Throughout history, a number of reedless, end-blown bamboo flutes with from five to as many as nine fingerholes have appeared in Japan. Made from pieces of bamboo of varying lengths having one, three, or more nodes, they are all thought of as belonging to the same family of instruments, that is the shakuhachi. The mouthpiece in all the Japanese end-blown flutes is made by first cutting the bamboo perpendicular to the pipe at a node or joint of the bamboo and then further cutting a small, wedge shaped piece from one side of the end, that is obliquely, but outwards, thus forming the blowing edge (illustration 1). Though the blowing edge of one of the end-blown flutes, the tempuku (, see below), differs slightly from the other flutes in that it is much smaller and shallower and filed inward toward the bore, it is characteristically cut outward as well. It is primarily because of the distinctive shape of their mouthpieces that these instruments are classified as a single family of flutes.

According to Tukitani et al., (1991:1), there are no other examples of the outward facing type of blowing edge found anywhere in the world, including China. In contrast to the Japanese end-blown flutes with the blowing edge bevelled outward, other end-blown flutes have a blowing edge that is either merely cut perpendicularly (e.g., nose flutes), or that is rounded slightly at the perpendicular cut (e.g., the nei and the kaval). The flutes most closely resembling the shakuhachi such as the present day Chinese dongxiao (, Japanese: dôsho), are made by cutting or shaving the pipe towards the inside of the bore rather than towards the outside.

Japanese bamboo flutes have been given various names. Each of these names has been applied to slightly different instruments at different points in their history. Generally speaking, the term shakuhachi has been used as a generic term to denote all of the end-blown flutes of Japan. In addition, the term hitoyogiri (, literally ‘cut from one node’) has been used since the 17th century (Tukitani et al. 1991:3) to denote a shakuhachi made from a piece of bamboo with only one node and with five fingerholes, and the term tempuku, (see above) denotes a very small shakuhachi (approx. 28 cm. in length) that has three nodes, five fingerholes and a very shallow blowing edge.

Illustration 1
Blowing edges for shakuhachi,
hitoyogiri, tempuku, dongxiao and tanteki

(in Tempuku, p.86)

The way these and other terms have been applied is, however, arbitrary and at times contradictory or confusing. This will be discussed in more detail below (pp.86102).

3.1 The Shakuhachi of the Nara (646-794) and Heian (794-1185) Periods

The history of shakuhachi in Japan dates back to the latter half of the seventh century, when the shakuhachi and other musical instruments were brought from China to become part of a court ensemble fashioned after that of the Tang dynasty. The music of this court ensemble became known in Japan as gagaku () and was only one of many elements of the Chinese culture that were adopted by the Japanese during this and later times. According to the Tang dynasty document Jiu Tang Shu (, Japanese: Kutôjo, Old Tang History, the older of two major histories of the Tang dynasty), the flute with the outward facing blowing edge was invented by the person Lucun (, Japanese: Ryosai) between 627 and 649 A.D. (Kamisangô 1974:10, Ueno 1984:46, Tukitani et al. 1991:1). It is probable that an instrument of this type was introduced into Japan with the gagaku ensemble and remained a part of that ensemble for several centuries. Therefore, the shakuhachi of the Nara and Heian periods are generally known as gagaku shakuhachi. It was performed for, and frequently by, the nobility of ancient Japan from the time of their introduction from China until at least the 12th century.

3.1.1 Shakuhachi of the Shôsôin and Hôryûji

Eight specimens of gagaku shakuhachi have been preserved in the Shôsôin (), a repository built in 756 for the treasures of Tôdaiji, an important temple in Nara housing the daibutsu (, ‘great Buddha’), the largest statue of Buddha in Japan inside a building, completed in 749.1 Four of these flutes are recorded in Tôdaiji Kenmotsu Chô (, 758) (Ueno 1984:9), a catalogue of the items that had belonged to Emperor Shômu (, r.724-749) donated to Tôdaiji in 756 by Empress Kômyô () after the death of her husband. These flutes were gifts from a king of the Paekche Kingdom of mid-8th century Korea. A catalogue dating from that time states that Emperor Shômu had been particularly fond of the four instruments (Harich-Schneider 1973:59). In view of what is known about shakuhachi of this period, it is possible that the remaining four flutes were also imported into Japan, but this cannot be concluded with certainty.

1. It is highly likely that the shakuhachi was used in the ‘Eye Opening Ceremony’ of the Great Buddha (, daibutsu kaigen e) in 752. Unfortunately the records of the event (in the Tôdaiji yôroku ) do not detail the actual instrumentation of the music ensemble used.

Of the eight shakuhachi in the Shôsôin collection, only five are made of bamboo. The remaining three flutes are made of jade, ivory and stone. One of the bamboo flutes and the stone flute are completely covered with delicate patterns carved on their surfaces. All but one of the instruments are quite playable, with the jade instrument said to be especially so (Harich-Schneider 1973:61). The jade, stone and ivory flutes are carved to imitate the nodes of bamboo.

Whereas shakuhachi from around the 14th century until the present time have only five fingerholes, and a variable number of nodes, all of the flutes perserved in Shôsôin have six fingerholes and three nodes, not counting the uppermost node on which the blowing edge is cut. Although a number of hypotheses concerning the extra fingerhole of the shakuhachi of the Nara period have been put forward, the reason for the difference in the number of fingerholes between the gagaku shakuhachi and later shakuhachi has never been conclusively shown (see below).

The lengths of the flutes in the Shôsôin vary from 437mm. to 343.5mm and the diameters of their bores vary from 12mm. to 16mm.2 A more detailed description of these flutes and their measurements can be found in the book Shôsôin no Gakki. Though pitches obtained by playing each instrument have also been recorded (see Shôsôin no Gakki , The Musical Instruments of Shôsôin, 1967), the data cannot be regarded as definitive because it is not known how the instruments were originally played. Reconstructing the performance practices of the gagaku shakuhachi and the pitches used by the performers at the time is particularly problematic due to the variability of pitch production possible with the shakuhachi mouthpiece.

2. In contrast, the standard dimensions of the modern shakuhachi are 545.4mm in length with a bore diameter ranging approximately from 15mm to 21mm, that is, greater in both length and bore diameter than the Shôsôin flutes.

Finally, a ninth specimen of the gagaku shakuhachi of similar date to those preserved in the Shôsôin is on permanent loan to the Tokyo National Museum from the Nara temple, Hôryûji (). Made of bamboo and similar in proportions to the Shôsôin shakuhachi, the Hôryûji shakuhachi also has six holes. A commonly told legend is that this instrument was used by Shôtoku Taishi (, 574-622), the founder of Hôryûji and the first princely patron of Buddhism in Japan. Furthermore, the 13th century book Zoku Kyôkunshô () written by Koma no Asakuzu () in 1270, and the Taigenshô (), an authoritative reference on Japanese music written in 1512 by Toyohara no Muneaki (), both state that Prince Shôtoku used the instrument to perform the piece Somakusha () to accompany the dance of a celestial maiden who had appeared before him (Kurihara 1918:36-41; Ueno 1984:39). There is no factual basis for either the legend or the written account (Kamisangô 1974:10; Ueno 1984:39).3 The association of Prince Shôtoku 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.

3. Kamisangô (1974:10) quotes Kyôkunshô instead of Zoku Kyôkunshô. Also, according to Tsukitani, Harich-Schneider’s reading “Sumiaki” (1973:714) is incorrect.

The shakuhachi instruments preserved in the Shôsôin repository and by Hôryûji are the only extant instruments of their type in the world and are therefore of great value. Unfortunately, no documents such as manuscripts, treatises or musical notation for the gagaku shakuhachi survive from the Nara and Heian periods. Besides the actual instruments themselves, the only additional data are mentions of the instrument in a few lists and government reports, and some pictorial evidence showing its use.

3.1.2 Pictorial and Written Evidence of the Nara and Heian Shakuhachi

According to Gutzwiller (1974:6), an acquisition list at Hôryûji includes several shakuhachi among a set of instruments purported to have been brought from China to Nara during the reign of the Chinese Emperor Wen (r. 581-604). The records of the dedication of the Shôsôin, written in 756, list the extant shakuhachi preserved in the depository, mentioned above. Also, the Saidaiji Shizai Chô (), another list of instruments imported from Tang China written in 780, record a single patterned bamboo shakuhachi () and eight other shakuhachi (Kurihara 1918:48). Gutzwiller (1974:7) points out that the shakuhachi mentioned in the Hôryûji and Saidaiji lists are clearly of Chinese origin. In addition the Shôsôin instruments that are made of ivory and jade, and possibly the bamboo ones as well, were also most probably imported into Japan either directly from China or via Korea.

A representation of the gagaku shakuhachi being played can be seen on one of the panels of a large bronze temple lantern made around 752 which is prominently located in the centre of the open courtyard in front of the steps leading to the main entrance of the Hall of the Great Buddha () in Nara. Each panel on the lantern depicts a Bodhisattva dancing or playing a musical instrument amidst swirling clouds .

The Shôsôin repository also contains pictorial evidence of the shakuhachi from the Nara era. In the collection of articles donated by Emperor Shômu is a dankyû (), a longbow made of bamboo said to be of Japanese manufacture and dated 730. Realisitic figures of musicians, dancers and other performers are painted on the bow. On the lower end of the bow, together with twenty-eight other figures, is a dancing man playing a wind instrument which, according to Harich-Schneider (1973:55) is “held vertically like a hichiriki () or a shakuhachi”. The length of the instrument being played (the bottom end is nearly at waist level) and the angle at which it is being held suggest that it is a shakuhachi rather than a hichiriki, or the longer and now obsolete ôhichiriki (). The fact that the figure is dancing might, however, indicate that the instrument being played is a hichiriki, as the mouthpiece of the shakuhachi would make simultaneous dancing and playing extremely difficult. There is no way of knowing with certainty what instrument in the drawing.

On the upper part of the bow, near the middle is a group of nine musicians, eight of whom are squatting or sitting cross-legged. One of the musicians is playing what seems to be a shakuhachi. It is interesting to note that the shakuhachi player is the only one sitting in the seiza () position. Though seiza is the customary and most formal way of sitting on the floor in Japan today, in the gagaku ensemble tradition, almost all of the musicians customarily sit cross-legged or squat rather than sit seiza. Finally, a standing performer of a shakuhachi-like vertical wind instrument can be seen on the longbow (Ueno 1984:125). The musician is dressed in the same Chinese manner as the seated musician, wearing robes and headgear that were fashionable during the early Heian period or earlier (Harich-Schneider 1973:142).

The musicians, dancers, acrobats and other performers painted on the dankyû illustrate two forms of secular music of the Nara period, namely gigaku () and sangaku (). Gigaku was a masked dance form accompanied by drum, gong and flute, originating in South China and developed by Mimashi (), an important figure in ancient Japanese music, who was from Kudara (), a kingdom of the Korean peninsula (HHJ 1984:269). Sangaku refers to miscellaneous public entertainment including acrobatic dances imported from Tang China and popular in Japan from the Heian through the Kamakura periods (HHJ 1984:442).

Illustration 2
Pictorial evidence from Nara-Heian periods

(In Kurihara 1918:57, Ueno 1984:75, 125)

The above pictorial evidence clearly illustrates the part the shakuhachi played in both sacred and secular music during the Nara period and later (illustration 2).

Another iconographic source from Nara-Heian period is a scroll entitled Shinzei Nyûdô kogaku zu (, Shinzei Nyûdô ancient music drawings). It contains the oldest and most complete drawings of bugaku (, dances associated with the court), sarugaku (, a popular drama related to sangaku and an antecedent to nô drama) and acrobatic acts that were a popular part of court entertainment during the Heian period, and the musical instruments that accompanied them (Harich-Schneider 1973:142). Shinzei, the Buddhist name of Fujiwara no Michinori (, d. 1160), amassed a large collection of historical material of all sorts. Though the precise role played by Prince Shinzei in compiling the material in the Kogaku zu is not known, the sources used by the creators of the scroll date from the Nara or the early Heian period. These sources include the Nara dankyû, discussed above.

The original of the Shinzei kogaku zu scroll no longer survives but at least five copies exist, including one in the Tôkyô National Museum and another dating from 1449 (HHJ 1984:548) in possession of the Tôkyô University of Fine Arts. There are fourteen illustrations of musicians each playing a different instrument, the names of which are clearly labeled. Eight illustrations closely resemble drawings found on the Nara dankyû, one being a kneeling shakuhachi player (Harichi-Schneider 1973:148). Finally, the shakuhachi can be seen in a drawing of an ensemble of ten musicians and flag bearers (Harich-Schneider 1973:171). This illustration is of interest because the shakuhachi player is standing, in contrast to the kneeling position shown in almost all of the previously mentioned illustrations (illustration 2).

In addition to these iconographic data, a number of written sources survive. On March 21, 809, twenty-nine years after the Saidaiji list was compiled and well into the early Heian period, a government report states that there was to be one shakuhachi musician among the twelve official musicians of the court. A similar report dating September 23, 848, states that the number of shakuhachi players was to be reduced from three to two. Both reports are reproduced in full in Kurihara (1918:50-52). This is the last documented mention of official shakuhachi musicians as part of the official court ensemble. The ensemble was in fact radically changed around the time of Emperor Nimmyô (, 833-850) (Kikkawa 1965:63). The 848 government document proves that the shakuhachi survived at least until then.

Thereafter the shakuhachi continues to be mentioned infrequently in court contexts, though not specifically as an instrument used in the gagaku ensemble. The book Ryûmeishô (, 1133, a comprehensive treatise on the ryûteki) states that the fourth son of Emperor Seiwa ( r.858-876), Nangû Sadayasu no Shinnô ( 870-924)4 transcribed or reconstructed the tôgaku ()5 piece “Ôshôkun” () from shakuhachi notation to ôteki (, read ôjô in the Heian period; a traverse flute) notation (Kurihara 1918:52-53). This event is subsequently recorded in the Taigenshô (), an authoritative reference on Japanese music written in 1512. The Taigenshô also states that Sadayasu was one of the five best flute players (Toyohara 1933:561). Finally, the ZokuKyôkunshô (1270) states that Sadayasu played the shakuhachi (Kurihara 1918:53). These three sources strongly suggest that the shakuhachi was still very much associated with the musical tradition of the court at least up until the late 9th or early 10th century. Evidence suggesting that the shakuhachi was used in the court beyond that time is given below.

4. Sadayasu is mistakenly read Teihô by Gutzwiller (1974:8).
5. Literally “Tang music”, tôgaku is a type of court music imported from Tang China during the Nara and early Heian periods. From the middle of the Heian period tôgaku referred to music originally from China that had become Japanese in flavour, in contrast to music from Korea known as komagaku.

Another reference of this same period is the well-known Tale of Genji (), a ‘novel’ written around the beginning of the 11th century by Lady Murasaki. In chapter six, “The Safflower”, Lady Murasaki mentions the playing of the “sakuhachi (sic) no fue” (, ‘sakuhachi flute’) (Yamada 1934:179), indicating that the instrument could still be heard within the courtly circles of late Heian period.

Imagakami (), a collection of historical stories written in 1170 by Fujiwara no Tametsune (, entered the priesthood in 1143) (Ueno 1984:119) mentions that towards the end of the Heian era, in the year 1158, Emperor Go-Shirakawa () commanded that for the New Year’s celebration an attempt be made to revive the shakuhachi (Kamisangô 1974:10; Tukitani et al. 1991:3). This incident is also mentioned in Zoku Kyôkunshô (1270) (Kurihara 1918:57). A third reference to Go-shirakawa’s request for shakuhachi music, found in Taigenshô (1512), states that at the time, the shakuhachi “was played long ago, but not recently”. Upon Emperor Go-Shiragawa’s request, the son of the commander of the Left Guards played the instrument using old notation (Toyohara 1933:629).

This incident is particularly significant because it indicates the shakuhachi had fallen into disuse by the mid 12th century, and that a royal request was required for it to be revived. It is interesting to note that old notations for the shakuhachi were used for the revival. One may conclude from this event that even though the instrument was in need of reviving, it had not been totally abandoned and forgotten by the nobility of Japan in the year 1158. This, however, is the last documentary record of shakuhachi performance within the context of the Japanese court.

