tradition as Sōsa Rōjin (Rōjin should be regarded as a honorific suffix to the name, “Sōsa, the old man”), and his own teacher Ōmori Sōkun, the fifth generation after Sōsa, and originally a retainer of Oda Nobunaga. After the death of Nobunaga, “[Sōkun] drifted, trying to escape from the shadows, pitied by the mist, sorrowed by the dew, and then finally found the wondrous sound of the shakuhachi, which tradition he transmitted to us”. The komusō shakuhachi, on the other hand, was, according to Sōsan, transmitted from “the founder of this Way, Hōtō of Yura, ... and from old times used in the houses of Buddhist monks”.

komusō shakuhachi (虚無僧尺八) or fuke shakuhachi (普化尺八)

The komusō shakuhachi mentioned by Sōsan is the same as the above mentioned fuke shakuhachi. The komusō were monks within a Rinzai Zen Buddhist sect called the Fuke sect. As a sect it was not ackonowledged until 1677, some thirteen years after Shichiku Shoshin-shū. Obviously there was in 1664 already an acclaimed tradition, that went back to Hottō Kokushi (1207–1298), the legendary founder of the Fuke sect. The legend about the connection between the thirteenth century Hottō and the Fuke sect and its komusō was not published until 1795 in the Kyotaku Denki Kokuji-kai, but the legend had apparently already spread and become common knowledge.
Many of the Japanese scholars divide the historical development of the shakuhachi, saying that the six-holed, three-noded gagaku shakuhachi was the instrument of the Nara and Heian periods. There was a chūsei shakuhachi, medieval shakuhachi, which was an intermittent type of shakuhachi that we do not know much about, but a type (or several types) of shakuhachi that developed into five-holed instruments with one (hitoyogiri) or three nodes, further developing into the hitoyogiri and the fuke shakuhachi, which in turn was the origin to the modern (present day) shakuhachi. It would be difficult or impossible to pinpoint any exakt development from gagaku shakuhachi to later types. The common view, though, seems to be that “... the tempuku, hitoyogiri, and Fuke shakuhachi all descended from the five-holed shakuhachi which was a product of the Middle Ages. Only later did each instrument develop, through different circumstances and applications, into entirely different shakuhachi.”
The tenpuku mentioned above is hardly treated at all in the historical research in Japan. Kamisangō mentions tenpuku as having “... flourished in the Satusma ... area around Japan’s Middle Ages (12th - 15th centuries)”, but there seems to be a lack of historical records to back this up. Further more, even though the shakuhachi is mentioned in medieval texts, hitoyogiri may be dating back to the time of Ikkyū, there are no records as to what type of shakuhachi, how many holes they had, how many nodes they were made of, etc., until the early 16th century Taigen-shō, where we encounter a three-noded (CK) five-holed shakuhachi. Therefore, to talk about a “medieval shakuhachi” is at least problematic.
One distinctive feature that differs between the pre Edo period shakuhachi, and the fuke shakuhachi of the Edo period, is that older types of shakuhachi, including gagaku shakuhachi, tenpuku and hitoyogiri (shakuhachi) is that the latter were cut from above the root, above ground, whereas the former is of a type of root-end flute. To create this kind of instrument the bamboo root has to be dug-out while harvesting the bamboo. This includes a lot more work on behalf of the harvester, and thus it must have been of certain interest to the maker of the flute.

Plate 13, komosō playing shakuhachi in “Kanden Kōhitsu”

In Honchō Sejidan-ki by Kikuoka Senryō, published in 1734, there is a remark that may indicate a plausible reason as to why the root-end shakuhachi was used. “It is said that the making [of shakuhachi] with the root of the bamboo began with the kyōkaku, who wanted to use [the shakuhachi] for fighting.” The kyōkaku (侠客) was a chivalrous group of people beginning in kamigata during the Muromachi period, also known as ninkyō (任侠 or 仁侠). The kyōkaku had originally a noble character, resisting the inconsistencies in society, with slogans like “crush the strong and save the weak” or “to get the consent from [one person] is worth more than a thousand pieces of gold”. The kyōkaku can be divided in gikyō (義侠) and yūkyō (遊侠), the former having a more ethical outlook than the latter. In the seventeenth century Edo period society, the number of masterless samurai, rōnin, increased. From the beginning of the Edo period, with a peak in the middle of the century, the so called hatamoto-yakko (旗本奴) formed groups and roamed the city streets in an arrogant fashion. They engaged in gambling, entertained themselves in the kuruwa (redlight) districts, and acted as the warriors they were; they would even engage in tsuji-giri. In opposition to the hatamoto-yakko the machi-yakko appeared. The leader of the hatamoto-yakko, Mizuno Jūrōsaemon was ordered to commit seppuku in 1664, and by 1686 both the hatamoto- and machi-yakko had more or less disappeared. The kyōkaku should be seen as a diverse group of people, from morally aware people to plain ruffians.

Plate 14, komosō playing shakuhachi in 32-ban Shokunin Uta-awase

Plate 15, shakuhachi by biwa hōshi in 71-ban Shokunin

In the essay Kanden Kōhitsu (閑田耕筆) by Ban Kōkei (伴蒿蹊, 1733–1806) we find an illustration of a so-called komosō (plate 13). The komosō is further discussed in Chapter/Section xx below. The instrument in plate 13 looks like the root-end type, compared to the shakuhachi played by the komosō in the scroll painting 32-ban Shokunin Uta-awase (plate 14) from 1496, or the shakuhachi that is next to the biwa hōshi in the scroll painting 71-ban Shokunin Uta-awase (plate 15) from 1500. Both of these latter flutes look more straight, and lacking the root-end. In the case of the flute by the biwa hōshi it also looks distictively shorter, more of a hitoyogiri than a fuke shakuhachi. However, considering the way the komosō in plate 14 is holding his flute, it is quite evident that the illustrator has no personal experience of playing the shakuhachi: the hands are far too high up on the flute. In plate 13, the position of the hands looks much more natural. By this we may conclude that the size and shape of the instruments in these drawings do not necessarily correlate to the actual holding, or the actual size or shape of the instrument. The komosō that appears in plate 13 looks similar to the komosō in plate 14, and the poem that goes with the depiction is the same, one of the poems in the 32-ban Shokunin Utaawase scroll painting. What we may deduct from these illustrations is that the flute apparently has undergone a change, or that the illustrator in the Kanden Kōhitsu is more familiar with the shape and holding of the shakuhachi.

