This thesis is about the transmission processes that have occurred in the past and are continuing to occur today in the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition. The tradition is centered largely in Japan, but since the 1960s and especially from the 1980s an ever increasing number of performers and performances can be found outside Japan (Kamisangô 1974:22; Lee 1976:97, 1986:11-12). The shakuhachi (尺八) is an end-blown bamboo flute that first entered Japan as one of the instruments of the court ensemble (gagaku, 雅楽) imported from China in the middle of the seventh century (Kurihara 1918:32-35; Kamisangô 1974:10; Ueno 1984:8-9; Hôgaku Hyakka Jiten (Kikkawa, ed.) [hereafter HHJ] 1984:491-493; Tukitani 1988:39-40; Nihon Ongaku Daijiten (Hirano, et al., ed.) [hereafter NOD] 1989:329, 500). It evolved over the centuries to become distinct both from its form at the time of importation and from all end-blown flutes anywhere in the world (Tukitani et al., 1991:1-2; HHJ 1984:491; NOD 1989:329). Though no instrument or genre of traditional Japanese music, or hôgaku (邦楽), can compete in popularity in modern day Japan with western-derived musics such as rock, pop, jazz and classical music, the shakuhachi is nonetheless one of Japan’s most popular hôgaku instrument.
In this thesis, the term honkyoku (本曲), which literally means ‘main’ or ‘original piece’ refers only to the repertoire of mostly solo shakuhachi pieces (Tukitani 1990a:3) which, from as early as the fifteenth century, were anonymously composed and aurally transmitted, within the context of Zen Buddhism, as a religious practice (Kamisangô 1974:10-12). These honkyoku were played by monks known as komusô (虚無僧), who were most active during the Edo period (1600-1868) (Kurihara:1918:90; Ueno 1984:205). Honkyoku are the oldest pieces and are generally the most venerated of all the genres of music in the shakuhachi tradition.
Honkyoku is only one of many genres of shakuhachi music. The term koten honkyoku (古典本曲, classical honkyoku), coined by Tukitani in the 1970s, is most frequently used in Japan today to differentiate this genre from others of the shakuhachi tradition (Tukitani 1990a:32). In particular, koten honkyoku are distinct from those solo pieces (also called honkyoku) which, since the late 19th century, have been composed by named persons. These composers were frequently heads (iemoto 家元) of secular sect-like organizations or schools (ryû 流), who may have used the term honkyoku to elevate the status of their compositions in the eyes of their members. By far the largest of all shakuhachi schools in Japan today, in terms of membership, is the Tozan ryû (都山流) (NOD 1989:501). It is ironic that no koten honkyoku are transmitted within Tozan ryû. The only ‘honkyoku’ in its repertoire are the above mentioned modern pieces, composed by the founder of the school, Nakao Tozan (中尾都山, 1876-1956).
In general, little has been written about the transmission of shakuhachi honkyoku or any other genre of shakuhachi music. Studies of the shakuhachi and its repertoire typically focus upon four areas: the development and uses of the instrument over time, with discussions of prototypes and related instruments; its use by the komusô of the Edo period; the development of the various ryû in the 19th century and later; and finally, an examination of the professionalism of the latter 20th century (Kamisangô 1974; Malm 1959:151-164; Ueno 1984). The repertoire available to the modern day shakuhachi player, including honkyoku, is usually described as it exists in a single instance in time, with little or no reference to the historical development of the pieces; exceptions are the recent articles by Tukitani (1990, 1990a 1991). Such descriptions give a particularly distorted impression of honkyoku. As will be shown in this thesis, one of the most noticeable characteristics of many honkyoku is their high degree of variability and change, due in part to the way in which they have been and are transmitted.