The reason the shakuhachi was excluded from the official list of gagaku instruments sometime after the mid-9th century is unknown. Harich-Schneider (1973:131) suggests that shakuhachi was eliminated from court music early on in favour of the transverse bamboo flute (yokobue, ôteki, ryûteki), “the volume of which matched the other instrumental groups better”. She further suggests that the above-mentioned Prince Sadayasu (see p.70) initiated this elimination (1973:195). More likely, the gagaku shakuhachi may have fallen into disuse, together with other instruments such as the u (, a large sho ) and the ôhichiriki (, a large hichiriki), as part of a general change in the instrumentation of the gagaku ensemble that took place in the 9th century (Kikkawa 1965:63; Kamisangô 1974:10).

The reduction in the number of musical instruments in the gagaku ensemble may have been a practical and/or economical decision. Contact between Japan and the mainland virtually ceased during this period, after which the music ensembles of the court became self-reliant and had fewer instruments (Kikkawa 1965:61-62). Additionally, the late Heian court simply may not have had the resources needed to maintain a court ensemble as large as had been originally imported from China.

Kikkawa (1965:61-64) states that the elimination of some of the instruments used in the court ensemble was primarily due to the music played. Modes were changed to suit Japanese aesthetics, which, of course, are uniquely different from the aesthetics of the mainland courts.

Whatever the reason the instrument was eliminated from the roles of the court musicians, in the Kamakura (or Minamoto () era, only sixty years after the last documented performance within the court, the shakuhachi once again surfaces in historical sources.

3.2 The Shakuhachi of the Middle Ages (1185-1600)

Historical references (see below) suggest that at least from the early 13th century, the shakuhachi was performed by commoners, and was also associated with the performance of sarugaku. In the mid-14th century it was still being played, however, by at least one member of a palace musician family and, as late as the early 15th century, a member of the royal family was playing the instrument. In the early 15th century, it was used in the courts in performing sôga (, vocal music of the period).

The first mention of the shakuhachi in the Kamakura era (1185-1333) is in Koma no Chikazane’s () book, Kyôkunshô (1233). We are told that at the time of writing, the instrument was played by mekura hôshi (, blind priests), and as accompaniment to sarugaku. Chikazane refers to the shakuhachi as tanteki (, ‘short flute’). This is the first reference to the shakuhachi being used by commoners outside the context of Imperial courts. It is no longer an instrument solely of the Japanese aristocracy, though the shakuhachi continues to be played by the nobility for at least two more centuries (Kurihara 1918:; Kamisangô 1974:10; Ueno 1984:121; Tukitani et al., 1991:4).

Between the latter 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century there is very little mention of the shakuhachi. According to Ueno (1984:140), virtually all that can be said about the instrument in the 14th century is that one of the four families of palace musicians, the Toyohara family () appears to have taken over the instrument. Toyohara no Muneaki wrote in Taigenshô that his ancestor Toyohara no Kazuaki (, d.1441), was skilful at the shakuhachi (Toyohara 1933:629).

The Yoshino Shûi (, Gleanings of Yoshino, 1358), a record of events that occurred during the brief Imperial court of Emperor Go-Daigo () in the Yoshino mountains, states that a son of Emperor Go Daigo, Prince Kanenaga Shinnô () played the shakuhachi well (Kurihara 1918:60). This suggests that the instrument was still popular with at least one of the nobility in the mid-14th century, exacty two hundred years after the last performance in the contexts of the court documented in Taigenshô. The type of music either Toyohara no Kazuaki or Prince Kanenaga played and the context of their performances are unknown.

Half a century later, the diary Yamashina no Noritoki Kyô () states that on the 24th of March, 1408, Emperor Go-Komatsu () was entertained by a shakuhachi ensemble playing sôga (Kamisangô 1974:10, Ueno 1984:141).

The shakuhachi was a favourite instrument with performers of dengaku (, literally ‘field music’), a popular genre of entertainment dance and music between the 14th and 16th centuries. The association between dengaku and the shakuhachi is mentioned in the Taigenshô (Toyohara 1933:629); “In the house of Toyohara, Kazuaki (the author’s great-grandfather) excelled in the shakuhachi (see above, p.73). He was a student of Toyohara no Atsuaki () of the collateral family line, as was Zoami (15th c.) the dengaku performer. Now, there is no truth behind what dengaku players say when speaking of the shakuhachi being their own instrument…” (translation by Blasdel 1988:78). Kamisangô notes that this passage suggests that both members of the gagaku tradition, such as Kazuaki, and dengaku musicians valued the shakuhachi to the point of disputing ownership of the instrument (1974:10).

The first graphic representations of a shakuhachi in which the number of fingerholes are clearly indicated do not appear until 1512, in the authoritative music encyclopedia, Taigenshô. These sketches are in fact the first indication of the number of fingerholes and nodes in the bamboo since the preserved Nara period instruments mentioned above. There are seven simple sketches of the instrument in Taigenshô. One sketch clearly shows the four front and one back hole, with each fingerhole given a name (illustration 3). Though the sketch ends before showing the bottom of the instrument, only one node of the bamboo can be seen in the drawing. The shakuhachi illustrated in Taigenshô are therefore different from the gagaku shakuhachi preserved in Shôsôin and Hôryûji both in the number of fingerholes and bamboo nodes, the latter having six fingerholes and three bamboo nodes.

Five different lengths of shakuhachi are illustrated in Taigenshô. In the book, these lengths are associated with the pitches hyôjô (, E); sôjô (, G); ôshiki (, A); banshiki (, B); and ichikotsu (, D).

Another drawing of the shakuhachi of this period can be found in the book Nanajûichiban shokunin uta awase (, a collection of seventy-one craftmen’s songs), written by Tosa no Mitsunobu () sometime between 1504 and 1521. This picture depicts what is called a biwa hôshi (, a biwa playing priest, typically blind) performing in the usual kneeling position (illustration 4). In front of him on the ground can be seen his wooden clogs and walking staff, a set of panpipes and a shakuhachi (Ueno 1984:148). The biwa hôshi are most famous for their performances during the Kamakura era of the epic tales of the Heike Monogatari (), and may have used the shakuhachi as preludes or interludes to their recitation of the Heike stories.

As was the case with the 13th century reference in Kyôkunshô, the shakuhachi is here not being played by a person of noble birth, as was the case of the gagaku shakuhachi, but rather by a member of one of the lowest classes of Japanese society, blind beggar priests.

Illustration 3
Drawing of five hole shakuhachi in Taigensho

(In Ueda 1984:129)

Illustration 4
Biwa hoshi with shakuhachi
(In Ueda 1984:149)

3.2.1 Literary References to the Shakuhachi in the Middle Ages

There are several references to the shakuhachi in collections of poetry written during the 15th and 16th centuries. The poet Ikkyû Zenji (, 1394-1482), whose relationship with Buddhism and the shakuhachi will be discussed below, frequently refers to the shakuhachi in his poetry. In one of his waka (), Ikkyû writes:

“Shakuhachi wa hito yo to koso omoishi ni
“Ikuyo ka oi no yo to nariken”

Even though I thought the shakuhachi a friend just
for one night,
It has remained my friend many nights into old age

(Kamisangô 1974:12)

In this poem, the term hitoyogiri appears to be alluded to, though not actually used, in a clever word play making use of the two meanings of ‘hitoyo’: ‘one night’ (), and the instrument hitoyogiri (, cut from one [bamboo] node). The actual term hitoyogiri first appeared in a collection of songs, Ryûtatsu bushi (, 1593) (Tukitani et al. 1991:4). Collected by Takasabu Ryûtatsu (), the collection is also known as Ryûtatsu kouta (). The poem in Ryûtatsu’s kouta (), short songs usually accompanied by the three-stringed instrument the shamisen (), uses the same word play as that of Ikkyû, but in a more romantic sense:

“Shakuhachi no hitoyogiri koso ne mo yokere
“Kimi to hito yo wa ne mo taranu”

The tones of the shakuhachi ‘hitoyogiri’
    may satisfy for one night,
But sleeping with you just one night is not enough.

(Kamisangô 1974:12, translation by Blasdel 1988:86).

The shakuhachi is featured in another earler collection of poetry of the period, the Kangin shû (, 1518). The poems in this collection are the lyrics of songs of the period, mostly kouta. The editor of the collection writes in his preface that the shakuhachi is his friend (Kamisangô 1974:11; Ueno 1984:173). One of the poems in Kangin shû suggests the playing of the shakuhachi as a meditation, a function common throughout much of its history:

21 Dengaku

I take out the shakuhachi from
beneath my sleeve,
to blow it while waiting and
The wind through the pine-
scatters flowers as though a dream
How much longer will I have to play
until my heart is quiet again?

(Translated by Frank Hoff, in Blasdel 1988:81)

Two other poems in Kangin shû use the shakuhachi with two universal themes:

177 Kouta

My shakuhachi is blameless yet
I toss it at the pillow.
It makes a sound katari as it hits
the wood rim,
Yet even the sound does not make it less
lonely nor less sad
to sleep alone.

276 Kouta

I blow you while I wait
I blow you later in my disappointment too-
Worthless Shakuhachi!

(Translated by Frank Hoff, in Blasdel 1989:81)

Other references to the shakuhachi during this period in Japanese history will be discussed separately in the following section as evidence of the connection between the shakuhachi and Buddhism.

3.2.2 The Shakuhachi and Buddhism in the Middle Ages

Although few specifics are known about the shakuhachi between the 13th and 16th centuries, evidence of the instrument’s association with Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, can already be detected during this period. One of the earliest references to this association is found in the book Kojidan (, 1215), and is repeated in Taigenshô three centuries later (Kurihara 1918:53-54; Kamisangô 1974:10). Both state that the Buddhist priest Jikaku Taishi Ennin (, 794-864), who is credited with bringing the shômyô () chant of the Tendai () sect from China, performed the chant “Inzei no Amida Kyo” () on the shakuhachi due to a weak voice. Harich-Schneider (1973:315) also states that Ennin “used the practical method of playing Chinese hymns on a shakuhachi in order to transmit the melodies correctly”, but does not specify her source. Kamisangô (1974:10) points out that though there is no proof of Jikaku Ennin actually doing this, in as much as both references to him were written well after he lived, the fact of an early association existing between the shakuhachi and Buddhism cannot be denied.

In this context, it should be noted again that in Taigenshô we are told that Toyohara no Kazuaki (, d.1441), the great-great grandfather of the author of Taigenshô, was a skilled shakuhachi player. Kazuaki’s teacher, Toyohara no Atsuaki (), also taught Zôami (, ca.1400) (Kamisangô 1974:10), a central figure in the development of nô drama who was strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism. Although thhis is only indirect evidence of the connection between Buddhism and the shakuhachi, it does suggest the pervasive influence Buddhism has had for centuries on many of the performing arts in Japan, of which the shakuhachi is one.

A very important historical figure of the time who had a much more apparent connection with the shakuhachi is the Zen priest, Ikkyû, mentioned above in his capacity as a poet. Ikkyû clearly states in his poetry, in particular in the collection Kyôunshû (), the role of the shakuhachi in a spiritual context as an instrument “that urges cognition” (Blasdel 1984:215). Himself enlightened by sound (in this case the call of a crow), he seemed to have had difficulty communicating to others the enlightening quality of sound in the shakuhachi. In the last line of one poem, he lamented, “No one understands the wondrous tone of the shakuhachi”. In another called “Shakuhachi”, he referred to himself as a barbarian blowing fruitlessly on his flute (Blasdel 1984:216). The following is one of Ikkyû’s poems about an earlier shakuhachi-playing priest named Tonami:

The incomparable Tonami, who roams the heavens and
the earth
Playing the shakuhachi; one feels the unseen worlds
In all the universe there is only this song
Our flute player pictured here.

(Translation by Blasdel 1984:216)

This poem clearly shows the importance Ikkyû placed on the playing of the shakuhachi. It also expresses one of the central tenets of later shakuhachi devotees, that of ichion jôbutsu (), that is, the attainment of Buddhahood is inherent in a single sound, “the only song in the universe”. The relationship between the shakuhachi and Zen Buddhism becomes even more evident in the centuries following Ikkyû, especially during the Edo period (see below, p.110 and pp.201203).

Printed on the published score of “Murasakino Reibo” (), one of the pieces in the Chikuho ryû repertoire of Fuke pieces, is the footnote that this particular piece has been transmitted through the centuries from Ikkyû himself. Though Murasakino is an area in which Ikkyû was said to have lived, there is no evidence either proving or disproving the connection between this piece and Ikkyû.

Besides the poetry of Ikkyû, one of the earliest concrete indications of an association between the shakuhachi and Buddhism is a scroll drawing by Shôkei (, also known as Kei Shoki ), a priest at the temple Kenchôji () during the Muromachi period. The scroll is said to have been painted sometime between 1469 and 1487, the dates during which Shôkei was at Kenchôji (Seyama and Tukitani 1990:9,13), and thus predates both Taigenshô and Nanajûichiban shokunin uta awase by about twenty-five years. It is entitled “Rôan suiteki ga” (), translated as “Picture of Rôan Playing the Flute” (illustration 5). Above the drawing is an ode to Rôan, which is dated 1477. The drawing is of a wandering monk, complete with bedroll, playing an end-blown flute while apparantly walking. The number of fingerholes in the flute depicted in the drawing is unclear.

Rôan (also written , read Roan), though quite possibly a legendary character, figures prominently in a number of sources, written in the early Edo period, of the origins of the shakuhachi as an instrument used in a Buddhist context (Ueno 1984:159-162). Rôan, said to have been a foreigner and a friend of Ikkyû, is often credited with either bringing the hitoyogiri tradition to Japan, or founding the komusô tradition, or both.

Illustration 5
“Picture of Rôan Playing the Flute”
(in Ueno 1984:161)

Illustration 6
Komusô in Sanjûniban shokunin awase uta (in Ueno 1984:205)

Tanabe (1963:147-149 and 1964:299) claims that the hitoyogiri was brought from the Fuzhou province (, J. Fukushû) of southern China in the mid-Muromachi era (1469-1487) by the Zen Buddhist priest Rôan who, with the encouragement of Ikkyû, made religious pilgrimages while playing his flute.

In his Edo period book Yôshûfushi (, 1691), Kurokawa Dôyû () claims that Rôan was at Kyûkôan (), a hermitage in the Uji district near where Ikkyû was living, and that the two became friends and fellow shakuhachi players. Kurokawa further claims that Rôan took the name ‘Fûketsu dôsha’ (, Person of the Way of the Wind and Holes), and was the first komusô. Virtually the same thing can be read in the following books: Shiojiri (, 1711-1716) by Amano Sadakage (), Zoku Edo Sunago Onkomeisekishi (, 1735) by Kikuoka Senryô (), Hakubutsu Sen (, 1770) by Yamazaki Ransai () and Shûi Miyakomeishozue (, 1786) by Akisato Shunpuku () (Ueno 1984:161). The annals of the komusô temple in Kyoto, Myôanji (, also Meianji), maintain that Rôan was in fact the founder of the temple, and thus was the same person as Kyochiku Zenji () (Kamisangô 1974:11; Seyama and Tukitani 1990:13). Despite the abundant references to Rôan in the Edo period, there is no mention of him in sources contemporary with him other than the ode written above the “Rôan suiteki ga”.

One cannot assume that Shôkei’s drawing is an actual protrait of Rôan, especially as there is little proof that Rôan ever existed. On the other hand, though the drawing may not actually portray Rôan, it is nonetheless a drawing of a shakuhachi-playing Buddhist monk. Assuming that the drawing was not just a figment of Shôkei’s imagination, it indicates a tradition of shakuhachi-playing mendicant priests in Japan that is more than five hundred years old.


In the mid-16th century collection of poetry and illustrations entitled Sanjûniban shokunin uta awase ( ca. 1539) is a poem entitled “Komosô” (). Two lines in the poem read:

“Hanazakari fuku tomo dareka itofubeki
Kaze ni wa aranu komo no shakuhachi”

“Amidst spring flowers who should care
that the wind blows?
It is not the wind, but the shakuhachi
of the komo”.

The accompanying critique states: “Komosô no sanmai…kisen no monko ni yorite shakuhachi o fuku hoka ni wa betsu no waza naki mono ya” (): “The komosô are absorbed in visiting the houses of both rich and poor, begging and playing shakuhachi – that is all they can do” (translations by Blasdel 1988:82).