* Concluding remark

This thesis deals with the shakuhachi of modern time, which is the development of the shakuhachi that was used by the Fuke monks, the so called fuke shakuhachi. Modern day shakuhachi has of couse developed from the Edo period instruments, and with “shakuhachi” I will hereafter refer to modern day ji-ari shakuhachi, as used normally by and within the kinko-ryū lineage of shakuhachi.
Any difference in construction is disregarded in the discussion of aesthetical elements. No references will be made in regards to the aesthetics or the music as such if and when performed on any other type of shakuhachi, i.e. gagaku shakuhachi, tenpuku, hitoyogiri shakuhachi or fuke shakuhachi as it was constructed during the Edo period, or any difference there may be between ji-ari and ji-nashi instruments.

Early Times

This text is from an open seminar at Stockholm University, Department of Japanese Studies on April 17, 2009. The text was edited after the seminar (April 29, 2009).

Shakuhachi – Its Position in Music and Society

During the history of Japan, the shakuhachi has appeared in a variety of places in the hands of a variety of people, from being a court instrument in the Nara and Heian periods, to becoming an instrument for both religious practices and entertainment during the middle ages, and then again, in the Edo period, while settling its position as a religious implement, it was still used both by laymen and ‘officially acknowledged practitioners’, the komusō, in worldly music. In scholastic studies, though, shakuhachi has been treated with a somewhat cold hand. In the Nihon Ongaku-shi (日本音楽史, History of Japanese Music, 1965/1990), written by one of the most authoritative and renown musicologist Kikkawa Eishi (吉川英史, 1909–2006) makes only a few remarks about the shakuhachi in the 500 or so pages. Tsukitani Tsuneko points to that “... research on the shakuhachi within the field of Japanese music research, especially musicological research, has been lagging behind”, and Riley Lee, one of the most prominent Western musicological scholars on the shakuhachi, says that “ was in fact not until the late 1960’s that the shakuhachi was deemed a worthy subject of research by Japan’s community of musicologists.” In the field of Japanese Studies, very little has been written, and if so, mostly about the connection between shakuhachi and Zen Buddhism. It is, however, of interest to investigate not only the religious or musical aspects of the shakuhachi, but also investigate the social settings in which the shakuhachi did appear.
This chapter deals with the position of the shakuhachi, based on the research conducted in the early twentieth century, firstly by Kurihara Kōta (栗原廣太, dates unknown) in Shakuhachi Shikō (尺八史考, A Historical Study of the Shakuhachi) from 1918, reissued in 1975 by Chikuyūsha (referred to as Kurihara 1918). Secondly by Nakatsuka Chikuzen (中塚竹禅, 1887–1944) in Kinko-ryū Shakuhachi Shikan (琴古流尺八史観, A Historical View of the Kinko-ryū Shakuhachi) published in the monthly magasine Sankyoku between 1936 and 1939. The articles published in Sankyoku were collected and published in a book 1979 (referred to as Nakatsuka 1979). Later research has also been conducted by Kamisangō Yūkō 1974 in his Shakuhachi no Ryakureki (尺八の略歴, A Short Historical View of the Shakuhachi CHECK NAME), adapted and translated in Shakuhachi: A Manual for Learning by Christopher Blasdel 1983. Ueno Katami (check) wrote Shakuhachi no Rekishi (尺八の歴史, The History of the Shakuhachi) in 1983, which contains a vast number of quotations from primary sources. Another prominent musicological researcher is Tsukitani Tsuneko, who has written a number of texts on the shakuhachi, especially the honkyoku. Her Shakuhachi Koten-honkyoku no Kenkyū (尺八古典本曲の研究, Research into the Shakuhachi Koten Honkyoku) from 2000 is maybe the most thorough study of the classical, or traditional, honkyoku.
One English language research was conducted by Riley Lee in his 1993 Ph.D. dissertation “Yearning for the Bell: A Study of Transmission in the Shakuhachi Honkyoku Tradition”. Lee quotes the above secondary sources (Kurihara, Nakatsuka, Kamisangō, Ueno, and Tsukitani) in a thorough reiteration of the historical background of the shakuhachi, from ancient times to the beginning of the Meiji period.
The secondary sources mentioned above have been authored by musicologists. The present study is within Japanese Studies, and I find it essential to reiterate some of the facts about the shakuhachi that are common knowledge in the English speaking world of shakuhachi practitioners and other interested. My research is aimed at aesthetical communication in the mode of transmission, and the background discussion is therefore mainly based on secondary sources, where there are no reasons to believe that a re-investigation of the primary sources will shed new light on the historical aspects. If any new aspects would arise, my firm belief is that it would have little or no relevance to the outcome of the present study.
However, I do want to put an emphasis on the shakuhachi’s position in society, and I will focus on some appearances in primary literary sources, e.g., poems and song texts, and visual sources, e.g., some medieval and Edo period scroll paintings, that may give a somewhat diversified view of the shakuhachi.

This chapter deals with the position of the shakuhachi in society, in both sacred and profane music. I have divided this chapter in three major parts: (1) the origin and appearance of the shakuhachi in Japan, (2) shakuhachi in pre-Edo times, and (3) shakuhachi during the Edo period. Parts 2 is further divided in shakuhachi at the court, shakuhachi as a Buddhist instrument, and shakuhachi in the hands of entertainers. Part 3 is divided in two major sections, one dealing with the fundamental pieces, honkyoku, and one discussing the profane music, gaikyoku. The time after the Meiji restoration in 1868 is discussed in chapter 2.