Apart from superficial surveys of the shakuhachi tradition, such as are found in reference works devoted to all areas of hôgaku or Japan’s traditional music (Kishibe 1984:78-80; HHJ 1984:491-493; NOD 1989:500-506), the majority of the literature on the shakuhachi is ryû specific. Notable exceptions are Ueno’s book Shakuhachi no rekishi (尺八の歴史 1984) and much of the writings of Tukitani and Kamisangô, all of which are written in Japanese. (See chapter two, Survey of the Literature, for a discussion of these writings.) One reason these scholars are able to write about the shakuhachi without being ryû specific is because they do not play the shakuhachi and consequently are not affiliated with any ryû. In contrast to the above-mentioned non-performing scholars, the author of this thesis is a performer of the shakuhachi.
Unlike most of the ryû specific material written by other shakuhachi performers, this thesis attempts, as far as possible, to transcend the boundaries of the ryû and treat the shakuhachi tradition as a whole. Furthermore, it does not view the honkyoku repertoire as static, as having been handed down unchanged since time immemorial, but instead it focuses on the numerous ways in which pieces are constantly changing and how they have been transmitted from individual to individual over many generations.
In this thesis an initial understanding of the processes of transmitting the many honkyoku from individual to individual and from generation to generation will be sought through a detailed description of what has occurred in the transmission of a single piece, tracing the transmission through however many ryû and individuals as may arise. The piece chosen as a case study for this thesis is the honkyoku ‘Reibo’ (鈴慕), which, like most honkyoku, has been largely transmitted orally.
The reasons for choosing ‘Reibo’ as the focal point of the thesis are many and will be discussed in full in chapter four. Suffice it to say here that today there is not just one definitive ‘Reibo’ piece, but a great number of “Reibo” pieces, all related to each other to a greater or lesser degree, and all equally definitive. The actual meaning of ‘Reibo’ must therefore be defined. By this is meant not only the definitions and possible significance of the Chinese characters which make up the title (鈴慕, literally ‘Bell Yearning’), but also the musical definition of ‘Reibo’. What precisely is being referred to when we use the word ‘Reibo’? What constitutes the piece? How many of its sounds or sequences of sounds can be changed or omitted before the piece is no longer thought of as ‘Reibo’? Can patterns be detected which might explain the many musical variations and different titles? These and other questions must be addressed, especially in the context of performance.
Because of the oral nature of the transmission, the context of performance is particularly important in a study of the honkyoku ‘Reibo’. For example, there are cases of pieces with musical characteristics that are clearly identical to those of ‘Reibo’ but which are called something else, for example ‘Fûrin’ (風林, ‘Wind-woods’). The question of musical identity arises in other oral traditions as well, for example in American folk tunes (Seeger 1977). The number and diversity of ‘Reibo’ pieces that exist today are the result of, and clearly reflect, the manner in which the piece has been transmitted from generation to generation. Therefore, a comparison of different versions of the piece should reflect the nature of the transmission, indicating extent and degree of change as well as stability during the process of transmission.
In order to understand the processes of transmission within the shakuhachi tradition, the ontology of transmission itself must be discussed; for example, questions such as the following must be asked: What, precisely, is transmitted? Is the nature of the transmission of honkyoku perceived differently by different teachers and students? How does the transmission from teacher to student, from individual to individual and from lineage to lineage compare? What can be learned of the transmission of ‘Reibo’ by looking at the processes of performing the piece as opposed to studying notated scores of the piece? These questions are taken up more fully in Chapters four, five and six.
It is also important to examine the relationship between the author of this study, the object of this study, (the processes of transmission in the shakuhachi tradition) and the study itself. This study is both subject and object, itself a part of the process of transmitting the shakuhachi tradition both in and outside of Japan, as well as a study of that process. The boundaries between the observer, the observation and the observed and between the transmitter, the receiver and that which is being received are not at all distinct. In writing this thesis, I am both the observer and, as a member of the shakuhachi tradition, part of what is being observed. In writing the previous sentence, I am observing myself observing what I am observing about a tradition of which I am a part.
Though everyone who is a member of any tradition is also to a large degree a highly motivated observer of that tradition, my status as ‘observer’ has been legitimized, at least in the world of Western academia, by having received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music and a Master of Arts degree in ethnomusicology, both from the University of Hawaii. The topic of my MA thesis was the performance practices of the Chikuho ryû (Lee 1986), for the most part a very ryû-specific study.