This is the first reference to komosô (), beggar priests who played the shakuhachi. These mendicant shakuhachi players are the immediate predecessors to the komusô () of the Edo period (see below, pp.102110). The term komosô comes from the word komo ), a woven straw mat used by beggars as protection from the elements. Kamisangô lists a number of words that have been used to refer to such beggar priests in Japan, for example, boro (), boroboro, boronji, bonji () and kanji (), all of which imply a sense of religious poverty, with somewhat more emphasis on the poverty than religion. These beggar priests are mentioned in the fourteenth century collection of essays by Yoshida Kenkô (, 1282-1350) entitled Tsurezure gusa (, “Essays in Idleness”), but not as playing the shakuhachi.


Two words, one in the above poem and one its commentary, tell us something about the komosô of that time. First of all, in the title, the characters usually used to write the word ‘komosô’ (, ‘straw mat priest’) are not used. As mentioned above, these characters emphasize the beggar more than the priest. In the title to this poem, the characters ko (emptiness) and mo (illusion) are used instead of komo (straw mat), conveying a much greater sense of other-worldliness and spirituality. Secondly, the word sanmai , translated by Blasdel as “absorbed in” is, in fact, the Sanscrit word samdhi, and has the fuller meaning of “a perfect state of spiritual concentration” (Masuda ed. 1983:1437). As Blasdel (1988:83) comments, the above two words indicate that by the time of the writing of the poem, the komosô “were not just Japanese Middle Ages’ equivalents to wandering hippies, but were actually involved in Buddhist disciplines”.

Illustrating the above poem in Sanjûniban shokunin uta awase is a drawing of a komosô playing a shakuhachi while seated cross-legged, his straw mat or komo and a circular food container at his back (illustration 6). Little can be seen as to the type of instrument being used. Ueno (1984:205), in an attempt to classify the instrument in the drawing, claims that it is a long (, chôkan) shakuhachi, that is, an instrument longer than the standard 1.8 shaku (about 54 cm.). In fact, chôkan were and continue to be used to perform shakuhachi pieces associated with Buddhism, low tones produced by these instruments being considered conducive to meditation. It is easy to conjecture that the komusô inherited from the earlier komosô not only a similar name, lifestye and the religious practice of flute-playing, but a similar instrument as well.

Nevertheless, one cannot classify the instrument of the komosô by the length of the shakuhachi in the drawing mentioned above, nor can one conclude any relationship between the types of instruments used by the komosô and the komusô, other than that they were both shakuhachi. The shakuhachi in the drawing is, for example, of similar length in proportion to the body of the performer as a gagaku shakuhachi in a drawing in the 12th century scroll Shinzei kogakuzu () (illustration 2), even though all of the extant gagaku shakuhachi are less than 1.8 shaku in length. Furthermore, the inaccurate placement of the hands (much too high in relation to the length) makes suspect the accuracy of the artist in portraying any dimension of the flute, including length and diameter. Other attempts at classifying the various shakuhachi appearing in historical sources over the centuries are discussed below.

3.2.3 Classification of shakuhachi of the Middle Ages

The shakuhachi instruments of the eras prior to the 13th century reference in the Kyôkunshô are considered by a number of Japanese scholars to differ from the shakuhachi found in references of the next three or four centuries (Kamisangô 1974; Ueno 1984; Tukitani et al. 1991). Chikazane’s reference is thought of as the first to indicate this difference. The earlier, pre-Chikazane instruments are called gagaku shakuhachi. The shakuhachi of the middle ages are frequently referred to in general as chûsei shakuhachi () by these and other scholars, who further classify the instruments mentioned in the sources of this period using such terms as hitoyogiri, tempuku and proto-Fuke shakuhachi.

Reasons given for these classifications are differences in the construction of the instrument, in the music performed on it and in the social classes who played it. The difference in construction, i.e., the reduction of the number of fingerholes from six to five that is assumed to have occurred sometime during or after the Kamakura era, is given particular importance by these scholars. In some cases, the reduction of bamboo nodes from three to one is also noted.

Kamisangô (1974:10) states, “In contrast to the shakuhachi used in gagaku, the shakuhachi of the Middle Ages was five-holed” (trans. by Blasdel 1988:77). Kamisangô also quotes from what he calls the Boro no shuki (, Handbook of Boro Monks), written in 16286, which states that the shakuhachi of the komosô had five holes and three nodes, i.e., not a 6 hole gagaku shakuhachi. Tukitani, et al. (1991:4) states “The syakuhati of the middle ages can be thought of as being, in general, instruments with one node and five finger holes (hitoyogiri), with flutes with three nodes and five finger holes (tempuku and an early huke syakuhati) existing as well”. Kishibe states that the Nara period shakuhachi disappeared in the Heian period. He further asserts that in the Muromachi period (ca.1392-1568) another flute from China, the hsiao, was brought to Japan and modified into the hitoyogiri, which “was first favored by mendicant friars and later came into fashion among the lower class Samurai and merchants” (Kishibe 1984:79).

6. There is some controversy concerning the name of this document (Tukitani 1985).

In fact, there is little evidence for the clear-cut differentiation between shakuhachi existing in the middle ages and the shakuhachi of the preceding eras suggested by Tukitani and Kamisangô, and no evidence at all to back up Kishibe’s claims. The Kyôkunshô reference above does point to a diffusion of the instrument both in terms of the social classes that used it and the type of music performed on it. It should be remembered, however, that sources before the Kyôkunshô prove only that the shakuhachi was indeed found in the Imperial court of Nara and Heian Japan. The lack of any reference to the shakuhachi being used by other social classes is not proof that it did not occur; the instrument may well have been played by other classes of Japanese people before the Kamakura era.

Also, the shakuhachi was still performed by the nobility as late as the mid-14th century (see above). Though the type and number of fingerholes of the shakuhachi used by the nobility at this late date is unknown, it is just as likely that it was similar to the six-hole gagaku shakuhachi of earlier centuries as it was a five-hole shakuhachi.

On the other hand, though there is documentation of the shakuhachi being played by nobility well into the Kamakura era, it is not known what type of shakuhachi they used. There is no evidence of a six-hole shakuhachi being used later than the Heian period. In the intervening eight hundred years between the 7th or 8th century, the date of the instruments preserved in the Shôsôin and Hôryûji, and the early 16th century, with the illustrations found in Taigenshô, there appears to be no indication of the number of fingerholes of any of the instruments mentioned in the historical sources of the time.

In any case, the illustrations found in Taigenshô of shakuhachi with five holes do mark a change in construction, from the six holes and three nodes of the gagaku shakuhachi to an instrument with five fingerholes and one bamboo node. Likewise, the Kyokunshô reference indicates a change in the function of the instrument and social circles in which it was played. Such references as Kyôkunshô and Taigenshô do not shed any light, however, on the question of exactly when and how the changes in construction, social standing and function did occur, nor does any source of the period point with certainty to the clear-cut change that is implied by the terms gagaku shakuhachi and chûsei shakuhachi.

The sketches of shakuhachi in Taigenshô illustrate the confusion that can occur in the arbitrary classification of an historical instrument. Kamisangô (1974:11) states that as the flutes pictured in Taigenshô have five fingerholes and one bamboo node, they are hitoyogiri because, of the various types of shakuhachi that exist today, only the hitoyogiri has the same number of fingerholes (five) and bamboo nodes (one). Ueno (1984:130) also writes that the Taigenshô shakuhachi were clearly the same thing as the hitoyogiri of later eras. Tukitani, et al., (1991:4) states that the the shape of the Taigenishô shakuhachi is distinctly that of the hitoyogiri.

Kamisangô (1974:11) continues by clarifying that the Taigenshô shakuhachi are in fact only hitoyogiri in a broad sense. Two reasons are given as to why they are not ‘true hitoyogiri’. Firstly, according to Kamisangô, the term did not exist at the time. This assumption is questionable, however, because, though the term hitoyogiri is not found in Taigenshô, it is used, or at least strongly implied, in poetry that Ikkyû composed well before Taigenshô was written (see above p.77.)

The second reason Kamisangô gives for not considering the Taigenshô shakuhachi to be true hitoyogiri is their being drawn in at least five different lengths. In contrast, the hitoyogiri found in later sources as well as the instrument that is today known as a hitoyogiri, are always in one pitch only (ôshiki, A). Kamisangô elaborates by stating, “In Japan, the term ‘hitoyogiri’ is often used to refer to all the shakuhachi flutes of the Middle Ages, regardless of pitch. Strictly speaking, however, ‘hitoyogiri’ indicates only the A shakuhachi of the mid-16th century on.” (trans. Blasdel 1988:85). In short, according to this classification, the Taigenshô shakuhachi are not exactly shakuhachi nor are they hitoyogiri as these terms are narrowly defined today, but are both shakuhachi and hitoyogiri in more general terms.

Rather than attempting to classify the type of vertical flute that is illustrated in Taigenshô, suffice it to say that author Chikuzane calls it shakuhachi, and that it differs from the shakuhachi of the Nara era preserved in Shôsôin and at Hôryûji in the number of both fingerholes and nodes. Likewise, it is safe to conclude from the written and pictorial sources of the time that changes in the social class, the function and the construction of the shakuhachi did occur between the 12th and 16th centuries, during which time “a rather complex situation can be seen” (Tukitani, et al., 1991:4).

In contrast to Taigenshô, a number of sources in the Edo period (1600-1868) and later use the term hitoyogiri. By then, a variant of the shakuhachi instrument known exclusively by the latter term had become quite popular. A discussion of the hitoyogiri as depicted in the sources of the period, as well as that of another type of shakuhachi of the period, the tempuku, will begin the following section.

3.3 Types of Shakuhachi in the Edo Period

From the Edo period and onwards, the types of shakuhachi instruments, the music performed on them and the kinds of people playing them can be seen more clearly than during the preceding centuries of the middle ages. In a discussion of the shakuhachi during the Edo period, it is therefore expedient to make use of the terms for the different forms of the instrument. For example, the use of the term hitoyogiri is questionable in a discussion of the shakuhachi instruments of the middle ages. Such is not the case after the early 17th century, when a type of shakuhachi distinct from other forms of the instrument and specifically called hitoyogiri came into vogue (Kurihara 1918:61-79; Kamisangô 1974:12-13; Ueno 1984:159-197; Kishibe 1984:79; Tukitani et al., 1991:4-5).

By the end of the 19th century, the hitoyogiri form of the shakuhachi had virtually died out, being supplanted by the form of the shakuhachi called the fuke shakuhachi. This instrument was used by the komusô (, ‘priest of nothingness’) and is the predecessor of the modern shakuhachi (Kamisangô 1974:12). A third type of shakuhachi, the tempuku, existed in the Edo period, about which little is known but which still survives in the hands of a few enthusiasts. The following history of the shakuhachi during the Edo period begins with a short history of the hitoyogiri.

3.3.1 The Hitoyogiri

As stated earlier, the hitoyogiri literally means ‘cut from [bamboo with] one node’. Today the term refers to a shakuhachi instrument with five fingerholes, made from a piece of bamboo with only one node, and of a length that produces the pitch A, typically about 33.5 cm. The circumference of a typical hitoyogiri is approx. 10 cm. Because of this relatively small circumference, as well as the small size of the blowing edge itself (illustration five), it is extremely difficult to execute what is called the meri-kari technique. This technique lowers or raises the pitch by changing the distance and the angle between the lips and the blowing edge, and is essential in performing both modern pieces and pieces that have been handed down by the komusô for centuries. In a similar fashion, the size of the fingerholes of the hitoyogiri, quite small in comparison with the modern shakuhachi, makes finger positions incorporating partially covered holes impractical. Such finger positions are also essential in performing both modern and traditional shakuhachi pieces.

Shakuhachi made with only one bamboo node and five fingerholes have existed at least from the beginning of the 16th century, as evidenced by Taigenshô. These early ‘one-node’ shakuhachi, however, came in various lengths, in contrast to the standardized length implied by the term as it is used today. According to Kamisangô (1974:12), the standardization of the length and thereby the pitch of the fundamental occurred towards the end of the 16th century. Tukitani et al., (1991:5) state that this standardization occurred from the end of the 17th century.

Sources before the mid-17th century such as Taigenshô and Tanteki hiden fu (, Secretly transmitted scores for the short flute), written in 1608 and attributed to Ômori Sôkun (, 1570-1625) do not use the term hitoyogiri, even though the instruments being discussed are clearly made with a single node. The term is implied, however, in poetry dating from the late 15th century, and is first used, again in poetry, in the late 16th century (see above p.77).

According to Tukitani et al., (1991:4), the earliest use of the term hitoyogiri no shakuhachi to denote a distinct form of the instrument in a written source other than poetry is found in Shichiku shoshinshû (, Collection [of pieces] for Beginners for Strings and Bamboo), a teach-yourself book for hitoyogiri, shamisen and koto written in 1664 by Nakamura Sôsan (). It is also the oldest Japanese publication of printed musical scores. In his book, Sôsan differenciates between the hitoyogiri tradition and a longer komusô shakuhachi (, i.e., fuke shakuhachi). Unlike the one node hitoyogiri, the latter instrument was made from a thick piece of bamboo with three nodes. Sôsan’s need to differentiate between the shakuhachi no hitoyogiri and the fuke shakuhachi (, the instrument of the Fuke sect and predecessor to the modern shakuhachi) proves that the latter existed at least before 1664 (Tukitani et al 1991:5).

Shichiku shoshinshû records that the hitoyogiri tradition was founded by a man named Sôsa Rojin (, ‘Old man Sôsa’, also ). Sôsa is similarly credited in two books written by Murata Sôsei ( ), Dôshô Kyoku (, 1669, Pieces for the Dôshô, [‘dôshô’ being an alias for the hitoyogiri]) and Ikanobori (, 1687, a collection of hitoyogiri pieces). None of these three sources gives any information about Sôsa (Kurihara 1918:63). Ikanobori was later published in a larger publication Shichiku Taizen () in 16997 (Nihon koten ongaku bunken kaidai 1987:174). All three publications include folk songs, dance accompaniments and ensemble pieces for the hitoyogiri, koto and shamisen, and indicate the popularity enjoyed by the hitoyogiri at the time (Kamisangô 1974:12).

7. The publication Tôryûshichiku taizen (, 1692) may predate by seven years the extant publication Shichiku taizen (Nihon koten ongaku bunken kaidai 1987:174).

Tanteki hiden fu (, Secretly transmitted scores for the short flute), written by Ômori Sôkun (, 1570-1625) in 1608, predates Shichiku shoshinshû by over half a century and, as the oldest extant book on the hitoyogiri, is very important both historically and in terms of transmission of the shakuhachi tradition (Kamisangô 1974:12; Tukitani et al., 1991:4). Sôkun is credited with popularizing the instrument amongst the general public, though he never used the term hitoyogiri. He also wrote a fingering chart entitled Shakuhachi Tekazu Mokuroku (, Inventory of fingerings for the shakuhachi, 1624).

In Tanteki hiden fu, Sôkun uses a notation system with the katakana fu, ho, u, (), etc. The notation is thought to be the oldest documented notation system for the shakuhachi family of instruments (HHJ:888), though other shakuhachi notation systems are likely to have existed in much earlier times, possibly in connection with the gagaku shakuhachi (see discussion of Sadayasu, p.70). Sôkun’s notation is similar to shakuhachi notation systems still in use today, a primary example being that of the Chikuho ryû () (Hirano et al., ed. 1989:333).


Tukitani et al., (1991:4) state that during the middle ages, the hitoyogiri was used mainly by Buddhist priests and hermits of samurai birth. Sôkun himself is a prime example of the latter. Shichiku shoshinshû tells us that Sôkun was from a very old samurai family, being related to Ômori Hikoshichi (), a retainer of the first Ashikaga Shôgun Takauji (initially , later changed to , 1305-1358). Sôkun was retainer to the important general Oda Nobunaga (, 1534-1582). After his lord’s death Sôkun withdrew from public life and became a hermit, devoting himself to the study of the hitoyogiri (Kurihara 1918:70-71). As further evidence, Kamisangô (1974:12) points to the names of persons said to have lived during the middle ages and listed in the three hitoyogiri books mentioned above. These names are associated with priests and bushi (, persons of samurai birth), and have an aura of hermitages about them.

Pictorial evidence of the hitoyogiri supports at least the use of the instrument by persons of high social standing. A drawing of a hitoyogiri practice session in Ikanobori and another drawing of a hitoyogiri performance in Jinrin kummôzu shû (, Drawings of Professionals, 1689) both show well-groomed samurai, some wearing swords, the symbol of their status. From the tatami mat rooms in which they are playing can be seen examples of the sculptored trees of the high-maintenance Japanese garden (illustration 7).