Shakuhachi in pre-Edo Times

1.1 Shakuhachi – Its Origin and Appearance in Japan

The shakuhachi does have a fascinating history, which has been elaborated on by scholars and practitioners, there are myths and legends that continue to stimulate people’s fascination and imagination.
The shakuhachi came to Japan as part of the tōgaku (唐楽), music of Tang dynasty China, and the komagaku (高麗楽), music from the Korean peninsula, originally known as sankangaku (三韓楽), or music from the three Korean kingdoms. The oldest existing shakuhachi were presented by Empress Kōmyō (光明, 701–760) to the Shōsō-in at the Tōdai-ji in Nara. The fact that she gave the items to the temple should be an indication of that they were important and valuable items, and maybe something that her late husband, Emperor Shōmu (聖武, 701–759), had held for dear. There are eight shakuhachi kept at Shōsō-in. Of these, five are mentioned in the eighth century Tōdai-ji Kenmotsu-chō, Directory of Offerings to Tōdai-ji (東大寺獻物帳), and four of these can be traced to a king of the Paekche dynasty.
In the Tōdai-ji Kenmotsu-chō it is said that there were “one jade shakuhachi, one shakuhachi [sic!], one birch-wrapped shakuhachi and one carved shakuhachi, which had been presented by the King Giji of Kudara to the Naidaijin”. At the time the Naidaijin was the de facto head of state after the emperor, and the shakuhachi must have been a cordial gift from one nation to another, thus showing the importance put on musical instruments at the time, and the relation between Paekche and the Asuka and Nara courts. Apart from these four instruments there is also one carved shakuhachi in stone, presented from Koguryŏ, which makes it plausible that the import of music came not only from Paekche, but also from other parts of the Korean peninsula.
The remaining three at Shōsō-in are made of bamboo. The ones that are made of stone or jade are all carved to resemble bamboo, and they all have three nodes. They have five fingerholes on the front and one on the back, but they are slightly different in length. This may imply that already at this time there were shakuhachi of different lenghts, and the name, one shaku and hachi (eight) sun was not, as it may seem, the determinating factor for the type of instrument. The lengths of the Shōsō-in shakuhachi have been measured and are reported by Nakatsuka. The measurements were conducted by the Court Music Division within the Court Ceremonial Office of the Imperial Household Department (宮内省式部職雅楽部).

1. Bamboo shakuhachi, 1.445 shaku, tuned half a step above shōsetsu [勝絶 (F) thus G♭]
2. Bamboo shakuhachi with birch wrapping, 1.27 shaku, tuned almost in fushō [鳧鐘 thus almost in G♭]
3. White bamboo shakuhachi, 1.264 shaku, tuned in fushō [鳧鐘 thus A♭]
4. White jade shakuhachi, 1.152 shaku, tuned almost in rankei [鸞鏡 thus B♭]
5. Stone shakuhachi with carvings, 1.19 shaku, tuned almost in ōshiki [黄鐘 thus A]

In the Amano Masanori Zuihitsu (天野政徳随筆, Essays by Amano Masanori, 1784–1861), probably written in 1844, there is a remark about a Han dynasty commentator, Ba Yū (馬融, 79-166 CE). According to Amano, there is a difference between the dòngxiāo and the shakuhachi.

The long flute is empty on the inside (and it is cut not at the bottom?). It has five holes on the upper side, and one on the back. It is straight and is called dōshō [dòngxiāo], and it looks like a shakuhachi ... In the Bunken-tsukō it says that the dōshō has six fingerholes, and one added ... It is tuned in ichikotsu . It is called a shakuhachi flute, a vertical flute or a middle flute ...The shape is not straight, but slightly bent at the bottom. Again, it is referred to as sun-moon-flute.

The Bunken-tsukō is a fourteenth century historical text from China, compiled some four centuries after the fall of the Tang dynasty in 907. The text by Amano is preceeded by a remark in the Yōshūfu-shi (雍州府志), a local text consisting of 10 volumes published in 1686, mainly concerned about the local area, the Yamashiro-kuni, an old name for the area south of present day Kyoto. The author Kurokawa Dōyū (黒川道祐, d. 1691) comments that “shakuhachi is in Japan commonly known as dōshō, but interestingly enough it is different from how the shakuhachi is made. In China this is what is called tanteki [short flute].”
In the Bunken-tsukō that Amano refers to, there is another reference to the name shakuhachi, going back to the court musician Rosai (呂才), active at the court during the reign of the Tang Emperor Taisō (唐太宗, 627–649). Rosai supposedly revived an older flute of a length that had fallen out of use. For this flute he used a 9 sun tuning pipe, thus giving rise to a flute of twice that length, i.e., 1 shaku and 8 sun. Hayashi Dōshun Razan (林道春羅山, 1583–1657), a prominent Confucian scholar who exercised a heavy influence on the Confucian doctrine during the Edo period Japan as a propagator of the Neo-confucian shushigaku (朱子学), also writes about this in his Razan Bunshū. Both the Bunken-tsukō and Razan Bunshū are however of a later date, the former written 700 years and the latter 1000 years after what they relate, thus putting their historical accuracy in question.
In Rosai’s time, there seems to have been two prevalent types of flutes used, one long chōteki (長笛) and one short tanteki (短笛). The long flute was available in twelve lengths, to correspond to the 12 tone scale of Chinese music. The short flute was however only available in a limited number of lengths. Rosai supposedly revived the short flute in the length of one shaku and eight sun, thus a shakuhachi.
If this is true then Rosai may have revived the flute that is mentioned in the comments about Ba Yū, according to which the word (flute) “shakuhachi” was used some 500 years earlier.
The fact that there did exist a variety of lengths may indicate that the short flute, the tanteki mentioned above, received the name shakuhachi, even though it was made in different pitches. In the writings on music from the historical texts of the Liao dynasty (遼, 907–1125), the Liao-shi (遼史楽志, Ryōshi-gakushi in Japanese) which was compiled in 1344, a comment is also made about “long flutes, short flutes and shakuhachi flutes”, thus indicating that there existed a “shakuhachi” apart from the long and short flutes respectively.
Kurihara reports about various occurences of the shakuhachi in ancient and pre-modern texts. In the Fudoki (風土記), compiled in 713, there is a remark where the xiāo (簫) is referred to with the characters 殺古波乏, with the reading “sha - ku - ha - chi” (literary “kill - old - wave - poor”). In the 1694 Wajiga (和爾雅), a Japanese annotated version of the Chinese classic dictionary Jiga, the note for “shakuhachi” reads “a vertical flute same as dòngxiāo”, and in Nenzan Kibun (年山紀聞), a collection of essays written by Andō Tameakira (安藤為章, 1659–1716) in 1700, there is a remark that “the shakuhachi flute .. is called dòngxiāo in China.”

