YEARNING FOR THE BELL: A STUDY OF TRANSMISSION
IN THE SHAKUHACHI HONKYOKU TRADITION

RILEY KELLY LEE

This thesis looks at past and present processes of transmission within the tradition of the shakuhachi honkyoku (, shakuhachi ‘original pieces’). The shakuhachi, an end-blown bamboo flute, has existed in Japan since the eighth century. Since at least the fifteenth century, it has been used as a tool for spirituality, and has been particularly associated with Zen Buddhism. The honkyoku were composed, performed and transmitted within that spiritual context, especially during the Edo period (1600-1868) by mendicant priests called komusô (, ‘priests of nothingness’). An understanding of the nature of the honkyoku was expressed in such concepts as honnin no kyoku (, one’s own piece), zettai no ma (, absolute timing), tettei on () and ichi on jôbutsu (, one sound becoming Buddhahood).

A piece-specific genealogy chart for the honkyoku “Reibo” () of the Ôshû lineage () is presented, which relies upon written and anecdotal material to trace two main lines of transmission. These lines transmit honkyoku which have become known as “Futaiken reibo” (, ‘Reibo’ of the Futai temple) and “Shôganken reibo” (, ‘Reibo’ of the Shôgan temple). A comparative analysis of transcriptions of ten performances of these “Reibo” pieces by six shakuhachi players representing these two lines of transmission shows a high degree of variability and a number of patterns of similarities and differences. These patterns demonstrate the oral nature of the transmission, and allude to the process-oriented ‘essence’ of the honkyoku tradition.