The society in which the hitoyogiri was found contrasts sharply with that of the shakuhachi playing itinerant street performers, called komosô (, ‘straw mat priest’) at the time. As discussed above (p.84), the komosô were beggar priests and at the opposite end of the social ladder from Sôkun’s class. A drawing in the Kanden kôhitsu (, by Ban Kôkei, 1733-1806) shows a komosô whose simple dress and long, rough hairstyle are accentuated by the straw bedroll seen tucked under his arm (illustration 8).

Illustration 7
Hitoyogiri performance and practice session

(in Ueno 1984:194)

Illustration 8
Komosô (straw mat priest) (in Ueno 1984:216)

Unlike Ueno’s interpretation (see above p.85) of the illustration of a komosô in Sanjuniban shokunin uta awase, it is much easier to accept Kamisangô’s assessment of the Kanden kôhitsu drawing (1974:12). Kamisangô believes that the proportions of the instrument depicted in the latter drawing is made of a thick piece of bamboo more like the fuke shakuhachi of the later komusô (, priest of nothingness), rather than the thinner, shorter hitoyogiri.

Despite being played by two different social classes, a number of similarities can be found in the notated music of the two instruments, suggesting to Tukitani et al., (1991:5) some kind of musical exchange. For example, the pieces in the Shichiku shoshinshû are divided into two types: rangyoku (), either pieces accompanying vocal or ensemble pieces performed with other instruments, and te (), solo hitoyogiri pieces. These two categories of pieces correspond exactly to the two classifications of fuke shakuhachi pieces used after the Meiji period (1868-1912), gaikyoku () and honkyoku ().

More importantly, titles of pieces can be found that are common to both the hitoyogiri and the fuke shakuhachi. Tukitani cites the following as examples of titles of pieces found in both hitoyogiri and fuke shakuhachi repertoires: the numerous “Shishi” () pieces such as “Shishi no kyoku” (), “Azuma jishi” (), “Kumoi jishi” (), “Sakai jishi” (, also written “Sakae jishi” ), etc.; the “Sugagaki” () pieces such as “Sanya sugagaki” (), “Koro sugagaki” () and “Akita sugagaki” (); the title “Rinzetsu” (); and finally pieces with the word “Reibo” () or “Renbo” () appended to the title, such as “Renbo nagashi” ().

According to Tukitani et al., (1991:6), who believes that the melodies of the hitoyogiri changed over a long period of time due to the transmission processes, the same sort of correspondence cannot be found in the melodies of pieces of the two traditions. She lists, but does not give evidence of, the following three ways in which the hitoyogiri pieces differ from the fuke shakuhachi pieces, even those of the same name. Firstly, the mode or scale changed from the anhemitonic pentatonic ‘ritsu’ () scale, (e.g., D, E, G, A, C) to the ‘miyako bushi’ () scale, which has semitones, e.g., (D, E-flat, G, A-flat, C). Secondly, the hitoyogiri pieces have a discernable beat while the fuke shakuhachi pieces characteristically have free rhythms. Finally the performance techniques of the latter pieces are more complex than those of the former. In addition, some of the melodies themselves seem to have changed. This is not to say that musical interchange did not occur at all between the hitoyogiri and fuke shakuhachi traditions, but that the interchange that did occur is manifested elsewhere (Tukitani et al., 1991:6).

The hitoyogiri experienced its greatest popularity during the early Edo period, a time noted for its artistic freedom. Surprisingly, very few people were performing it by the middle of the 18th century, and by the early 19th century the tradition had almost become extinct. Dispite prolonged and concerted efforts in the 1820s and 1830s by Edo physician Kamiya Juntei () to emulate Sôkun’s success in popularizing the instrument two centuries earlier, the hitoyogiri was never again played by more than a handful of enthusiasts. The eventual demise of the instrument is related to the inability of the hitoyogiri player to perform the meri-kari and the partially covered fingering techniques mentioned earlier. Such techniques became essential in playing pieces for the shakuhachi, especially after the scale or mode changed in much of the music performed in Japan between the mid-16th and mid-17th centuries (Kamisangô 1974:12-14).

3.3.2 Tempuku

The most enigmatic, least known and least discussed of all of the end-blown bamboo flutes of Japan is the tempuku. Kurihara, in his book Shakuhachi Shikô (, Shakuhachi History, 1918), does not mention the tempuku. Ueno (1984:227-233) devotes a mere six pages to the instrument in his three hundred and thirty-three page book Shakuhachi no rekishi (), compared, for example, with forty-eight pages to the hitoyogiri. Malm (1959:137) devotes only eleven words to the tempuku in a section on the biwa, and does not refer to it at all in the section on shakuhachi, other than including it in a photograph of types of shakuhachi.

The tempuku is considered a member of the shakuhachi family because its mouthpiece is similar to all other types of shakuhachi, that is, the gagaku shakuhachi, hitoyogiri, fuke shakuhachi and modern shakuhachi. But the greatest variation in mouthpiece construction among these instruments is found in the tempuku. The blowing edge is made not only by filing the outside of a portion of the top edge of the bamboo, as with the shakuhachi, but also by filing slightly on the inside of the bamboo as well, as with the Chinese dongxiao (see illustration 1, p.61). Kamisangô states that the mouthpiece is the same shape as the dongxiao (1974:11), but this is not entirely correct, as the outer edge of the tempuku is also filed away at the blowing edge, which is not the case with the Chinese flute. The five fingerholes of the tempuku are very small, even smaller than those of the hitoyogiri. The fingerholes are positioned so that the distances between them increase progressively from the lower to the higher holes; this too occurs with the hitoyogiri, but to a lesser degree. The tempuku is about 30 cm long and is made from a piece of bamboo of the species called in Japan hotei chiku (). It has three nodes, the same number as some of the early fuke shakuhachi. The circumference is much smaller than either of the latter two instruments, being approximately 7-8 cm.

Illustration 9
Drawings of tempuku performances

(in Tempuku 1986:xi, 153, 175)

The tempuku seems to have reached its zenith in popularity in the latter 16th century in the province of Satsuma () on the island of Kyûshû (). In the book Tempuku ( 1986, ed. Tempuku dôkôkai; a collection of essays and articles by various authors) are found illustrations drawn in a style typical of the Edo period (illustration 9). Though no explanations of or references to these illustrations are given, they show members of the samurai class playing what appear to be tempuku together with the satsuma biwa, another instrument popular in the province (Tempuku dôkôkai 1986:xi,xii,127,174). The first reference to the name tempuku might be in the Nippo jisho (), an encyclopedia published in 1603 (Tukitani 1986:4). There is also the story of Kitahara Hizen no Kami (), the highest ranking retainer of the Shimazu () clan. Captured during the famous battle of Sekigahara in 1600 by the Tokugawa () forces, Kitahara requested permission to play his tempuku one more time before being executed. Permission was granted. Kitahara’s performance so moved his executioners that his life was spared (Shirao 1986:18-19).

Shirao (1986:120-126) lists ten early references to the instrument, including the Kitahara reference. The earliest of these references is the Nippo jisho (, 1603), mentioned above. In a personal communication, Tukitani stated that in the edition, the word ‘tempuku’ is translated into the standard Japanese language by using the characters ‘tempuku’ (), which were taken from a standard Japanese language dictionary. It is possible that at the time of publication of the original edition, these characters were not used in the dialect of Japanese of Nagasaki, the place of publication.

It is widely accepted that the last performer of the tempuku was Ôta Jôichi (, 1888-1957), who was also a skilled biwa player (Ueno 1984:227; Shirao 1986:4). Ôta taught only seven short pieces to Shirao Kunitoshi (, 1920- ), who makes the instrument and who both Ueno (1984:227) and Kamisangô (1974:11) claim is the sole remaining member of the tradition. If this is the case, then Shirao’s seven pieces are all that remain of the traditional repertoire of the tempuku. Their titles, traditionally written only in the Japanese syllabary katakana () rather than in kanji () as is customary, are as follows: “Shirabe” (), “Anoyama” (), “Tsutsune” (), “Takane” (), “Ichiyana” (), “Tennoshiyama” () and “Senpesan” (). 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. The lyrics to the songs are still known but the melodies are not; it is not known whether or not the tempuku pieces are in fact these melodies or just the accompaniments to the songs (Tukitani et al. 1991:7).

As with the hitoyogiri, a connection between the tempuku and the fuke shakuhachi, the predecessor to the modern shakuhachi, can be seen in two ways. Firstly, a connection can be seen in the two categories of pieces used to describe their repertoires. Both the tempuku and the fuke shakuhachi were used to play pieces that were strictly classified as either solo pieces or ensemble pieces. Secondly, 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.

For example, there is no specific piece in the fuke shakuhachi repertoire entitled “Takane” as there is in the tempuku repertoire. Instead, the word takane (, literally ‘high sound’) denotes a particular section found within a number of pieces in the fuke shakuhachi repertoire. “Shirabe” (, ‘searching’, ‘melody’, ‘tuning’) is either the title of or part of the title of a number of fuke shakuhachi pieces as well as the name of a section of some pieces, which acts as a prelude or introductory section to the main body of those pieces (Tukitani et al., 1991:7).

Finally, Tukitani 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” (, “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 tempuku tradition was almost entirely an oral one. There are no traditional scores for the tempuku in existence, though modern transcriptions of the remaining pieces exist, in both staff notation and traditional shakuhachi notation. Despite the dearth of traditional pieces and of teachers and performers, there exists in Kyûshû an active society of tempuku enthusiasts, maintained largely through the efforts of Shirao. In 1986, the society published a book entitled, simply, Tempuku. It includes the writings of a number of authors and is the best single source on the instrument. The expression, ‘old traditions never die out completely in Japan’ appears to hold true in the case of this enigmatic instrument of southern Japan.

3.4 From Komosô () to Komusô ()

Three developments occurred in the shakuhachi tradition during the early Edo period. Firstly, the life of low class flute-playing beggar priests, the komosô (, ‘straw mat priest’), was embraced by many of the increasing number of rônin who had been made masterless by the consolidation of power through the wars of the Tokugawa military govenment (Kamisangô 1974:16).

Secondly, the term for the wandering flute-playing priests changed from the lowly komosô (, straw mat priest) to the Zen Buddhist inspired komusô (, priest of nothingness)8. The latter name may have been favoured by the former samurai who swelled the ranks of the mendicant flute players as a means of differentiating themselves from their predecessors, the komosô (, straw mat priest), who were typically of lower birth (see above p.84).

8. It is common practice, especially in the literature of Zen Buddhism, to replace one of the ideograms usually used to form a common word with another ideogram of the same pronunciation but of an entirely different meaning, or to reverse the order of the ideograms. Either method frequently gives new meaning and insight to a commonplace word or situation. The 13th century Zen master, Dôgen, was especially fond of this technique. See Kim (1985).

Finally, the shakuhachi instrument itself changed from the short, thin flute of the komosô (, straw mat priest), made from a non-root-bearing end piece of bamboo, to a longer, thicker flute made from bamboo bearing roots. The number of nodes may have also changed from three to five at this time (Kamisangô 1974:14). Reasons for these changes may have included a desire of the ex-samurai komusô (, priest of nothingness) to have their instruments double as effective weapons, and a need for some prominent symbol of their disassociation from the earlier lowly komosô (, straw mat priest), who appear in illustrations of the period performing on a hitoyogiri-like small bamboo flute. These developments will be described more fully below.

There are several literary references to the komosô (, straw mat priest), the mendicant flute players of the 15th and 16th centuries, even after the beginning of the Edo period (1600-1868). In a 17th century annotated edition (1621) of Yoshida Kenkô’s (, 1282-1350) 14th century Tsuregure kusa (, Essays in Idleness), Hayashi Razan (, 1583-1657) refers to Yoshida’s term boroboro (, literally ‘ragged’, i.e., beggar priests) in a footnote, stating that, “Lately, those called komosô (, straw mat priest) do not look like priests nor do they appear to be laymen. They carry swords and play the shakuhachi. With a straw mat on their backs, they walk down the road, stop before people’s gates and beg for things. This is the tradition that has come down from the boroboro” (Ueno 1984:206).

Ueno (1984:206) points out that Hayashi’s description of the komosô (, straw mat priest) is identical to that in a mid-16th century collection of poetry, Sanjûniban shokunin uta awase ( ca. 1539), except that in the later reference, they were carrying swords, while in the earlier reference they were not. The implication of Ueno’s observation is that the ranks of the later komosô (, straw mat priest) of the early Edo period had evolved from the low class beggar monks of the previous centuries to persons still of a rough look, but presumably from the higher class of the bushi or samurai, since they alone had the right to carry swords.

A mid-Edo period drawing of a komosô (, straw mat priest) can be found in Kanden kôhitsu (), written by Ban Kôkei (, 1733-1806). The drawing shows a man with long hair and his komo (, straw mat) at his side. The flute in his hands appears to be longer and much thicker than the flute of the komosô (, straw mat priest) depicted in the previously mentioned early 16th century drawing, Sanjûniban shokunin uta awase. Kamisangô observes that it certainly does not have the short, thin dimensions of a hitoyogiri (Kamisangô 1974:11), and is closer in appearance to the shakuhachi used by the later komusô (, priest of nothingness).

The term ‘komusô’ (, priest of nothingness) seems to have evolved quite naturally from the earlier, more earthy term ‘komosô’ (, straw mat priest) and is even closer in meaning to the characters used in the 16th century poem Sanjûniban shokunin uta awase for the word ‘komosô’: (priest of emptiness and illusion). In this reference, the word komosô was written with the characters ko (emptiness) and mo (illusion), conveying a much greater sense of other-worldliness and spirituality than the original word komo (straw mat). In the book Keichôkenbunshû (, Collection of information of the Keichô era, completed in 1614) the word komusô is written with the characters (literally ‘old nothingness priest’) (Ueno 1984:206). Ban Kôkei (1733-1806) wrote, “People who play the shakuhachi and beg for rice are called komusô (, priest of nothing) nowadays, but in the collection of poetry Kanjinshô Uta Awase () the characters komosô (, straw mat priest) are used” (Kamisangô 1974:11). These sources indicate that in the early 17th century, the komosô (, straw mat priest) and komusô (, priest of nothingness) were one and the same group of people.

The book Keichôkenbunshû, mentioned above, is the source of the widely reported (Kurihara 1918:180; Malm 1959:157; Kamisangô 1974:14; Sanford 1977:437; Ueno 1984:206; Blasdel 1988:96), but frequently inaccurately told story of the famous Ôtori Itsube (, executed in 1612) meeting a komusô (written , old nothing priest). Used as an example of ribald Edo humour and sensibilities, Malm, Kamisangô, Sanford and Blasdel write that Ôtori insulted a komusô (, priest of nothingness) by taking his shakuhachi and playing it with his rear end. In fact, the original passage as quoted by Ueno (1984:206) states that Ôtori, “taking the shakuhachi from the komusô (, priest of nothingness), turned it upside down and blew into the end ()”, thereby insulting the komusô (, priest of nothingness). The misinterpretation may stem from the use of the ideogragh , which can mean a person’s rear end as well as the end of a pipe (as in kanjiri ), the pipe in this case being the shakuhachi.

The Ôtori story does not end there. What follows the description of Ôtori’s rudeness is historically more important, yet ironically is not mentioned in any of the above references. It is one of the earliest references made by a komusô (, priest of nothingness) to the ninth century Chinese monk Puhua (, J. Fuke). Fuke is the central figure in the Kyotaku denki legend of the origins of the spiritually oriented shakuhachi tradition (see pp.3639), and after whom the religious sect of the komusô (, priest of nothingness), Fuke shû () was named. The komusô (, priest of nothingness) in the above story replied to Ôtori’s insult by saying that in the past he was a fourth generation bushi but now he had become a hermit, leading the life of poverty and destitution. Following in the footsteps of Saint Fuke (), he had become a disciple of the Buddha, and had entered the way of enlightenment.