Plate 16, Drawing of the Hōryū-ji shakuhachi (Kurihara 1918 : 39)

There is also a shakuhachi at Hōryū-ji, which is said to have belonged to Shōtoku Taishi , but according to Nakatsuka, there are two remarks in late Edo period texts that at least puts the statement that it in fact is this flute in doubt. In the above mentioned (page xx) Amano Masanori Zuihitsu Amano writes:

Last year, in June of the thirteenth year of Tenpō [1843], when the statue [of Shōtoku Taishi] of Hōryū-ji was in Edo for worship, I Masanori held this flute of the Crown Prince in my hand and looked at it in person; it was thinner and longer than the shakuhachi we have today, it was definitely of Chinese bamboo, cut thin with holes made, the mouthpiece was simply cut and no horn was used, no ornamental carvings, without asking one wouldn’t know this is more than a thousand years old, and therefore we may still think that old shakuhachi were either (in length?/more or less/for better or for worse) not the same as dōshō [dòngxiāo], or of a different make.

The length of this shakuhachi is 1 shaku 2 sun and 5 bu, in the kanejaku, i.e. 37.875 cm, which is also the length that Kurihara notes (Kurihara 1918 : 19)
It should be noticed here that Amano was a retainer of the central authorities, bakufu, and a kokugaku scholar. Yet another kokugaku scholar and historian of the late Edo and early Meiji periods, Konakamura Kiyonori (小中村 清矩) (1822–1895) says in his Kabu-ongaku Ryakushi (Historical Outline of Song and Dance Music) (歌舞音楽略史) (Iwanami Bunko 1888)

There is a shakuhachi now in storage at the Yamato Hōryū-ji, which should be of that time. Measured with kane-jaku it is 1 shaku 4 sun 5 bu, and this is in Tang shō-shaku measure 1 shaku 8 sun (the Tang shō-shaku 1 shaku is equivalent of kane-jaku 8 sun 5 rin). The instrument called hitoyogiri shakuhachi, which was used solely by Fuke monks until recently is in kane-jaku 1 shaku 8 sun, and is a product made by later generations.

Both Kurihara and Nakatsuka conclude from this and other sources to be discussed below, that Shōtoku Taishi did in fact play the shakuhachi. That obviously two different instruments are mentioned by Amano and Konakamura does not for either lead to any doubt about the historical facts, even though Nakatsuka remarks that there must have been at least two shakuhachi in the belongings of Hōryū-ji, and that we may not be sure of which of those, if either, did belong to the Crown Prince.
It does seem plausible that both Amano and Konakamura, as kokugaku scholars, would have been keen to the idea of Shōtoku Taishi playing the shakuhachi. Nakatsuka wrote his Kinko-ryū Shakuhachi Shikan in the midst of the nationalistic fever, which may have induced him to put emphasize on this connection to the ancient Japanese culture.
Nakatsuka refers to the Japanese outpost Imna (Mimana or Kaya in Japanese), which according to some historians was a military outpost in the Korean peninsula at least from the late Yayoi period up to 562, from where Japan (Yamato) helped especially the Paikche court. This should have been a gateway for the shakuhachi and continental music and culture in general. However, historical records and facts are not always what counts. Nakatsuka says for example that “the shakuhachi must have come to Japan before the crowning of Empress Suiko, since otherwise the fact that Shōtoku Taishi played the shakuhachi at Suisaka in Yamato must be a lie.” The historical records that report that Shōtoku Taishi played the shakuhachi will be discussed further below, but these records are written at least 600 and even up to 900 years after the event described.
There seems to be, if not a political, yet an agenda of giving a historical weigth to the shakuhachi behind these kind of statements. Lee has it that “[t]he association of Prince Shōtoku and the shakuhachi is an example of the frequent occurrence of important historical figures having been given central roles in their origin myths, in traditional Japanese musical genres and other traditional Japanese arts,” and also Kamisangō says that “there is no empirical proof to substantiate ..” that the instrument owned by Hōryū-ji was “... played by Shōtoku Taishi.”

* Concluding Remarks

There are no historical proof of that the word shakuhachi was used in Japan before the eighth century, when there is a remark in Fudoki, and the shakuhachi presented from Paekche are recorded in the Tōdai-ji Kenmotsu-chō. All writings that put a “shakuhachi” in the hands of Shōtoku Taishi come from much later times. It seems therefore at least possible that Rosai (Lü Cai) was the originator of the word shakuhachi. From the fact that in the 8th century there existed shakuhachi of a variety of lenghts and pitches, we may conclude that it seems unlikely that there ever were one single type of flute that was named shakuhachi, except maybe then for the flute Rosai may have revived. At least at around the death of Emperor Shōmu in 759, some hundred years after Rosai, diffently pitched shakuhachi did exist in Japan.
It seems highly plausible that the flute, whatever name it had, was used at the court from an early time, and as such was highly valued. The fact that Empress Kōmyō donated her late husband’s flutes is a very strong indication of this. The flute that Shōtoku Taishi may have been playing could have been the same, or of any similar shape and format. We can not prove that the shakuhachi on display in Tokyo National Museum actually was the belonging of Shōtoku Taishi, and thus, did he ever play a flute it could have been any shaped type of flute. The name may well have entered Japan long after he died.

1.2 The Shakuhachi – A Court Instrument

The shakuhachi referred to above may have been dongxiao, or some variation there of, but in Japan they are nowadays referred to as gagaku shakuhachi, with three nodes, five fingerholes on the front and one on the back. In this section I discuss the position the shakuhachi had within gagaku and at the court.
In the Nihon Shoki, compiled in 720, there is a remark about Mimashi (味摩之), a performer from Paekche becoming a naturalised Japanese citizen, teaching gigaku (伎楽) to some Japanese youth at the time of Empress Suiko (612). In Shoku-Nihongi, completed in 797, there is a remark that in the second year of Emperor Monmu Taihō era (702), the piece “Taihei-gaku of the Five Emperors” was performed. Music from both China and the kingdoms on the Korean peninsula seems therefore to have been imported to Japan at the latest by the end of the seventh century. In 726, the third year of Emperor Shōmu Taihei era, there were eight performers and students from Koguryŏ, four from Silla, but 26 from Paekche. Some twenty years earlier, in the very beginning of the eighth century, the number had been evenly divided between musicans from the three previous kingdoms. Silla conquered Paekche in 663 and Koguryŏ in 668. Apparently there were either difficulties in the contacts with Silla, or the court figured that the more closely related Paekche should have a bigger cut. After having been conquered, a vast number of people supposedly fled from Paekche to Japan. In a study of the influence from Paekche on the Asuka culture from 1994, the author Wontack Hong writes the following regarding the seventh century emigration to Japan.