I am also very much a part of what is being observed, the tradition as well as the transmission processes of that tradition; I began learning to play the instrument in Japan in 1970 and continued learning there for seven years. In 1980, I became the first non-Japanese in any lineage or school of the shakuhachi tradition to receive the rank of dai shihan (大師範, grand master), as a member of the Chikuho ryû (竹保流) under the tutelage of Sakai Chikuho II (二代目酒井竹保, 1933-1992). I have been performing the shakuhachi professionally as my primary source of income for twenty years. From 1973 until leaving Japan in 1977, I performed the shakuhachi on stage as the only non-Japanese member of the internationally acclaimed Japanese drum and folk music group, ‘Ondekoza’ (now called Kodô).
I taught shakuhachi through the University of Hawaii Music Department and privately in Honolulu from 1979 until 1986. During this time, I founded a still active shakuhachi club within the community. Since coming to Australia in 1986, to begin postgraduate doctoral studies at the University of Sydney, I have continued teaching, performing and recording. (My recordings are distributed worldwide on the USA labels, Smithsonian Folkways, Lyrichord and Narada, and most recently on the Australian labels, Tall Poppies and New World Productions). I am Australia’s only professional shakuhachi player. Permanent residence was granted to me by the Australian Government in 1989 on the strength of my shakuhachi activities. I am still receiving shakuhachi instruction whenever possible, having studied periodically with Yokoyama Katsuya (横山勝也, b.1935) since 1985. However one defines an ‘insider’ to a tradition (my definition is found in Chapter 1), there is a strong case for my being considered ‘inside’ the shakuhachi tradition, and thus part of the object of this study.
The separation between subject and object has been, until relatively recently, one of the main tenets of Western scientific thought. It is a major assumption behind many of the various definitions of ‘positivism’, of which Halfpenny lists twelve. Examples of these definitions are: “Positivism is a theory of knowledge according to which the only kind of sound knowledge available to humankind is that of science grounded in observation”; and “Positivism is a theory of history in which the motor of progress that guarantees the emergence of superior forms of society is competition between increasingly differentiated individuals” (Halfpenny 1982:114-115). Assumptions such as these most likely remain deeply ingrained in the thought habits of most Westerners (particularly scholars and academics) today, despite the anti-positivistic moves which have occurred in many academic disciplines over the last decade. In acknowledging that such a separation would be totally inappropriate to the present study (see next paragraph), that it would eat at the intellectual honesty which lies at the heart of the scholarly discipline, I realize that I am in danger of being perceived by some as somehow flaunting the rules of academic discourse.
Upon entering the world of the shakuhachi, at least some of its more traditional realms, one senses that the distinction between subject and object is not only questioned, but negated. As stated above (see p.1), for at least the two centuries leading up to the latter 19th century, honkyoku, the oldest and most venerated of all of the genres of shakuhachi music, were played almost exclusively by mendicant priests, who belonged to the Fuke-shû (普化宗), a sub-sect of Zen Buddhism. Even today, though the instrument is largely secularized, many shakuhachi players perform honkyoku not as an act of making music but as an act of suizen (吹禅, ‘blowing Zen’), a practice which has probably existed since well before the sixteenth century (Blasdel 1984:216; Kamisangô 1974:10-11; Ueno 1984:159-162). In one sense, when playing honkyoku one does not differentiate between the performer, the performee (the instrument), the performed (the piece) and the performance (the music). Just as in the more orthodox zazen (座禅; ‘seated meditation’) of Zen Buddhism, there is no real differentiation between the act of meditation, the one who is meditating, and that which is being meditated.
A blurring of boundaries between the transmitter and the receiver can also be seen in the shakuhachi tradition itself. Many of the changes that have been and are still being experienced in the shakuhachi tradition in Japan are due to strong influences, both past and present, from the West. For example, the extensive use of staff notation by shakuhachi players, the concept of performances in concert halls and the tape recorder and other mechanical recording devices have all effected much change on the tradition. These changes, having become a part of the shakuhachi tradition, are now being transmitted to the West. At the same time there are also examples of features of the modern day shakuhachi tradition which have accelerated its transmission to the West. Further discussion of this subject can be found in chapter five.