Another early reference to Fuke can be found in the book Seisuishô (, Waking sleeping laughter) dated 1623, which describes a komosô (, straw mat priest) agreeing to reply to questions directed at him only after being addressed as a Fuke priest ( fukesô). These two references to Fuke indicate that the association of the shakuhachi playing tradition of the komosô (, straw mat priest) with the Chinese priest Fuke and its accompanying spiritual connotations were fairly common knowledge as early as the late 16th or early 17th century (Ueno 1984:206-207). Nakatsuka (1979:260-262) has suggested that the connection between the 9th century Chinese monk Fuke and the Buddhist shakuhachi tradition, as manifested in the komosô (, straw mat priest) and later in the komusô (, priest of nothingness), might have originated with Ikkyû Zenji (1394-1482), one of Japan’s most revered Zen Buddhist priests. Ikkyû’s poetry clearly expresses his fondness for both Fuke and the shakuhachi (see p.77 for examples of Ikkyû’s poetry).

In contrast to the image of the other-worldly, shakuhachi playing mendicant ‘disciple of Buddha’ of the Edo period, are references to extremely worldly qualities possessed by other characters associated with the shakuhachi. A prime example is the story of Karigane Bunshichi (), found in Katabisashi (, 1853). Karigane, a kyôyaku (, literally ‘chivalrous person’, or ‘one who champions the underdog’) from Osaka was skilful at playing the shakuhachi and taught it to all of his followers. Eventually he abandoned performing the shakuhachi, but continued to use it in another way. By changing the length of the instrument, and using the thick root-bearing bamboo, he created an effective weapon with which to fight (Kurihara 1918:185-187). Kamisangô (1974:14) points out that Karigane was beheaded in 1703, one hundred and fifty years before Katabisashi was written, and suggests that the details of this mid-19th century story might therefore be suspect. The essence of the story is nevertheless corroborated by mention in theatrical plays and in novels of the period of the fondness of kyôkyaku for the shakuhachi, and by the existence of the term ‘fighting shakuhachi’ (, kenka shakuhachi).

The growing numbers of shakuhachi-playing wandering monks as well as the phenomenon of the kenka shakuhachi in the early Edo period can be explained in part by the state of Japanese society at that time. The Tokugawa military government consolidated its control over most of the country in the beginning of the 17th century, at the expense of a number of defeated clans and lords. The professional soldiers of the defeated armies frequently became ‘masterless samurai’ (, rônin). As educated members of the highest social class in Japan, for whom work in any other profession but their own would have been unacceptable, the rônin were suddenly without employment and without a purpose to live.

Many of the ever increasing numbers of rônin roaming the country saw no honourable occupation besides begging. Some were attracted to the spiritual path of renunciation as Buddhist monks. Others continued using the skills of their original profession, but illegally as extortionists, thieves and gangsters. The life of the komosô (, straw mat priest) or komusô (, priest of nothingness) appealed to the ronin because, as Sanford (1977:413) points out, it offered elements of all three options, i.e., mendicancy, spirituality and crime. The religious vocation offered a means of supporting oneself while avoiding humiliation, as religious mendicancy had been a respected custom in the East for over a millennium. Furthermore, it offered solace and companionship to those who were sincerely seeking spiritual enlightment. Those of dubious religious sincerity were attracted by the undemanding lifestyle compared to the regimentation of one of the established Buddhist sects. Finally, soliciting alms for the Buddha was a superb cover for those former mercenaries more inclined to extortion than devout charity seeking.

The instrument used by the early komusô (, priest of nothingness) was changed sometime during the early Edo period, though not necessarily by Karigane, mentioned above. The shakuhachi instrument before the 17th century was always made from parts of the bamboo other than the root end. This is true of the 8th century gagaku shakuhachi preserved at Shôsôin, and the types of shakuhachi known as hitoyogiri and tempuku. Shakuhachi made from sections of bamboo having no roots and three nodes seem to be the norm in illustrations depicting the instrument in the hands of komosô (, straw mat priest) and early komusô (, priest of nothingness). As an illustrative example, Kamisangô (1974:14) also cites a rootless, three node pre-fuke shakuhachi in a statue of Ryôen Kyochiku Zenji (), the legendary 13th century founder of Myôanji, one of the major temples of the Fuke sect (see below). As Kyochiku himself is historically doubtful (Nakatsuka 1979:142-143), the historical validity of the shakuhachi depicted in the statue is also questionable.

It is quite plausible that the not infrequent use of shakuhachi as weapons by beggar priests or by kyôkyaku in the early Edo period necessitated a change in construction (Kurihara 1918:179-188; Kamisangô 1974:14; Sanford 1977:428). Sanford (1977:428) also suggests a second reason. As former members of the bushi class, the masterless samurai who joined the ranks of wandering beggar flute players may have attempted to disassociate themselves from the earlier low class ‘straw mat priests’, who seemed to have favoured smaller shakuhachi made of rootless pieces of bamboo, e.g., the hitoyogiri. This same reason could have also been the motivating factor in the changing of the appellation komosô (, straw mat priest) to komusô (, priest of nothingness), the latter name sounding more lofty than the former.

More important than the changes in the name of the shakuhachi playing priests, and in the construction of their shakuhachi, was the establishment in the early 17th century of a religious organization recognized by the bakufu, thus institutionalizing the tradition of the komusô. This organization was called the Fuke sect and is the topic of the following section.

3.5 The Fuke sect

During most of the Edo period, the history of the shakuhachi tradition is dominated by a religious institution called the Fuke sect. Little can be said of the early days of the sect, though its founders appear to have used deception as one means of gaining official recognition. In its heyday, it was not only officially recognized by the bakufu, but also granted a number of highly desirable special privileges. It had three ‘head’ temples, in Edo and in Kyôto, and numerous smaller temples located throughout much of Japan. For a number of political and social reasons, explained below, the 19th century saw the decline and eventual demise of the sect in 1871. Three stages, early history, golden age, and decline and demise, though an arbitrary delineation, serve as a guide to the history of the most important institution of the entire shakuhachi tradition.

3.5.1 The early Fuke sect

In the early part of the Edo period, the mendicant shakuhachi players organized themselves into what became known as the Fuke shû (), a religious sect eventually affiliatated with the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. This sect and its members dominated the shakuhachi tradition until the sect was abolished by the newly established government of the Meiji era (1868-1914). Even today, the lasting influences of the Fuke shû and its members pervade the shakuhachi tradition, particularly the honkyoku tradition. Effects which the lifestyle, philosophy and religious practices of members of the sect have had upon honkyoku can be detected in the pieces as they are performed today.

The origins and early development of the Fuke sect are surrounded by myth and legend, with very few substantiated historical sources. The majority of the existing sources, dating from the latter 17th century, are documents written by the government and addressed to the Fuke sect, and the written replies of the Fuke sect to those documents. Lack of evidence concerning the Fuke movement in the early 17th century prevents a definitive description of the early development of the sect.

By some accounts, it would seem remarkable that the Fuke sect was ever conceived or allowed to exist. As mentioned above (p.108), the tendency towards less than lofty aspirations by some of the komosô (, straw mat priest) and early komusô (, priest of nothingness) made it at times difficult for the general populace to differentiate their method of begging for alms from the act of extortion. As a whole, the mendicant shakuhachi players, even the most sincere of them, were not looked upon with respect. Until the Fuke sect was granted official status, writes Sanford (1977:413), the komusô (, priest of nothingness) were merely “a loosely organized fraternity of wandering beggar-minstrels….whose only connection with religion was a very nominal claim to the status of Buddhist lay-brother (, ubasoku), a status that functioned primarily to justify their practice of begging for alms”.

Not all of the rôin were the rough, self-seeking characters typified by kyôyaku such as Karigane Bunshichi. On the contrary, Sanson (1963:57) points out that though the trouble-making rôin receive a great deal of attention in the literature of the time, they were in fact a minority among a group of people belonging to the highest and most educated class of society in Edo Japan. Most of the rôin quietly lived their lives as best they could under their new circumstances, some as instructors or tutors in the various arts of bushidô, or even as small farmers. Other rôin became noted scholars. It is therefore not surprising that some of these people chose the life of the komusô, and developed shakuhachi honkyoku into a highly esoteric and spiritual tradition.

However accurate the two above contrasting images of the early komusô might be, the loose group of begging musicians managed to organize themselves into sixteen sects9 (, ha) throughout the country even before official recognition in 1677 (Nakatsuka 1979:272-273). They also established a number of lodges for use as stopovers during their pilgrimages (Nakatsuka 1979:332, 336). Some of these reststops gradually became more established, becoming much like small temples, with komusô who resided at them on a relatively permanent basis increasing in numbers. Kurihara (1918:124) states that in the beginning of the Tokugawa era there were over 120 komusô temples and sub-temples, and at the end of the Tokugawa era there were still 92 temples, though Sanford (1977:415) believes this to be “a goodly exaggeration”.10 These temples and the komusô who supported them became the organizational foundation of what was to become the Fuke sect.

9. See Blasdel 1988:108-109 for a partial listing of the sects and temples affiliated with them.
10. Sanford was not familar with Kurihara’s book Shakuhachi shikô, even though his secondary sources appear to quote it extensively. Sanford calls Shakuhachi shikô “a traditional source”, and “a late Edo-period work”. Kurihara wrote Shakuhachi shikô in 1918 (Taishô 7), fifty years after the end of the Edo period.

According to Nakatsuka (1979:105), Kamisangô (1974:16) and Sanford (1977:415), many of the komusô of the time began to see the necessity of organizing themselves into an acknowledged religous sect. By doing so, they may have thought that the spiritual practice of the bonefide seekers of enlightenment (themselves) would be facilitated and that the undesirable elements of the komusô movement could be eliminated or at least controlled. They also realized that the achievement of their goals would be determined on a political rather than spiritual level. Therefore, the legitimization of the movement was of the utmost importance. A temple headquarters was one of the primary prerequisites.

There are no surviving historical sources that document the founding of the head temples of the Fuke sect, nor is there clear indication of which temple became the headquarters for the komusô. There are two possibilities as to which temple became the first main temple of the early komusô. One possibility is presented by Kamisangô (1974:16), who writes that the group of komusô instrumental in creating the Fuke sect initially designated the lodge at Shirakawa () in Kyôto, which they called Myôanji (, Temple of Light and Darkness), to be the centre from which they hoped to achieve their goals. Later, in order to circumvent the strict rules of the Edo government against the founding of new temples11, various documents were contrived to create the impression that Myôanji actually came under the jurisdiction of the important Kyôto temple, Kôkokuji. As a sub-temple of an already established temple, Myôanji could claim to be exempt from the prohibition of new temples. Adding further weight to the claim that Myôanji was not a new temple and therefore exempt from the prohibition was the claim that Ryôen Kyochiku Zenji (, also known as Kichiku ) founded Myôanji on July 28, 1298. According to the Kyotaku denki legend, Ryôen was one of Hotto Kokushi’s four main shakuhachi disciples (Nakatsuka 1979:144)).

11. These rules were instigated by the military government of Edo primarily in reaction to uprisings by Christians (Kamisangô 1974:16).

According to Kamisangô (1974:16), the government agreed to acknowledge the Fuke sect on the condition that the headquarters be moved to Edo, where it could be kept more easily under observation and control. The komusô headquarters were duly transferred to two temples located on the outskirts of Edo, Ichigetsuji () located in present day Chiba prefecture, and Reihôji () in western Edo, and both temples opened offices in central Edo.

Sanford (1977:431-432) differs from Kamisangô by stating that Ichigetsuji and Reihôji were the two main temples of the Fuke sect from the beginning. Furthermore, according to Sanford (1977:431), Myôanji, though recognized as one of three major Fuke temples, was merely a sub-temple of Reihôji until as late as 1767, the year that Myôanji was redesignated as a sub-temple of Kôkokuji. In this way, Myôanji could claim a connection with the supposed founder of the Fuke sect, Hotto Kokushi, also the founder of Kôkokuji.

Sanford further states that the claim that Myôanji was founded in 1298 by Ryôen Kyochiku was motivated by the rivalry between Myôanji and the two head temples in Edo. The traditional founder of Ichigetsuji was said to be Kinsen (), the disciple of Pao Fu, who was, with Kyochiku, a disciple of Hotto. The founder of Reihôji was said to be the famous samurai Kusunoki Masakatsu (, fl. c. 1400)12. Thus by becoming a sub-temple of the temple founded by Hotto Kokushi, and itself founded by Hotto’s disciple Kyochiku, Myôanji could claim a lineage which predated both Ichigetsuji and Reihôji, its two rival temples, thus elevating its own status as one of the ‘mother temples’ of the Fuke sect.

12. Sanford gives the characters for Kusunoki as ; the second character appears to be redundant.

As stated above, though there appears to be little evidence that definitively proves which temple was the original ‘main temple’ of the komusô, it should be pointed out that Kamisangô is considered one of Japan’s primary shakuhachi historians, while Sanford is not.

3.5.2 The Keichô no Okitegaki and the Ordinance of 1677

The most important document concerning the founding of the Fuke sect is a government decree known informally as the Keichô no okitegaki (). The formal title of this decree is Gonyûkoku no migiri ôsewatasaresôrô onokitegaki ()13. It was purported to be a ‘copy’ of an original, which most likely never existed, and was, ironically, accepted by the Japanese government as authentic for over two centuries. It officially recognizes the Fuke sect and defines the privileges and responsibilities of its members. The Fuke sect claimed that the original had been written and dated Keichô 19 (1612) by the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu () himself.

13. Takahashi (1990:54) gives the following readings: Gonyûkoku No Setsu Owatasesôrô Okitegaki. There are discrepancies both in the kanji and the readings given by Sanford (1977:418).

The Fuke sect could not produce the original government issued document, which would have been imprinted with an authenticating government seal, giving the excuse that the original had been destroyed in a fire. Moreover, no government record of the issuance of the original document can be found in the archives of the Edo government. Between 1677 and 1894, the Fuke sect presented at least six versions of the decree to the bakufu government.14 These copies exhibit more inconsistencies than can be explained by the process of hand-copying an original document. For example, from eight to twenty-one provisions are listed in various copies.

14. Takahashi (1991:55-67) lists and gives full translations of six versions of the Keicho no okitegaki.


Doubts as to the authenticity of the document were first recorded by Arai Hakuseki (, 1657-1725), a late 17th century scholar (Kurihara 1918:144). Subsequent research (Mikami 1902:61-76; Kurihara 1918:144-151; Nakatsuka 1979:220-229; Kamisangô 1977:16; Ueno 1984:234-248; Takahashi 1990:54-74), has stongly indicated that the various copies of Keichô no okitegaki were all forgeries perpetrated by members of the Fuke sect, and that the shogunate knew or at least suspected that this was the case, yet accepted the document as much.

Despite such knowledge of a suspicion, the Shogunate chose to accept the validity of the document because of a desire to control the ever increasing number of rônin. Officially recognizing the Fuke sect was one way of exercising such control, if only indirectly. Many of the rônin whom the bakufu found difficult to control would be motivated to join the Fuke sect with its newly acquired privileges. The Fuke sect could then assert authority over its members, thereby strengthening govenmental stability.

Consequently, the main provisions set forth in the numerous versions of Keichô no okitegaki to a large degree defined the Fuke sect and the lifestyle of the komusô during the period in which the decree was in force, that is from the middle of the 17th century until the latter 19th century.

Ironically, the number of provisions included in the versions of the document increased as the position of the Fuke sect weakened. Of the six versions translated by Takahashi (1990:55-67), the shortest contains nine provisions. The longest has twenty-one provisions, with other earlier versions containing ten, eleven, seventeen and twenty provisions. The versions with the least provisions seem clearly to favour the government, listing obligations of the komusô to the bakufu as well as a minimum of rights. In contrast, those versions with the most provisions give the members of the Fuke sect a number of extraordinary privileges not included in other versions. In other words, the document, which was originally forged to provide the Fuke sect with official recognition, continued to be tampered with in attempts to maintain recognition and to increase privileges (Takahashi 1991:67-68).

The first provision of all copies of Keichô no okitegaki defines the community of the komusô as a religious order whose function is to provide temporary refuge for rônin. Other main points are the special privileges granted to the komusô: that is, freedom of travel, a monopoly on the use of shakuhachi, the right to bear arms and the privilege of being under the direct legal jurisdiction of the bakufu, rather than local authorities.