After the complete destruction of Paekche by the Silla-Tang forces in A.D. 663, there occurred a series of massive exiles to Japan. Nihongi on Tenji comments extensively on the emigration of Paekche refugees to Japan (NII: 282-292): “Prince Seon-Kwang of Paekche (百済善光王) and his people were given a residence at Naniha (難波). There was a star which fell north of the capital. [In A.D. 664,] . . . after a comparison of the Paekche degrees of official rank there was granted to the Kwi-sil, Chipsa, in consideration of the eminent services of the Minister Pok-sin, the rank of lower Shokin. More over Paekche common people, men and women numbering more than 400, were given residences in the district of Kanzaki, in the province of Afumi (近江國). . . [and] rice lands were granted to the Paekche people of Kanzaki. . . .

A major part of cultural influences, both from Paekche directly and indirectly from China, seem to have come via the Paekche people, who adopted Chinese writing already in 374. The connection with Paekche goes back to the sixth century or earlier, and it was also from Paekche that Buddhism was introduced in Japan, with Shōtoku Taishi as its main patron and propagator. The Koreans from the kingdom of Paekche had an influence on the Japanese society. Hong concludes a summary of the various ranks bestowed on the Koreans by saying that “[a]pparently the newly arrived Paekche refugees, depending on their ranks in Paekche, received either the same honours as the traditional Yamato rulers or at least the same privileges as the common people in Japan.”
It was not until the last years of Empress Suiko’s reign, ending with her death in 628, that Japan started to send envoys to the new Tang dynasty China (618–907). All in all there are only twelve recorded official visits to the Tang court between 630 and 837. In the ninth century, Kikkawa Eishi says that Japan entered a period of digestion of the influences from abroad (figure 2). The threat from the old enemy Silla on the Korean peninsula, combined with the dangers of crossing over to China via the south route (across the more difficult Chinese Sea), combined with the presence of a culturally developed human resource in the people of Paekche, official envoys may not have been a priority for the authorities. There seems however to have been a continues intercourse between Japan and China; with “... students [...] regularly returning to Japan in the intervening period, [...] there were no doubt constant goings and comings which are not noticed in the chronicles because they had no official character”, which of course shows a possibility that the above mentioned shakuhachi of Rosai was imported directly from Tang.

Figure 2 Kikkawa Eishi’s cyclic development of music (from Kikkawa 1990 (1965) : pp 3-5)

Period 1 - 4th century Indigenous music period
Period 2 5 th - 8 th century Music import from the continent
Period 3 9 th - 12 th century Digestion of imported music
Period 4 13 th - 16 th century Rise of new domestic music
Period 5 17 th - 19 th century Completion of new dom. music
Period 6 Late 19 th - early 20 th cent. Import of Western music
Period 7 Beginning of 20 th - mid-20 th cent. Digestion of Western music
Period 8 1945 - present day Rise of new domestic music culture

The main impulse for the development of a ceremonial court music seems however to have come mainly from Korea, including indirect influences from Sui and Tang dynasties China.
In the Saidai-ji Shizairyū-kichō (西大寺資材流記帳, Saidai-ji Catalogue of Treasures) from 780, the final volume “Instruments and Cloths, Item 6” lists the following instruments.

Tang instruments one set [...]
Spotted shakuhachi one [...]
Tang instruments Shakuhachi eight pieces

Here, some 24 years after the Tōdai-ji list, explicitly Tang instruments are listed. The court music of the time was divided in tōgaku (唐楽), literary “Tang music”, and komagaku (高麗楽), Korean music (originally sankangaku 三韓楽). The use of shakuhachi may at this time, the end of the eighth century, have been centered around the court.
In an officicial decree issued by the State Council (Daijōkan-fu 太政官不), the number of officials (gakuryō or uta no tsukasa / utamai no tsukasa) and performers (gakushi) of gagaku is decided in the Gakuryō Gakushi no Jō (楽寮楽師の定). In the notification of 809 (the fourth year of the Daidō era under Emperor Saga) it is stated that of the twelve performers of tōgaku there should be one shakuhachi performer. In a later directive from the first year of Kashō, 848, the number of officials and students is reduced; for the shakuhachi this meant that there should be two students, compared to the previous three. Not only was the number of shakuhachi students decreased, but the total number of utamai no tsukasa was decreased from 254 to a total of 100. During the eighth century the number of tōgaku musicians increased relative the number of komagaku and wagaku (indigenous music) performers.
There seems to be no doubt that the shakuhachi was part of the gagaku ensemble up to the beginning of the ninth century. To support this there are also several comments about Shōtoku Taishi supposedly performing the piece “Somakusha” (蘇莫者 or 蘓莫者), which is a piece for gagaku. Both Kurihara and Nakatsuka refer to the gagaku treaties Taigen-shō (体源抄, 1512) and Maikyoku Kuden (舞曲口伝, 1522), both written by Toyohara Muneaki (豊原統秋, 1450–1524), where it says that “the Crown Prince played ‘Somakusha’ at Ikomayama and the mountain god came out dancing ...”