It should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Japanese philosophy, in particular Zen Buddhism, that a study of the ‘Zen music’ of the shakuhachi seems to affirm the theories of anti-positivism. In his discussion of Derrida’s concept of differance, Leitch (1983:42) could have well been quoting Lao Tsu: “it has neither existence nor essence. It belongs to no category of being, present or absent”; “there is no name for this, not even essence or Being…”; “Differance is neither a word nor a concept.”. One cannot help thinking that Lao Tsu as well as many of the Zen Buddhist masters in some ways might have embraced the same spirit as that of the anti-positivists or deconstructive critics. More will be said on this subject in chapter five.
In addition to the esoteric non-differentiation of subject and object, the honkyoku tradition shares with its wellspring of inspiration, Zen Buddhism, the importance placed upon direct transmission from one person to another without reliance upon writing, i.e., scriptures or notations. The subject of orality must be dealt with in depth, as the transmission of shakuhachi honkyoku is primarily an oral one even today, at least one hundred and fifty years after notation began to be used (Lee 1986:127; 1991:19). The honkyoku tradition exhibits characteristics common to all oral traditions, such as formulaic repetition of embellishments, phrases and parts of phrases. Much has been written on orality in recent years, both in regard to the spoken word (Parry, Lord, Ong, Butler, etc.) and, specifically, to music (Treitler, The Oral and literate in music, etc.). Theories of orality provide a framework with which to examine honkyoku. They shed light on the formulaic construction of honkyoku.
Orality is a state of being which, according to Ong (1982:15), can be thought of as “pristine human consciousness that was not literate”. Theories of orality enable us, at least partially, to comprehend if not fully reconstruct that consciousness. The idea of ‘pristine human consciousness’ is central to Zen Buddhism; the latter is one way of experiencing the former. Likewise, honkyoku, when performed as suizen, are manifestations of ‘pristine human consciousness’. As with Zen Buddhism, they are fundamentally oral and experiential in their transmission and context. Thus, the subjects of transmission, orality and Zen Buddhism converge in the study of shakuhachi honkyoku.
Though this thesis deals mainly with the processes of transmission of the honkyoku as found in Japan, these processes are also occurring outside Japan, where the shakuhachi is one of the most well-known among traditional Japanese musical instruments. The popularity of shakuhachi among non-Japanese is attested to by the fact that almost every major shakuhachi performer/teacher in Japan is teaching or has taught non-Japanese students. A primary example of this can be found in Kyoto, which is not only the heart of traditional Japan, but is also the location of Meianji (明暗寺), one of the main temples of the komusô during the Edo period and the center of the post-Edo honkyoku movement which has survived to this day. For at least the past ten years, Kurahashi Yoshio (倉橋義雄, b.1949),a noted teacher based in Kyoto and representing a conservative shakuhachi lineage, has taught substantially more gaijin (foreigner) students than Japanese students.
There are today a number of active shakuhachi teachers who reside permanently in Europe, North and South America and Australia. These teachers are passing their knowledge of the instrument and its tradition directly to their students and, through performances and recordings, to a wide non-participatory audience as well. There is an ‘International Shakuhachi Society’ based in England with governors living on three continents. The ‘International Shakuhachi Training Center’ in rural Japan caters to a large extent to non-Japanese. Recently one of Japan’s largest music publishing houses has published in English a ‘manual for learning’ the shakuhachi. It is written largely for prospective students of the instrument who have no access to a teacher (Blasdel 1988).
In light of the above, and other examples too numerous to list, it is obvious that the shakuhachi and its music is in the process of being rapidly transmitted to the West. As with every cross-cultural transmission changes inevitably occur. This is not to imply that the shakuhachi tradition as it exists in Japan is itself static.