Below is a version of the document entitled Sadame, found in Kurihara (1918:140-143). This version contains the greatest number of provisions:

  1. The Japanese komusô fraternity is a religious group specially designed to serve the needs of ronin and samurai who wish to withdraw temporarily from the world. The temples of the komusô do not pertain to the jurisdiction of the authorities in which they are located. They are reserved only for the samurai.
  2. When the parent temple issues the rules, everyone should abide by them. A komusô who belongs to a sub-temple will receive penalization from the parent temple.
  3. When a komusô performs itinerancy, he is obeying the laws of his sect. Therefore, he must be allowed to do it freely.
  4. When a komusô is practising takuhatsu [, religious mendicancy] in a foreign land, the town’s people cannot molest him according to the laws of that land. If the komusô is prevented from doing takuhatsu, he should report to the main temple. If the main temple is not able to handle the matter, it should be reported as soon as possible to the Edo Bugyô [magistrate].
  5. During a komusô’s pilgrimages, within the streets or in the lodging places, he is not to remove the tengai [, basket hat] and show his face.
  6. A komusô should not carry arms during his takuhatsu. He is allowed to have a dagger shorter than one shaku (30.3 cm.) and to hide it in his clothing.
  7. A komusô is also a samurai who pursues his enemies during his pilgrimages. He, therefore, should be given free admission to shibai [, theatrical entertainment], etc., and be exempted from toll fees and boat fares everywhere he goes.
  8. The bansô (priest keeper) should be sent to all the country, to supervise komusô behavior.
  9. If the bansô discovers a false komusô during his expeditions, he should deal with him according to the laws. If the bansô agrees to be bribed and sets the false komusô free, he, as well as the false komusô, will be rigorously punished. Therefore, be on guard and behave yourself!
  10. No one is allowed to play the shakuhachi besides a komusô. If a samurai desires to play the shakuhachi, he should obtain permission from the main temple. Only samurai are allowed to play shakuhachi and become komusô.
  11. If a komusô is aware of a komusô conspiracy, he should report it at once to the authorities. The participants, including the main temple and the bansô, will be punished severely.
  12. When a komusô is practising takuhatsu, he may have with him no more than one fellow komusô as his mate.
  13. A komusô should not extort donations or lodging accommodation from the poor. In addition, feasts, banquets and…15
  14. When a komusô chances upon one of his enemies, they should both agree to ask for permission from the main temple to be relieved from their komusô status. They should duel on the temple’s grounds. The duelers are not allowed to received any external reinforcements. Only samurai are allowed to behave thus.
  15. If a samurai enters the temple’s grounds carrying a sword dripping with blood, the temple authorities should first interrogate him, and then offer him refuge. If a samurai has precedents, he should not hide his past deeds, because if his sins are made known in the future, he will no longer receive protection from the temple.
  16. A komusô may kill his enemies but is not allowed to participate in group fighting. He is allowed to have only one fellow komusô with him during the fight. Only samurai are allowed to behave thus.
  17. A komusô is not allowed to ride a horse or use a palanquin during his itinerancy, in order to avoid facing too many people.
  18. When a komusô arrives at the borderland of a country, he should politely demonstrate his credentials which were given by the main temple and be allowed to pass freely. If a komusô avoids passing by the official checkpoint, he should be interrogated. Be prudent and respect the regulations!
  19. When a komusô practices takuhatsu outside his territory in a castle town, he should not stay there for more than seven days. During his takuhatsu practice he should never play secular music or popular tunes. He is not allowed to participate in any artistic activities.
  20. When a komusô is practicing takuhatsu, he should not use a shakuhachi that is shorter than one shaku (30.3 cm) and eight sun (1/10 of [a] shaku) in length, nor play different pieces than those prescribed.
  21. Komusô discipline has been established for all samurai under the sun. Do not forget the right path of chivalry, because at every moment a komusô can again become a samurai. Learn the priest trade, and in your heart enhance chivalry. Remember that this is a religious sect for the bushidô. Hence you are granted to travel freely throughout the country.

(Translated by Takahashi 1990:55-67)

15. Missing kanji in the original Japanese preclude further translation of this provision. A provision in another version, which begins exactly the same, continues as follows: “In addition, feasts, banquets and gambling. He should also not accept bribes. A komusô who transgresses these rules will not be allowed to remain a komusô. His honsoku (credentials) will be taken away.” (Takahashi 1990:58-59)

The first authenticated communication from the Shogunate to the Fuke sect (in contrast to the unauthenticated Keichô no okitegaki) was addressed to the two temples Ichigetsuji and Reihôji. Known as the Enpô gonen no hatto (, Ordinance of 1677) (reproduced in Kurihara 1918:155-156), this government directive was issued in the sixth month of the fifth year of the Enpô era (1677). It is the first concrete evidence of the recognition by the Edo government of the Fuke sect. Specifically, the edict recognizes both Ichigetuji and Reihôji as honzan (, ‘main temple’) of the Fuke sect. By officially recognizing Ichigetsuji and Reihôji with the Ordinance of 1677, the Shogunate confirmed the existence of the Fuke sect though the sect probably existed well before official recognition was given it in 1677. The Fuke sect acted as the sole legal representative of all komusô from this date until abolishment of the sect two centuries later, in 1871.

The Ordinance of 1677 instructed the Fuke sect in three matters: Firstly, it told the main and branch temples how they were to choose head priests. Secondly, it stipulated how new members were to be selected, including what credentials they needed in order to join the sect. Finally, it dealt with the subject of members breaking the law, and with the rules of the sect. These three points became the basis of all later rules of the sect (Kamisangô 1974:17).

3.5.3 The San’in sangu

After securing offical recognition and patronage from the Shogunate, the Fuke sect attempted to regulate and control the komusô movement. The primary method of asserting the govenmentally granted authority over the komusô was with the conferment of the san’in sangu (, ‘three seals’ and ‘three implements’), the certification and tools of the trade needed by komusô. Before receiving the san’in sangu, a number of requirements had to be met. First of all, proof of samurai status had to be produced. Also required were a ‘certification of non-Christian belief’, a letter of guarantee of one’s birthright from a known member of the samurai class, a statement giving reasons for the desire to join the Fuke sect, and a written oath that the laws of the sect be respected. Strict background checks were also made of all applicants (Sanford 1977:421; Kamisangô 1974:17).

The applicant was required to pay a once-only license fee, which varied over time, but on average totalled three hundred hiki in gold (, 100 hiki = 25 sen ), a substantial sum of money at the time (Nakatsuka 1979:515). The applicant then performed a contractual ceremony, swearing his sincerity before the altar of the founder of the sect. The san’in sangu were then presented as official recognition of the newly gained komusô status. The ‘Three Tools’ were a shakuhachi, a tengai (, a basket hat) and a kesa (, a Buddhist priest’s stole worn over the kimono) (Kurihara 1918:158). The ‘Three Seals’ were called honsoku (, ‘original rules’), kaiin ( ‘society seal’) and tsûin (, ‘passage seal’). Honsoku (reproduced in full in Kurihara 1918:159-162) outlines the basic philosophy of the komusô and the symbolism of the shakuhachi instrument. The first part of the document quotes Chapter 29 of the Chinese classic Linji lu (, J. Rinzai roku) about the namesake of the Fuke sect, as follows:

“P’u-k’o (Puhua, J. Fuke) was always going about the streets ringing a hand-bell and saying, ‘If a bright-head (, J. meitô) comes, strike the bright-head. If a dark-head (, J. antô) comes, strike the dark-head. Whatever direction of quarter it comes from, hit it like a whirlwind. And if it comes from emptiness, cut it down with a scythe’.

Lin-chi (Linji) sent one of his attendants to have a little talk with P’u-k’o. When he arrived, the attendant spoke the lines he had been given [by Lin-chi], ‘What do you do when absolutely nothing at all comes forth?’

P’u-k’o pushed the question aside saying, ‘Tomorrow there’s a meager feast at the Ta-pei yuan (, Dabei yaun, J. Daihiin).

The attendant returned to Lin-chi and made his report. Lin-chi said, ‘I’ve had my suspicions about that fellow for a long time'”

(translated by Sanford 1977:439)

Honsoku continues with a second section, which encapsulates the philosophy of the Fuke sect in a description of the instrument and a short poem, as follows:

The shakuhachi is an instrument of the Dharma (, hôki). There are numerous meanings in the shakuhachi. It is made with three nodes (of bamboo) and always with two sections, long and short. Each of its features manifests something. The three joints are the Three Powers [Heaven, Earth and Man]. The two holes, upper and lower, are the Sun and the Moon. The five holes, front and back, are the Five Elements. It is the profound source of all creation. Playing [the shakuhachi] imparts the Dharma of the Myriad Things. One’s ego dissolves into darkness and the objective realm and the [subjective] heart/mind become oneness.

The tengai (basket hat) is a thing that is endowed with the sublime Body of the Buddha. Therefore our sect is modeled with that in mind.

Sacred mountain, one moon’s reflection
Illuminating the myriad schools.
Puhua, a solitary wind of virtue
Perfumes the three kingdoms.16

Shimôsa kuni [province], Katsushika gun [county], Kazahaya sô [village], Kogane.

Kinryûzan Bairin’in (), Ichigetsuji [temple seal]

[Bearer’s] Religious name
[Bearer’s] Name

(translation by Lee)

16. Sanford translates the poem as follows:

Above the holy mountain, a singular moon,
Its light reflected in myriad streams.
P’u-k’o [Puhua] was a solitary wind
Whose virtue still perfumes
the three kingdoms.

In the original text, there is no word corresponding to the word ‘still’ included in Sanford’s translation. Sanford (1977:422-423) explains the meaning of the poem as follows: “The poem begins with the standard Buddhist metaphor of the moon as a Noumenal Reality which reflects its image in numberless phenomenal realities, though ‘myriad streams’ no doubt also refers to the sub-temples and sub-sects of the ‘Single Moon Temple’ (Ichigetsuji). Puhua, like the moon, is presented as a figure of solitary purity whose essence permeates the world (sanzhou [J. sanshû], ).” See pp.234235 for another example of moon symbolism in shakuhachi literature.

A translation given by Sanford (1977:422) is the only other English translation of honsoku of the Fuke sect. There are several major discrepancies in Sanford’s translation of this important document. In the fourth sentence of his translation, Sanford adds the following words: “The [differentiation between the four] upper and [one] lower fingerholes represents the sun and the moon”. He then notes that the four upper fingerholes being “made to represent collectively the archetypically unitary sun” is “somewhat forced”.

Contrary to Sanford’s translation, there is no mention of fingerholes in the original text (, “the two holes, upper and lower, represent the sun and the moon”). The “two holes, upper and lower” are the top hole (mouthpiece) and the very bottom hole of the flute. In a diagram of the shakuhachi in the book Shakuhachi tsûzoku shû (, Popular collectionfor the shakuhachi 1769), by Kinko I, these holes are labelled heaven and earth (see illustration 10). An untitled document of the period states that the top hole of the shakuhachi represents the sun because it is round, while the bottom hole, when viewed through the middle of the shakuhachi (looking down the bore of the flute from the mouthpiece,) has the shape of a half moon, thus representing the heavens (Nakatsuka 1979:475). With a typically bent or curved shakuhachi, the bend in the bamboo would create the half-moon shape of the bottom hole when viewed from the mouthpiece end.

Illustration 10
Diagram of shakuhachi holes and symbolic names

(in Kurihara 1918:197)

Sanford (1977:422) also names the “Five Elements” as Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Space. He notes that these are the five elements of Indian Buddhism and thus are more likely in the Zen context of the Fuke sect, though the text uses the words wu xing (, gogyô), which normally signify the five elements of early Chinese cosmology: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. According to Kinko I’s diagram, the five elements are Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space (see illustration 10). Nakatsuka (1979:475) quotes an untitled Edo document as stating that the front four fingerholes also represent the four seasons, while the back fingerhole represents midsummer (, doyô).

Finally, it is difficult to understand how Sanford arrived at his translation of the second sentence of the section concerning the tengai: “The tengai hat is an implement of adornment of the Buddha-kaya. It is an item of clothing authorized to our sect [alone]” (Sanford 1977:422). The original Japanese is as follows:

The second document of the san’in, called the kaiin, documented the identity of the bearer and certified membership in the Fuke sect. Kaiin had to be renewed every six months by one of the main temples, making it one of the sect’s primary sources of authority over the komusô (Sanford 1977:423), as well as one source of income. The fee for renewing one’s six month licence was twenty momme (, 1 momme = 3.75 grams) in silver (Nakatsuka 1979:515). The third document, the tsûin, was a travel pass which the komusô needed in his journeys throughout Japan. Together with sangu, the possession of san’in was supposed to be concrete proof that one was a member of the Fuke sect and not a beggar or thief in disguise (Kamisangô 1974:17; Sanford 1977:423).

3.5.4 The Organization and Activities of the Fuke sect

There were originally only two ranks of members of the Fuke sect, kyôgai () and jûsoku (). Most of the members were the wandering komusô, who were called kyôgai (, literally ‘a boundary’; in Buddhist terminology meaning ‘the realm of objective reality’). Unlike the kyôgai, who were not fully ordained Buddhist priests, the second rank of members were ordained and lived in the temples. They were called jûjishoku (, ‘office of the head priest’) or simply jûshoku ( ) (Kamisangô 1974:17; Sanford 1977:424).17 Kamisangô (1974:17) lists six other ranks within the Fuke sect organization besides the jûshoku, as follows: the indai (, second ranking priest and representative of the jûshoku); the shutsuyaku (, priest who made official visits to other temples; the kanshu (, also read kansu, a jailer/disciplinarian); the yakusô (, an officiating priest); the rusui (, the caretaker); and the montei (the ‘disciples’, i.e., the komusô).

17. According to Sanford (1977:424), the term kanju () is synonymous with jûjishoku, even though Imaeda (1962:251) uses kanju as an equivalent to kyôgai. Nakatsuka (1979:514) differentiates kanju from jûshoku, stating that only the jûshoku could issue honsoku, while the kanjû could not. Nakatsuka (1979:525) also states that jûshoku had to take the tonsure, while kanju did not.


Sanford (1977:424-425) does not mention these six ranks, but lists five other ranks. Jizume (, literally ‘appointment to the temple’) and tsumeai ( , literally ‘co-worker’) were permanent, lesser resident monks of the large temples. Monks attached to the temples but residing elsewhere were called honsoku, after the first ‘seal’. Finally, there were two designations that were in principle prohibited by law, but were common nonetheless. Shûen josui (, literally ‘assistant player associated with the sect’) were ‘temporary komusô’, commoners who could not join the sect but wished to study the shakuhachi. The shûen josui were granted temporary, limited membership permits with specific expiration dates. Kaido (, literaly ‘ocean path’) were personal disciples to individual komusô and constituted the second prohibited rank.

All ranks mentioned above can be divided into two major categories, those monks who were residents of a temple and those who were, for the most part, mendicant. The latter constituted the majority of the rank and file members of the Fuke sect. Sanford (1977:424) suggests that the disjunction between the two and the inability of the temple establishment to fully control the wandering kyôgai was a major cause of the eventual demise of the sect.

The monks residing in the temples followed a routine similar to that found in other Buddhist sects, with an additional focus on playing the shakuhachi as suizen. Kamisangô (1974:17) describes a typical day in a Fuke temple as follows:

In the morning, before dawn, the yakusô played the piece “Kakusei rei” (, literally “Awakening Bell”), signalling everyone to awake. All would gather before the altar, and as a morning ritual, would play the piece “Chôka” (, “Morning Theme”). Then they would do morning zazen (seated meditation). In the middle of the day, time would be set aside for shakuhachi practice as well as budôshûren (, the practice of martial arts), and begging for alms. In the evening, the piece “Banka” (, “Evening Theme”) was ritually performed, followed by evening zazen. When a secret ceremony was performed in the middle of night, pieces such as “Shin’ya” (, “Deep Night”) or Reibo (, “Yearning for the Bell”) were performed at the beginning of the ceremony.

(translated by Lee 1986:54)

Certain formalities were to be observed while on pilgrimages. The tengai covered the entire head of the komusô (see illustration 10), and not only signified his non-attachment to identity or ego, but allowed him to remain silent as much as possible. In answer to questions of his destination, the komusô replied, “the one place of non-dwelling” (, issho fujû)18, or “Whatever direction or quarter”19. Questions as to his name or identity were to be answered only with the name of his temple and his religious name, or with the question “What can you ask of one who consists of voidness wrapped up in the form of a body, and who carries the shakuhachi of infinite emptiness?”. Further inquiries were to be met by backing away and waving his flute at those asking the questions (Sanford 1977:426).