Plate 17, Somakusha from Shinzei Nyūdō Kogaku-zu; see below

According to present day explanations to the piece “Somakusha”, there are two legends about its origin. One has it that, in accordance with Taigen-shō and Maikyoku Kuden, the mountain god came out dancing when Shōtoku Taishi was at the mountain Shigisan, located in the southern part of Ikomayama, and that a court musician (gakunin) created a dance, based on the dance by the mountain god. The other legend has it that the founder of the isoteric sect of Shugendō (修験道), En no Gyōja (役行者), played his flute at the mountain Ōmine-san, and the mountain god came out dancing. There is also a theory, or legendary belief, that says that Shōtoku Taishi is that very same En no Gyōja.
Nakatsuka says that he had found that “Somakusha” is the name of a musical piece (楽曲 gakkyoku), and continues by saying that “[t]he pronunciation of ‘somakusha’ is similar to Sanskrit, and when therefore examining Sanskrit we find a word pronounced SOBACUSYA, which means a beautiful poem, a hymn or sacred song; ‘somakusha’ is a straight adaptation of the pronunciation of that Sanskrit word, and it is therefore evident that it is the name of a piece from India.”
I have no reason to doubt the investigation conducted by Nakatsuka, but I have not been able to find any evident connectin to Sanskrit. This is an interesting aspect, but beyond the scope of this thesis.
“Somakusha” probably has its origin in what is called rinyūgaku (林邑楽 or 臨邑楽); the word rinyū is the Japanese reading of the characters used in China for Lin-yi or Lâm Ấp in Vietnamese, a part of present day Vietnam. The country Rinyū seems to have existed from 137 CE, and there are Sanskrit inscriptions on stelae found from the late fourth century. The relation to the kingdom of Champā is unclear, but from the seventh century the country is referred to not as Lin-yi but Zhàn Chéng in China (占城, pronounced Senjō in Japanese, Campapura or Campanagara in Sanskrit, and Chiêm Thành in Sino-Vietnamese). Champā prevailed until the nineteenth century, but some writers on East Asian History make a distinction between the Champā Kingdom in the south and the Viet Kingdom in the north. According to this distinction, Champā was conquered and incorporated with the Viet Kingdom in 1471.
The transmission of rinyūgaku is not clear. According to one of the two main theories, rinyūgaku was transmitted directly from Rinyū, whereas the other, normally acknowledged theory states that rinyūgaku was transmitted to Japan via China. In the 1690 Gakka-roku (楽家録), one of the three main treatieses on gagaku next to Kyōkun-shō and Taigen-shō, “Somakusha” is included among the eight rinyūgaku pieces (rinyū hachigaku), but some other sources do not include “Somakusha”.

Plate 18, Modern day “Somakusha” (

In the program notes of a performance in 1933, “Somakusha” is referred to as “... the oldest shakuhachi piece ...” . One of Japan’s leading musicologists during the twentieth century, Tanabe Hisao (田辺尚雄, 1883–1984), holds that some gakunin of later generations at Tennō-ji “... made the dance from the legends that En no Gyōja played the flute ... and the mountain god danced to the music, and Shōtoku Taishi who played the dōshō sitting on a horse when the mountain god came out dancing”. The piece has been transmitted at Tennō-ji. It consists in present form of a performer of the transverse ryūteki (竜笛), and a dancer in a golden mask portraying the mountain god or an aged monkey (plate 18).
If we believe in the Rosai theory, it seems however highly questionable whether Shōtoku Taishi actually did play the shakuhachi as discussed above; there is no way we can know whether he played any instrument, but since all the remarks about Shōtoku Taishi are in writings of a much later date, the time gap may indicate that the use of Shōtoku Taishi is of a more socio-political character. The Taigen-shō for instance was written at a time when wars had raged, and the aim was most likely to revive the gagaku music. Using historically significant names can then of course be regarded as a means to establish a firm basis for the tradition.
That the shakuhachi was used in gagaku at the time, and at the court, seems doubtless. In the Ryūmei-shō from 1133, a treatise on the ryūteki flute, Taigen-shō, and Zoku Kyōkun-shō (a 1322 treaty on gagaku), Sadayasu Shinnō, son of Emperor Seiwa (reigned 858–876), is said to have revived the gagaku piece “Ōshōkun”. Taigen-shō even has it that he “... transmitted it to a transverse flute from shakuhachi”, and Ryūmei-shō only states that “... he seeked it out [たづね出されたりけり] from shakuhachi notation ...”
In the scroll painting Shinzei Kogaku-zu (the exact date of creation is unknown), there is a shakuhachi among the gagaku instruments, and the shakuhachi performer wears a time-typical gagaku outfit. Shinzei Nyūdō Kogaku-zu (信西入道古楽図) is the complete name of the scroll painting. Shinzei Nyūdō is the Buddhist name of Fujiwara Michinori (藤原通憲, 1106? –1160), who supposedly collected drawings of musical intruments and musical practices of the time. There are no surviving originals of this scroll painting. There is a total number of five copies from the Muromachi to the Edo periods. One of these, from 1449, belongs to the Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku. (Somakusha in plate 17, and shakuhachi performer in plate 19)

Plate 19, kneeling shakuhachi performer in gagaku outfit; Shinzei Nyūdō Kogaku-zu

Also in Genji Monogatari, the shakuhachi is mentioned in the chapter “Safflower” (Suetsumu Hana), which also shows that the shakuhachi was used at the court. In this episode, Genji together with a number of young noblemen were engaged in music and dance, and the sound of “the ō-hichiriki and the sakuhachi” (sic!) was overwhelming. Even though this is the only remark about the shakuhachi in Genji Monogatari, the fact that it is mentioned shows that the shakuhachi was practiced by noble members of the court. The shakuhachi is also mentioned as an instrument played at the New Year’s banquet in 1158, at the time of Emperor Go-Shirakawa. This remark comes from the previously mentioned Taigen-shō, and the 1170 Imakagami (Mirror of Today) where it says that “[a] flute, called shakuhachi, that has long been forgotten, was played ... at this occassion; it was well received and indeed a rare experience ...”

* Concluding remarks

We can thereby conclude that up to the tenth century, at least at the court, the shakuhachi was used, but in the middle of the twelveth century the practice of playing the shakuhachi was not common at the court. Even though the shakuhachi is mentioned in early sixteenth century gagaku related writings (Taigen-shō), the aim there does not seem to be an attempt to position the shakuhachi in the gagaku of the time, but rather give credits to the Toyohara gagaku family by relating to the legend of Shōtoku Taishi playing the shakuhachi.
The use of the shakuhachi at the court seems to have diminished during the twelveth century, after having been an instrument heard by the ears of the nobility for some 400 years, which does of course not exclude the possibility that it was still used for amusement or other, private purposes.