As one of the above-mentioned teacher/performers of the shakuhachi living outside of Japan, who has been actively participating in the transmission process for twenty years, it is my hope that this thesis will not only add to the corpus of knowledge on the shakuhachi in general and to theories of transmission, but will also contribute in at least two ways to the ongoing process of transmitting the tradition to the West. Firstly, merely by writing in English, knowledge of the shakuhachi tradition, which may be common among literate Japanese shakuhachi enthusiasts but otherwise little known, becomes more accessible to the West. Secondly, by examining the processes of transmission as it has occurred and is continuing to occur in the shakuhachi tradition in Japan, it becomes possible to begin to understand causes and effects in its transmission to the West, their likely origins and their future developments.
The following is a chapter by chapter summary of the thesis:
Chapter one discusses the paradigm of insider/outsider, addressing the problematics involved in utilizing such a paradigm. It also defines the concepts ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ as they relate to the shakuhachi tradition.
Chapter two surveys and groups the literature on the shakuhachi which has been written in Japanese, English and other languages, within categories determined by their authors and readership in terms of the insider/outsider paradigm. Particular attention is focussed on the treatment of transmission in the various sources. This chapter also surveys ethnomusicological literature which presents common models of transmission in the honkyoku tradition.
Chapter three is devoted to the history of the shakuhachi honkyoku. In contrast to many of the published histories of the shakuhachi, eg., Die shakuhachi der Kinko-Schule (Gutzwiller 1983), the honkyoku is viewed as transmitted within a single tradition, rather than through a number of related but quite separate traditions. Within that single tradition are a number of diverse transmission lines, ranging from single individuals to large organizations such as the ryû.
Chapter four presents a history of the piece ‘Reibo’, giving as much detail as the available evidence will allow. Included in this chapter is a piece-specific genealogy chart of shakuhachi players who have featured in the ‘Reibo’ transmission process from the turn of the century.
Chapter five looks at the transmission of shakuhachi honkyoku from three perspectives: what is being transmitted, how the transmission occurs and the ways that what is being transmitted and how the transmission occurs affect each other. The ‘what’ of the transmission is addressed with discussions on the ontology of transmission, and on the dialectical relationships between subjectivity and objectivity and between interior and exterior. Theories of orality and how they relate to honkyoku are explored. The relationships between documents and performance are also discussed. The “how” of the transmission is examined though the formal elements of transmission: lineage, lesson, notation. and performance. The element of performance includes timber, pitch and rhythm. By examining the ideologies of a number of major figures in the tradition with regards to the transmission of the honkyoku, the final part of this chapter demonstrates some of the ways in which the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ interact.
Chapter six discusses issues surrounding transcriptions and analyses of classical honkyoku and makes note of analyses found in the literature which are pertinent to the topic of this thesis. The methods of the transcriptions and the analyses adopted in this thesis are explained. Transcriptions of ten performances of two versions or groups of the “Reibo” piece as indicated by the genealogy chart in chapter four, by players listed in that chart, are analysed. References are made to issues raised elsewhere in the thesis, particularly those discussed in chapter four and five.
Finally, chapter seven presents conclusions that can be made from this study. It points out what can and cannot be shown by the scholarly approach of this thesis and why.
The subject, object and the objective of this thesis, then, is transmission, specifically the transmission of honkyoku, in particular the piece ‘Reibo’, one of the ‘original pieces’ of the shakuhachi, Japan’s classical bamboo flute.
It should be noted that unless otherwise specified, in discussions of fingerings and pitch, the pitches produced by the standard length instrument (1.8 shaku) will be used. The pitch produced by fingering ‘all holes closed’ is d-natural above middle c. Also, throughout the thesis, proper names will be written in the standard order in which they occur in their culture; Japanese family names are written before given names. Finally, there are a number of romanization systems in use in Japan. For proper names, the romanization favoured by the person, organization, etc., is adopted wherever known (eg., ‘Syakuhati kenkyû kai’ instead of ‘Shakuhachi kenkyû kai’ and ‘Tukitani’ instead of ‘Tsukitani’). In all other cases, the Hepburn system is used.