18. In Buddhist terms, the phrase “issho fujû” means the “state of non-attachment to any sensory, intellectual or emotional object” (Sanford 1977:426).
19. This refers to the words of Puhua (J. Fuke) as quoted in chapter 29 of the Linji Lu (J. Rinzai roku).

Particular pieces were also to be performed while traveling as mendicant priests. While walking down the road, the piece “Tôri” (, “Passing”) was performed. When stopped before a house or establishment in order to beg for alms, the high pitched piece “Kadotsuke” (, “On a Corner”) was performed to draw attention to those within. After pouring the bowl (called hachi ) of uncooked rice into a special pouch and returning the empty bowl back to the donator, the komusô would perform the intense piece “Hachigaeshi” (, “Returning the Bowl”) as an expression of his intense gratitude for the life-sustaining donation.

The first komusô to see a fellow komusô on the road was to play “Yobitake” (, “Calling Bamboo”) while still walking toward him. “Yobitake” is almost entirely in the upper register, the high pitches suited to a ‘calling’ piece. The second komusô was then to reply, also without stopping, with the piece “Uketake” (, “Receiving Bamboo”). This piece, in contrast to “Yobitake”, is in the lower register, and consists of very long and complex phrases, as if in answer to the challenge of the ‘caller’. When the two came together, the piece “Gutai kyoku” (, “Meeting Face to Face Piece”) was played in unison, with the ‘caller’ playing in the lower register and the ‘receiver’ playing in the upper register. Requests for lodging at a komusô temple were to be made by performing the piece “Monkai no kyoku” (, “Gate Opening Piece”).

According to Tukitani (1990b:51), pieces performed ritualistically or in the context of spiritual training differ from pieces played during pilgrimages or free time. Pieces used in the temples are austere, highly formal and serene, while pieces played on the road generally are much more elaborate, and have been modified to a greater degree. Examples of the formal pieces are “Kyorei” (, or , “Empty Bell”), “Kokû” (, “Empty Sky”), and “Mukaiji” (, “Flute in a Misty Sea”), the three most venerated pieces in the koten honkyoku repertoire. An outstanding example of a piece performed on the road is “Reibo” of the Ôshû lineage (see chapter 4).

The two contexts in which pieces were performed, that is, “a strictly ceremonial context and the loosely prescribed context of pilgrimage” may explain some of the variations in the names of the piece “Reibo”. The variant name “Reihô”, especially when written with the characters (manner+ritual) may refer to the ceremonial context, and the variant name “Renbo” (, “Intense Yearning or Longing”) may connote the non-formal context. The standard name “Reibo” (, “Yearning for the Bell”) could be identified with either context, though the history and form of the piece seems to suggest the context of pilgrimage (Tukitani 1990b:51).

The members of the Fuke sect have left us with very little written material elucidating the philosophy which underlay their playing shakuhachi as suizen, blowing Zen, the honkyoku presumably speaking for themselves. Kinko I is said to have verbalized the concept of suizen with short pronouncements such as ichi on jôbutsu (, ‘one sound-Buddhahood’), chikuzen ichi’nyo (, ‘bamboo and Zen are one’) (Gutzwiller 1984:241). The only writings on the subject by a member of the Fuke sect in existence today (Gutzwillwer 1984:241) are three short essays by Hisamatsu Fûyô (, ca.1790-1845), entitled Hitori kotoba (, Words to oneself), Hitori mondô (, Questions and answers to oneself) and Kaisei hôgo (, Ocean Calm Sermon). Hisamoto, a samurai working for the Tokugawa government, became the main player of the Kinko lineage within the Fuke sect after the death of his teacher, Kinko III. His two top students, Yoshida Itchô (, 1812-1881) and Araki Kodô (, 1823-1908), were instrumental in the survival of the shakuhachi as a musical instrument after the Meiji era (see p.145).

The theme of detachment from this world is evident in the simple manner in which the komusô was to be be buried if he died while on pilgrimage. In the Kyotaku denki kokuji kai (see pp.3639), Kusunoki Masakatsu, the traditional founder of Reihôji (see p.121) is quoted as saying:

When a fellow-priest [of this sect] dies, he must be seated on his fukusu (, the komusô’s bedroll), covered with a large piece of cloth, tied with a rope, and buried. His tombstone is to be made of the board called kenkonbari.20 The kyotaku [alias for shakuhachi] will be performed as the funeral service. This ritual will be the single highest wish for a priest dying in his itinerancy.

20. , literally ‘heaven earth placard’. The kenkonbari was a small signboard which the komusô wore on his chest. On one side of the placard was written kenkonbari, and on the other side were the words fusei fumetsu (, non-born, non-dying). This phrase is potent with meaning in Zen Buddhist tradition. The ‘non-born, non-dying’ can refer to the Buddha-nature that is found anywhere one may look, including paradoxically, all that is impermanent.

(translated by Tsuge 1977:52)

Numerous extant drawings of the komusô during the Edo period help provide a picture of their appearance and lifestyle (see illustration 11 for six examples of these drawings). The evolution of the tengai from a shallow, wide-rimmed straw hat to a deep, basket-shaped hat which covered the entire face can be seen. Illustration twelve shows a courtesan holding a shakuhachi, and two of what Sanford (1977:425) calls “komusô dandies”, who appeared in the late Edo period. Dressed only for effect, they are indicative of the decline of the authority and effectiveness of the Fuke sect as a political and spiritual organization. The final demise of the sect is discussed in the next section.

Illustration 11
Six examples of Edo period drawings of komusô

(in Ueno 1984:244-246)

Illustration 12
Komusô ‘dandies’ with courtesan (in Ueno 1984:272)

3.5.5 The Decline and demise of the Fuke sect

Indications of a decline in the official status of the Fuke sect are evident from the latter 18th century, and into the 19th century, culminating in the complete abolition of the sect by the bakufu in 1847. Furthermore, an increase in secular activities by the Fuke sect and some of its members is evident during this same period. The decline and eventual demise of the sect is outlined below.

According to the theory discussed above (p.116), the Tokugawa bakufu granted recognition and special privileges to the Fuke sect firstly as a method of asserting indirect authority over the uncontrollable numerous rônin, and, secondly, as a means of recruiting and placing spies throughout the land. It seems likely that the bakufu was not deceived by the members of the Fuke sect, who forged documents such as Keicho no okitegaki (see pp.115122) and Kyotaku denki (p.36) in order to receive official recognition and special privileges. Recognition was granted to the sect because it was politically suitable at the time, not because of any sense of propriety or obligation.

Throughout the history of the Fuke sect, there were bonefide practitioners of suizen who were continuing a tradition at least as old as 14th century Ikkyû Zenji. The large repertoire of koten honkyoku (, classical honkyoku21) and the philosophy behind them are the legacy of these persons. There were komusô, however, whose antisocial behavior clearly indicated motivations other than spiritual enlightenment for their involvement with the Fuke sect. As outlined above (pp.108109), the mendicant lifestyle, the special privileges, in particular the freedom of travel, and the dress and anonymous manner of the komusô, under which one’s identity could be easily hidden, all contributed to attracting those who might wish to break the law for whatever reason.

21. This term refers to honkyoku that originated with the komusô or their predecessors, in contrast to ‘modern’ honkyoku, composed during the past century.

The very nature of the institution of the komusô encouraged individuality and freedom from outside authority. This made it difficult for the Fuke temples to control even their own itinerant members, not to mention the increasing numbers of those masquerading as komusô. Furthermore, after over two hundred years of peace and stability, the government’s need for the network of spies provided by the sect may have declined. The sect began to be seen as a liability not worth maintaining. The sudden increase in frequency and severity of written admonitions issued to the sect by the government from the late 18th century onwards indicates the problems facing the Fuke sect at the time.

In one of the first such admonitions, dated 1774, the Shogunate pronounced that it would take severe measures against extortionists disguised as komusô and against komusô who did not uphold the law (see Kurihara 1918:167 for a reproduction of the edict). The Fuke sect responded by attempting to restore some of the discipline that existed in the past. It was at this point in time that major documents appear in which the Fuke sect tried to maintain its privileged status and improve its public image. One such document is the Kyotaku denki koku jikai (Yamamoto 1795), a lyrical description of a glorified history of the sect. As stated above (pp.3739), this book purports to be an annotation of the Kyotaku denki, which was supposedly written in the early 1600s. Both the book and its annotation, however, were probably fabricated at the same time (Kurihara 1918:108-109; Nakatsuka 1979:130-131; Nishiyama 1982a:140; Kamisangô 1974:14-16).

Also written around the time the bakufu began questioning the advantages of continued recognition the Fuke sect, were those versions of the Keichô no okitegaki which list the greatest number of special privileges (Kamisangô 1974:17). These expanded versions were, like the Kyotaku denki koku jikai, attempts to enhance the status and authority of the sect in the eyes of the bakufu. Another attempt at public relations damage control took place in 1841, when Ichigetsuji and Reihôji made a submission to the governmental Council of Temples and Shrines, reaffirming the true spiritual nature of the sect (Kurihara 1918:168).

All of the effort to maintain the official recognition and status of the sect was to be of no avail. There finally came a time when the benefits to the bakufu were far outweighed by the disadvantages of allowing the Fuke sect to retain its special privileges. In 1847, the government issued a furegaki (, circulated official announcements, frequently posted on public announcement boards throughout the country), unequivocally stating that the privileges of the Fuke sect, as stated in the Keichô no okitegaki, were no longer valid and should have never been granted in the first place. The announcement revoked the rule that only those of samurai birth could join the sect. Since the Fuke sect was under the auspices of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, which anyone could join regardless of birth, it was argued by the bakufu that the same criteria for membership should apply to the Fuke sect. Furthermore, the announcement stated that the members of the sect did not require special privileges to exercise their spiritual practices, but they did need to cultivate charity of the heart (Kamisango 1974:18).

Without the special privileges and exclusivity granted by the Keichô no okitegaki, the Fuke sect lost most of its authority and prestige. Attempts were again made to reform and revitalize the sect, but to no avail. If the bakufu of the Edo period saw little reason for the continued existence of the sect, the new Meiji () government saw none at all. In October 1871, three years after overthrowing the nearly three hundred year old bakufu, the new government issued a dajôkan fukoku (, a cabinet decree), which formally abolished the Fuke sect (Kurihara 1918:175-176). All of the komusô temples were closed and the priests became lay persons. A year later, begging for alms became illegal, as was playing the shakuhachi as a spiritual tool (, hôki).

The shakuhachi playing komusô and their organization, the Fuke sect, was not alone in having official recognition abruptly terminated by the new Meiji government. Other monopolistic guilds, such as the guilds of blind koto and jiuta players, were also abolished (Kamisangô 1980:100) as part of a rush to modernize and westernize the country. The heikyoku tradition of biwa playing was effectively destroyed during this period. The nô theatre tradition barely survived. There were also attacks on other establishments of power, including Buddhist temples, that had been patronized by the old Tokugawa region.

One of the early Meiji slogans was ‘Sweep aside the Buddha, smash Buddhism’ (, haibutsu kishaku). In fact, even from the Genroku period (1688), the Buddhist establishment had not been popular in Japan, and its continued existence was mainly due to governmental patronage. It is clear from the contemporary literature that “the [Buddhist] clergy were disliked among the commoners and despised by men of learning” (Sanson 1952:480). The Meiji Restoration may have merely allowed long-held sentiments to surface.

Furthermore, as Gutzwiller (1984:240) points out, “whatever the conduct of its members, no group which had close connections to the bakufu could have survived its fall and the profound changes which placed the power in the hands of politicians loyal to the new emperor. Although lawlessness was a general problem during the late Tokugawa period, it seems that as least some of the offences the Fuke sect was charged with were a pretext to get rid of an organization with strong ties to the ancien regime”.

It is clear that a number of elements made the Meiji government’s decision to ban the Fuke sect inevitable. After the final cabinet decree in 1871, the demise of the Fuke sect and the komusô seemed complete, especially in the Edo area. Reihôji became an informal playground and storage depot. Its decayed buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1893. Ichigetsuji and its landholdings were divided and sold. The temple became part of the Shingon sect, and the land was eventually purchased by the Sôka Gakkai, the political wing of a new Buddhist sect (Fujita 1970:6).

3.6 The shakuhachi as a secular musical instrument

The total collapse of the Fuke sect, the destruction of its temples and the prohibition of alms begging did not result in the demise of the use of the shakuhachi as an instrument. On the contrary, its popularity increased after the Meiji proscription of 1871. Two reasons may be given for this. First of all, the shakuhachi continued to be performed as a secular musical instrument during the Edo era in contravention to the monopolistic tenets of the Fuke sect, just as it had been used in non-religious contexts before the Edo period.

It must be remembered that before govenmental recognition of Keichô no okitegaki and tacit approval of the monopoly claimed by the Fuke sect, the shakuhachi had been used in secular music contexts from the time of its first introduction into Japan as part of the gagaku ensemble, and continuing throughout its history in such traditions as dengaku (see p.74). There is much evidence that the instrument continued to be used in musical contexts other than spiritual ones and by persons other than members of the Fuke sect even after such uses became illegal (Nakatsuka 1979:438; Ueno 1984:269)). After the demise of the Fuke sect, its popularity as a secular musical instrument increased legally and openly.

Literary evidence of the use of the shakuhachi in secular settings can be found in the book Gayû manroku (, Random comments on elegant entertainment, 1755): “Nowadays, typically the shakuhachi is a long, thick instrument. It is tuned with the shamisen, and in this way, its pitch has become quite low. Its voice is the height of licentiousness” (Ueno 1984:293). Pictorial evidence can be found in the book Uta keizu (, A Genealogy of songs, 1782), which contains a drawing of an on stage performance of shakuhachi, koto and shamisen, the components of the sankyoku ensemble (Ueno 1984:292) (see illustration 13). Also, in the book Yamato kôsaku e shô (, Summary of Yamato cultivating pictures), compiled in the late 17th century, is a drawing of eight dancers being accompanied by four musicians playing shakuhachi, shamisen and two drums (Ueno 1984:293). The dress and position of the dancers, as well as the instrumentation of the music ensemble indicate a performance of min’yô (, folk music), and accompanying dance (see illustration 14).

In 1694, a set of regulations was issued by Myôanji, entitled Honsoku deshi e môshi watashi sadame (, Announcement of regulations for disciples of the ‘first seal’) (reproduced in Nakatsuka 1979:166-169). The announcement clearly forbids the playing of ‘corrupt pieces’ (, rankyoku, i.e., popular pieces performed in ensemble with the koto and shamisen) (Nakatsuka 1979:169). According to Kamisangô (1974:18), that this rule was issued at all indicates that such practices were widespread.

Illustration 13
Edo period sankyoku performance

(In Ueno 1984:293)

Illustration 14
Edo period min’yô performance (In Ueno 1984:292)

Two inquiries by the government to the Fuke temples, and responses thereto, further show the extent of shakuhachi usage in secular music contexts. The bakufu asked the temples in 1792 if it was a good thing that shakuhachi was being performed together with shamisen and kokyû (, a bowed lute). The temples replied, “It really is something which should not be done. The people are misbehaving, but they are doing it privately. If we cannot hear it, there is no way for us to scrutinize it”. In 1847, the government again inquired, “The playing, as entertainment, of shakuhachi with shamisen, etc., in ensemble occurs; is this all right with the Fuke sect?” The temples replied, “It is deplorable and very bothersome” (Kamisangô 1974:18).

The second reason for the continued popularity of shakuhachi after the dissolution of the Fuke sect in 1871 is that the monopoly of its use by the Fuke sect was never strictly enforced. Despite the claim by the Fuke sect that its members had the exclusive right to play the shakuhachi, the instrument was, in fact, played by non-members, including commoners, whether in a spiritual or a secular context. Evidence of the use of shakuhachi by non-Fuke sect members and even commoners not only occurring but actually being condoned by the Fuke sect can found as early as 1658, in a set of regulations issued by Myôanji, entitled Kakun nijûsanka jô (, Twenty-three rules of the house) (reproduced in Nakatsuka 1979:151-161)22. One of the ‘rules’ states, “for the present, there is meaning in making contact with farmers and townspeople who are not engaging in foul play, to the degree that profit [for the individual] is not the concern” (Nakatsuka 1979:157). According to Kamisangô (1974:18), this rather vague statement really meant that the temple sanctioned the teaching of farmers and commoners if the temple itself also stood to gain financially, through such means as donations and the selling of licences.