1.3 The Shakuhachi – A Buddhist Instrument

We will now turn to look at the shakuhachi as an instrument for and by practitioners of Buddhism. As mentioned in the introduction, the shakuhachi is far and most known as the implement used by the Edo period komusō monks of the Fuke sect of Rinzai Zen Buddhism, a sect that was established, or at least acknowledged by the authorities, in the late seventeenth century, only to be abolished by the Meiji government in 1871. In order to understand the background to the position of the shakuhachi during the Edo period and later, I find it necessary to discuss what position the shakuhachi held in relation to Buddhist activities from early times on.

1.3.1 Early Budhism, Shōtoku Taishi, and Shakuhachi

The Paekche court fled to Japan in 568, after Tang China and the kingdom of Silla (Shiragi) had conquered the country. The Paekche also brought Buddhism to Japan, and were protected by the Soga clan. Yet another occurence of the shakuhachi at this time is a record in the thirteenth century Hōryū-ji Kokon Mokuroku-shō (Recorded Annals of the Hōryū-ji Temple) about the crown prince, Shōtoku Taishi (573–621), indicating that a connection between the shakuhachi as an instrument used during this time by a high-ranking nobleman, had positive connotations.

The Crown Prince played the Chinese bamboo flute shakuhachi as he walked the honourable way from Hōryū-ji to Tennō-ji, and at Suisaka, the Mountain God heard the reverend flute and came out dancing behind the Prince.

The episode is also reported in the sixteenth century Taigen-shō, and Maikyoku-kuden as mentioned above. Nakatsuka takes the fact that the episode is written down for evidence of its historical occurence, but even though there are more references to Shōtoku Taishi playing the shakuhachi in both these last mentioned books, this does not constitute more than, at the most, circumstantial evidence. It is, following the discussion above in Sections 1 and 2.1, highly probably that Shōtoku Taishi did in fact not play the shakuhachi, if any flute.
The date, if the account is viewed as viable, would be sometime between at the earliest 593, the year Shi-Tennō-ji was built, and latest at the time of the death of Shōtoku Taishi in 621. The Hōryū-ji Kokon Mokuroku-shō was written in 1238 by the Hōryū-ji prient Kenshin (顯真), and should not be regarded as a necessarily reliable source because of the time span between the report itself and the reported event. Many documents may also have been distorted. In a study of the history of Hōryū-ji, Dorothy Wong, professor of East Asian art at University of Virginia, finds for example that the date of the building of Hōryū-ji can not be firmly established; the Kōfukuji Ryaku-nendaiki (興福寺暦年代記) (Kōfukuji Calendrical Chronicles), probably of the late eighth century, says Prince Shōtoku built the Hōryūji in Suiko 21, which would be 613, but the Hōryū-ji Kokon Mokuroku-shō puts it at 594, just one year after Shi-Tennō-ji was built. Wong says that “[o]bviously, there were various documents available that had been concocted over the centuries. And, one must ask, what did the authors of these documents really know about the first temple?”, and the same can of course be said about the activities of the reverend prince. Some recent scholars have even questioned the very existence of the legendary prince.
The Kokon Mokuroku-shō was written in 1238 and the other sources mentioned above are even later, with the plausible agenda of re-establishing gagaku in a war time Japan. The aim of Taigen-shō may have been to increase the status of the Toyohara family, by connecting to Shōtoku Taishi. The shakuhachi was also used within a variety of music forms, within dengaku, sangaku and sarugaku, mentioned in Taigen-shō, and the Kyōkun-shō from 1233 mentions the use of shakuhachi by mendicant monks. It says there that the short flute, tanteki, “... is played by mekura hōshi and as accompaniment to sarugaku ...” The use of the shakuhachi within the fields of dengaku and sarugaku will be further discussed below in Section 2.3, but I would here like to stress the variety of appearances of the shakuhachi, from Shōtoku Taishi to medieval entertainers and blind monks.

Plate 20, biwa hōshi (mekura hōshi) and a blind woman (mekura), depicted in “71-ban Shokunin Uta-awase” (1651)

In the “71-ban Shokunin Uta-awase” scroll painting, presumably from 1500 (further discussed below) there is a pair with a biwa hōshi (琵琶法師) and a blind woman, mekura (女盲), playing a kotsuzumi drum (plate 20).
In the painting we can see a flute on the ground next to the blind biwa playing monk, indicating that the biwa hōshi also used shakuhachi or a similar type of flute. The flute visible in the painting is shorter than the Edo period flutes, possibly a hitoyogiri.
There are remarks in historical texts that imply that the shakuhachi was used in Budhist practices in the tenth century. Kurihara quotes Taigen-shō, which claims that Ennin, posthumously Jikaku Daishi (円仁慈覚大師, 794–864), played the shakuhachi. This is also mentioned in a collection of court tales from the early thirteenth century, Kojidan (古事談).

Jikaku Daishi of the Tendai sect felt there was a lack of sound, and he used his shakuhachi to induce the voice of the Amida Sutra chanting, fulfilling the meaning of the sutra, bringing out the good deeds in solemnity.

During the period from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries, the shakuhachi then seems to have been used by Buddhist monks, maybe as early as the ninth century, if we are to believe the remark about Jikaku Daishi. The pictorial evidence that exist regarding monks playing shakuhachi come however from a later date. It is not until the scoll paintings, e-maki, of craftspeople in poetry contest, shokunin uta-awase, that we find a visual connection between the shakuhachi and monks. In the 32-ban Shokunin Uta-awase, origin from 1494, we find a shakuhachi playing so-called komosō.

The Edo Period

The Early Meiji Period

The Post WWII Era

Yamaguchi Gorō and Chikumeisha

(See also Chikumeisha Europe)

山口五郎師、Yamaguchi Gorō

Yamaguchi Gorō was born in 1933, as the fifth son of Yamaguchi Shirō (1885-1963), a famous shakuhachi player and maker of shakuhachi. The shakuhachi he made, so-called Shirō-kan shakuhachi, are in the price range of several tens of thousand euros.

Yamaguchi Gorō began taking lessons from his father at the age of eleven, after having listened to some of his fathers recordings. The older students of his father was also at his disposal as instructors. His father had already established the Chikumeisha (only in Japanese at present. For information in English, please go to Chikumeisha Europe). In 1921 it consisted of a group of 43 shakuhachi performers, who envisaged the creation of an umbrella organisation for all the different styles of shakuhachi. This did not work out as planned, and Chikumeisha became the guild of Yamaguchi Shirō, later succeeded by Yamaguchi Gorō. The guild is still active as a board of trustees, and normal lesson and performance activities are conducted. The licensed students of Yamaguchi Gorō, including myself, elect a board at the annual meeting in due democratic order. Today, The Kinko-ryū Kyōkai function as an umbrella organization for the different styles that have the same origin, the Kinko style.

In an early Shōwa publication, Yamaguchi Shirō is commented in the following way:

" ..... " (to be included)

Yamaguchi Gorō taught shakuhachi at Wesleyan University, Connecticut, for one year in 1967, the first ever artist-in-residence from Japan at a university in the U.S.
In 1977 he was appointed the first instructor of shakuhachi at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (Tokyo Geidai), and in 1987 he was appointed Professor of shakuhachi.
In 1977, his recording of "Sōkaku Reibo" (Nesting Cranes) was selected to be included in the Voyager II project.
In 1984 he made his first recording of the Kinko-ryū honkyoku (Sony), and in 1985 he recorded with NHK. He had been instructor at the NHK culture center since 1979, and made a series of programs for NHK in 1982 in order to spread the interest for shakuhachi.
In 1991 he published a complete set of recordings and explanations, both written and recorded, to all the Kinko-ryū honkyoku included in the Miura Kindō notation (the notation used by Yamaguchi Shirō and Yamaguchi Gorō) (Victor). The recordings of the honkyoku that he made for this project were re-released in a CD-box of 12 CD's, after he passed away, together with a set of four CD's of jiuta-sōkyoku pieces.

At the age 59, in 1992, he was designated the youngest ever Living National Treasure (ningen kokuhō).

Yamaguchi Gorō performances

Here are some links to YouTube video clips of Yamaguchi Gorō performances.


  • This is a recording of the probably most famous shakuhachi honkyoku, Sōkaku Reibo, or "Nesting Cranes". This piece was recorded, by Yamaguchi Gorō, and included among the music in the Voyager II space rocket.
    "Sōkaku Reibo"
  • Another, slightly longer version of the same piece. The Kinko-ryū keiko version is 20+ minutes. This version was found on the Chinese YouTube. The recording was broadcasted in Japan in 1992, the same year Yamaguchi Gorō was designated a Living National Treasure (ningen kokuhō).
    "Sōkaku Reibo"
  • This is a comparatively recent recording of another of the famous shakuhachi honkyoku, Shika no Tōne, or "The Far Cry of the Deer". Here, Yamaguchi Gorō, at the time the designated Living National Treasure of shakuhachi, performs with his successor as Living National Treasure, Aoki Reibo (designated in 2000).
    "Shika no Tōne"
  • This is a much earlier recording of the same performers playing the same piece. This clip is divided in two parts. Interesting to compare their performance techniques with the above recording.
    "Shika no Tōne", part 1
    "Shika no Tōne", part 2
  • Another recording of the same piece from 1993, also featuring Yamaguchi Gorō and Aoki Reibo.
    "Shika no Tōne"


  • This is a famous sankyoku piece, i.e., a piece performed on the three instruments koto, shamisen (or sangen), and shakuhachi. Most of the sankyoku pieces are vocal, like this one.
    The piece "Miyama-jishi", tells of a lion dragon dancing in the holy mountain. Performed by Ikuta-ryū string players of the Kyūshū Linegae.
  • This is one of the best performances of the famous Yaegormo that I have ever heard. It was broadcasted on Japanese TV (NHK) when the old Yonekawa Toshiko (playing the koto) was designated Living National Treasure in 1996, at the age 83. Yamaguchi Gorō was the Living National Treasure in Shakuhachi at the time. On shamisen and vocals we hear Yonekawa Hiroe, the daughter of Toshiko. Toshiko-sensei passed away in 2005, and Hiroe took over her mother's name as artist name at the third memorial in 2007.
    "Yaegoromo" (part 1)
    "Yaegoromo", part 2
    "Yaegoromo", part 3
  • Here is another sankyoku I found on the Chinese site, Sasa no tsuyu, also known as "Sake". The song tells about all the good things that come with drinking, and makes fun of those who are against it. This performance with Yamaguchi Gorō on shakuhachi, Fujii Kunie on shamisen and vocals, and Yonekawa Toshiko on koto and vocals, was recorded in 1990.
    "Sasa no tsuyu" Part 1
    "Sasa no tsuyu", part 2, and "Sasa no tsuyu", part 3.
  • The same Chinese site also contained this 1998 World Shakuhachi Festival in Boulder recording of Yamaguchi Gorō performing Zangetsu, the most famous requiem in the sankyoku repertoire, together with Yonekawa Toshiko (at the time Hiroe) on shamisen and vocals, and Andō Masateru on koto and vocals. Gorō-sensei passed away approximately six months after this performance.
    "Zangetsu", part 1
    "Zangetsu", part 2.
  • This is a recording of Yamaguchi Gorō playing together with en ensemble of Yamada-ryū string players.
    "Shojo no Tsuru".
  • This is a small part of the famous piece "Chidori no Kyoku". You can read about the piece. The recording is from a Japanese TV program, but published here on a Chinese site. The recording only covers the mae-uta (foresong).
    The performance is with some of the major and most famous Yamada-ryū koto players.
  • The same composer as of "Chidori no Kyoku" also composed four "seasonal" pieces: "Haru no Kyoku", "Natsu no Kyoku", "Aki no Kyoku", and "Fuyu no Kyoku". Here in Haru no Kyoku, found on the Chinese YouTube site, together with top Yamada-ryū koto players (koto and vocals): Yamase Shōin (at the time Shizuko), Torii Namino, Takahashi Eisei, Nakanoshima Hiroko.
    "Haru no Kyoku", part 1
    "Haru no Kyoku", part 2

The music: honkyoku and gaikyoku

Honkyoku (本曲) – fundamental repertoire

Gaikyoku (外曲) – ‘outer’ repertoire

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