22. Kamisangô (1974:18) incorrectly states that this document has thirty-three rules.

The previously mentioned set of regulations entitled Honsoku deshi e môshi watashi sadame (1694) differentiates between komusô living in temples and those residing in towns, and mentions places other than temples where shakuhachi was taught and licences were issued, no doubt to non-members of the sect, including commoners.

In 1759, the Shogunate conducted an investigation of the practice of issuing special licences, called suichiku mei (, ‘blowing bamboo name’) or simply chiku mei (, ‘bamboo name’), to commoners by Reihôji, one of the main Fuke temples (Kurihara 1918:165-166). The licences were essentially identical to honsoku (see p.123), except that they could be held by non-priests and commoners, and were an excellent source of income for the temple. In defense of these licences, Reihôji argued that they resembled the naming licences given to composers of haiku (, 17 syllable poems) and were therefore acceptable. The government, observing the fact that Ichigetsuji did not issue such licences, severely reprimanded Reihôji (Kamisangô 1974:18).

There is other evidence that the upper echelon of the Fuke sect, especially at the Edo temples Ichigetsuji and Reihôji, may have done far less to support the sect’s monopoly over the use of the shakuhachi than might be expected. According to Sanford (1977:429), the ability to play shakuhachi was not an important qualification for acquiring residence status or even becoming head abbot at these two temples. Furthermore, the establishment of outside teaching locations was a method devised by the two temples to farm out shakuhachi instruction “so as to avoid being bothered with this chore any more than was absolutely necessary”.


Kamisangô (1974:18) defends the actions of the temple authorities, stating that it was natural that some komusô were better players than others, and that these more skilful players were given the task of teaching the less experienced. Ironically, a consequence of this delegation of the teaching of shakuhachi by the Fuke temples was the eventual establishment of teaching studios outside the temple grounds. This in turn led to the dissemination of the shakuhachi tradition to the general public and, consequently, to the survival of that tradition after the downfall of the Fuke sect.

The teaching, which involved many of the officiating priests of the temples, was called fukiawase (, literally ‘blowing together’)23. At first, teaching was done in the temples themselves, but as the sect’s restrictions regarding the teaching of townspeople were lessened, outside teaching locations were established. Whatever the reason for their establishment, the number of these locations, also called fukiawase or fukiawase jo (, literally ‘blowing together places’), increased, so that by 1792, according to a response to yet another government inquiry, nineteen persons were listed as living in houses in Edo and teaching shakuhachi.

23. The term fukiawase also denoted the teachers themselves.

A directive issued by Myôanji in Kyôto in 1852 entitled Kenbunyaku nari fukiawase chû e tasshigaki (, Notification for information officers in the fukiawase) (reproduced in Nakatsuka 1979:211-212) stated that certain kenbunyaku (provincial representatives of the Fuke sect in charge of taking care of problem komusô) were also teaching in fukiawase or teaching studios (see below) in addition to their main duties. The notice continued with, “The fukiawase is an extension of the temple. Therefore, pieces other than those transmitted by the temple are not to be taught


there. They are not to be called keikojo (, ‘practice place’), or shi’nanjo (, ‘instruction place’)”.24

24. The terms keikojo and shi’nanjo were used to denote places where the koto and/or shamisen were taught.

After the closure of the Fuke temples and with the Fuke priests becoming laymen in 1871, the shakuhachi instructors who were established at the various fukiawase sho were ideally situated to continue their teaching activities as gainful employment. There was even more incentive to do so when begging for alms was prohibited a year later. These instructors, their teaching studios, and their students became the basis for the resurgence of shakuhachi as a secular musical tradition. Two men in particular were instrumental in this transition. Both Araki Kodô (, 1832-1908) and Yoshida Itchô (, 1812-1881) were students of Hisamatsu Fûyô (see p.132), belonging to a lineage of shakuhachi players who traced themselves back to Kurosawa Kinko I (, 1710-1771), himself a teacher at fukiawase jo outside the temple grounds.

Kinko I, credited with originating the Kinko style of shakuhachi playing, was one of the skilful players that, according to Kamisangô (1977:18), were given by the head Edo temples of the Fuke sect the task of teaching novices. As fukiawase for both of the head temples, Ichigetsuji and Reihôji, Kinko soon attracted a following. His son Kurosawa Kôemon (, d.1811) and grandson Kurosawa Masajirô (, d.1816) became Kinko II and Kinko III25.

25. Sanford (1977:431) incorrectly states that Kinko III was Hisamatsu Fûyô.

In other words, Kurosawa Kinko I, as well as his son and grandson, were professional teachers of shakuhachi, who taught the instrument outside the grounds of the temples of the Fuke sect, in what could be even be described as an act of commerce disguised as religion. The institution of the fukiawase jo gave them and their successors a superbly suitable foundation from which to continue transmitting their style of shakuhachi playing even after the destruction of the Fuke organization.

During their time, the Kinko lineage was not an independent school of shakuhachi, but was a style of playing with a set repertoire, which Kinko I had initiated and his successors transmitted. This transmission technically occurred within the Fuke sect until its dissolution. Thereafter, transmission continued within the Kinko ryû.

Soon after the abolition of the Fuke sect, the two previously mentioned shakuhachi players, Araki and Yoshida, convinced the Meiji government that its further intention of banning altogether the performing of shakuhachi, even as a secular instrument, was neither necessary nor desirable (Kurihara 1918:109-110). Arguing that shakuhachi was worthy of preservation as a secular musical instrument, they encouraged and developed its use in sankyoku ensemble. Araki also devised the ro tsu re () notation system, after the three kana symbolizing the first three open-hole finger positions, which was suitable for notating sankyoku pieces. The ro tsu re notation system became the basis for the present-day Kinko notation, as well as for the notation system of today’s largest shakuhachi school, Tozan ryû.

It was probably during this period that the term honkyoku (, ‘original piece’) was coined to differentiate the spiritually grounded pieces of the old Fuke tradition from the ever increasing number of shakuhachi pieces played in ensemble with secular musical instruments such as koto and shamisen. From the turn of the century the term honkyoku was appropriated, usually by iemoto of various schools of shakuhachi formed after the Meiji period, to mean solo shakuhachi pieces which they had composed, e.g., Tozan ‘honkyoku’. Consequently, a number of terms were coined by shakuhachi players wanting to differentiate the original suizen pieces from the newly composed ‘honkyoku’. Among the terms used to denote the pieces that predate the ryû-specific ‘honkyoku’ are myôan honkyoku (), tôshô honkyoku (), fuke shû kyotaku kyoku (), koten shakuhachi honkyoku (), shakuhachi koten honkyoku (), fuke shû honkyoku () and dôkyoku () (Tukitani 1990a:4).

The ensemble pieces, not being honkyoku were called gaikyoku (, ‘outside pieces’) (Tukitani 1990a:4). In the decades following the end of the Fuke sect, the popularity of the shakuhachi as a secular instrument used to perform gaikyoku continued to increase. Indicative of this trend is the founding and growth of the Tozan ryû, the largest school of shakuhachi players today26. In 1896, at the age of twenty-one, Nakao Tozan (, 1876-1956) founded Tozan ryû by opening a shakuhachi teaching studio in Osaka. He promoted the use of the instrument in secular musical settings, including its use with western instruments such as the piano and violin. He also composed a large number of solo, duet and trio pieces, which he called honkyoku (see above). These pieces were in part based upon western musical harmonies and appealed to the Japanese public, which was, after two hundred years of isolation, highly appreciative of things somewhat western in flavour yet still reassuringly Japanese. Completely excluded from the Tozan repertoire were koten honkyoku, the original pieces of the komusô, which may have been too representative of the old order.

26. In 1984, there were 4935 licensed teachers in the largest of three factions of the Tozan ryû. The second largest faction had 1500 members in 1976, the year it broke away from the main organization (Takahashi 1990:223). Through a politically motivated adoption and marriage, two of the factions were reunited in the late 1980s.

Nakao’s school did, however, use monopolistic policies for political ends as had been done by the old Fuke sect and, to an even greater degree, the bakufu. As a rule, members of the Tozan school were (and in many cases still are) forbidden to learn and perform pieces other than those of the official Tozan repertoire. Highly talented players have, for example, been expelled from the sect for performing their own unauthorized compositions at official Tozan concerts (Kamisangô 1974:21). Because of this autocratic rule, the majority of shakuhachi players in Japan today do not openly play honkyoku of the suizen tradition.27

27. Perhaps the most enthusiastically received of Yokoyama Katsuya’s recent activities are his kôshûkai (, ‘training course’), given at least twice a year in three or four locations throughout Japan. With assistance from his top students, the 3-5 day courses afford shakuhachi players from all lineages the opportunity to learn koten honkyoku. Because these kôshûkai are only temporary ‘courses’, Tozan sect members, who actually predominate, may attende without threat of loss of face to their monopolistic teachers.

It is clear that shakuhachi was never totally under the control of, nor dependent upon, the Fuke sect. Its popularity as a secular musical instrument was not affected adversely by the abolition of the Fuke sect. Instead of becoming extinct, shakuhachi continued being taught and performed not only in the secular musical contexts mentioned above, but also as a spiritual tool, albeit on a smaller scale, as will be shown below. The abolishment of the Fuke sect saw the end of an institution: the established temples, the offices of the head abbots, their administrative assistants, the conferment of the ‘three tools and the three seals’, as well as the collection of semiannual fees and the special privileges. Neither the spiritual nor the secular musical functions of shakuhachi were sustained entirely by these institutional elements. Consequently, neither function was extinguished by the dissolution of the Fuke sect institution.

3.7 Suizen after the abolition of the Fuke sect

One impression given by much of the literature is that shakuhachi players engaged in the practice of suizen may have always been in the minority. During the Edo period, the hierarchy of the Fuke sect appeared too busy with furthering and protecting their privileges, influence and authority, and many of the rank and file seemed too interested in the free lifestyle of begging for alms, spying for the Shogunate or hiding from the law to seriously devote themselves to suizen. After the Fuke sect and the special privileges and lifestyle it offered were no more, many komusô may have simply abandoned the instrument. Some of those who had been teaching shakuhachi at the fukiawase jo, for example the adherents of the Kinko style Araki and Yoshida, mentioned above, seemed intent on continuing their teaching and playing activities, but as secular musicians.

What is certain is that there were always komusô, however few in number, who practised suizen seriously; otherwise it is unlikely that the koten honkyoku tradition could have survived the abolishment of Fuke sect. The large repertoire of honkyoku that continues to be performed and transmitted today is compelling evidence that throughout the Edo period and even after the abolition of the Fuke sect, shakuhachi was played as a spiritual tool in the context of suizen.

During the Meiji era, the suizen tradition was kept alive, particularly in the Kyôto area, by former Fuke members whose activities had centered around the third honzan of the Fuke sect, Myôanji. Unlike the two Edo temples, Ichigetsuji and Reihôji, which were closed down and abandoned, Myôanji survived the 1871 abolishment of the Fuke sect, though not as a temple of the Fuke sect. Sanford gives the following as some of the reasons that Myôanji avoided the fate of its two sister temples in Edo:

A chief feature differentiating the latter history of Myôanji from that of the Kantô temples is the greater seriousness with which the Kyôto temple took the shakuhachi and the Zen elements of the Fuke tradition. In the later decades of the Tokugawa era, as the Edo temples generally allowed their shakuhachi tradition to follow a course of increasing secularization, Myôanji made serious attempts to keep its music on a high spiritual and artistic plane. The differentiation of roles–politics in Edo and art/religion in Kyoto–was probably at base the virtually inevitable outcome of the geo-political realities of the Edo era, but it is important to note that it was at Myôanji that the process of Zen assimilation of the komusô movement went deepest and lasted longest.

At any rate, after its reclassification as a branch temple of Kôkokuji in 1768 [see p.113], Myôanji quickly rose to prominence as an influential center of shakuhachi musicianship. The factors prompting Myôanji to concentrate on music (and by extension the Zen philosophy that might inform such an interest) were, in addition to the political impotence of the temple, the high-culture tradition of Kyôto and the conservative perspectives of Myôanji’s leaders vis-á-vis art, religion and politics. Thus, in general, as Edo gradually became the center of a movement of popularized shakuhachi music, Myôanji continued to explore and refine a much more metaphysical Zen style.

(Sanford 1977:432-433)

After the abolition of the Fuke sect in 1871, Jishô Sakuhi (), the 34th and last abbot of Myôanji while it was a honzan of the Fuke sect, changed his name to Akekure Kakusaku () and became a lay person.28 Before closing his temple and departing from priesthood, he transferred a number of Myôanji artifacts and documents to Zenneiin (), a sub-temple within the large temple complex of Tôfukuji () for safe-keeping. Included were a statue of Kyochiku Zenji, the founder of the temple, the kyoreizan jigaku (, a framed tablet), the rekidai jûshoku (, genealogies), the indai (, names of persons of authority) and the kanshu no reihai (tablets of the posthumous names of the members of the temple). These objects together became the focal point for those persons who wished to preserve the komusô tradition (Kamisangô 1977:20; Ueno 1984:302).

28. Tanabe (1954:228) incorrectly names the 34th patriarch of Myôanji as Watanabe Kakuzan (). Sanford (1977:432) incorrectly names Watanabe as the 24th abbot.

The total prohibition against begging for alms was lifted by the government in 1881, after ten years of petitioning by a number of Buddhist sects. Soon after, permission was granted to komusô to beg for alms as one part of a large fundraising drive for the replacement of a building other than the Myôanji honzan in the To-fukuji complex destroyed by fire. The Myôan kyôkai (, Myôan Society) was founded, firstly to organize the fund-raising project, and ultimately to revive the komusô tradition as it was practiced at the old Myôanji.

There is evidence that if Myôanji was politically impotent during the Tokugawa regime, it may have been because its sympathies lay with the equally impotent political opposition, especially from the 19th century. Many of the temple members, including those in high positions within the administration, were sympathetic to the anti-government imperial loyalists. One one occasion, four Myôanji komusô, Ozaki Shinrû ()29 , Kammyô Gendô (), Myôan Sogyô () and Kondô Sôetsu () were arrested by agents of the Tokugawa regime as being messengers for the imperial loyalists. Shinrû was placed under house arrest. Gendô was beheaded. Sogyô was imprisoned. Sôetsu was not punished at all, due to the intervention of a high-ranking government official, Toyoda Katsugorô (). Better known as Kodô I (), a leading figure in the Kinko style of shakuhachi playing in Edo, Toyoda greatly respected Sôetsu’s musical ability. Sôetsu later became instrumental in the secularization and modernization of the shakuhachi in the Kansai area during the Meiji period (Sanford 1977:432).

29. Tanabe (1954:228) incorrectly states that Ozaki was the 35th abbot of Myôanji, and that Watanabe Kakuzan (), another imperial loyalist, was the 34th abbot (Kamisangô 1974:20). Sanford (1977:432) quotes Tanabe’s error regarding Ozaki, and adds further to the confusion by misquoting Tanabe’s original error, stating that Watanabe, though the teacher of Ozaki, was the 24th abbot, ten generations earlier.

After the founding of the Myôan kyokai, members of other former Fuke temples soon followed suit. In 1888, the Fuke kyôkai () was founded at the temple, Kôkokuji. Shortly thereafter, the Myôon kyôkai () was founded at Kokutaiji () located in Toyama Prefecture, and the Hottô kyôkai () was founded at Myôkôji () in Kyôto (Kamisangô 1974:20). In 1950, the Fuke Shôshû Myôanji (, ‘The Temple of Light and Darkness of the True Fuke Sect’) was founded as the corporate body of the Myôan kyôkai, and a temple was rented within the Tôfukuji compounds. In 1969, the main hall of the new Myôanji was completed. The temple is today acknowledged as the main temple (, honzan) of the suizen tradition, regardless of lineage or ryû (Kamisangô 1974:20).

The komusô societies filled the institutional role of the former Fuke sect in a number of ways. They granted licenses and certificates similar to the old san’in or three seals. They also determined the dress of the komusô and the times and circumstances of begging for alms. There were at first even members of the societies whose only livelihood was alms received as komusô. The new komusô societies did differ from the old Fuke sect in being less exclusive; anyone could join the societies once the fees were paid. According to Kamisangô (1974:20) the early kyôkai movement as a whole did little to further either the artistic development or the transmission of the music. In this respect, the komusô societies may resemble the Fuke sect. The transmission of the bulk of the tradition was accomplished not by the institutions, but by individual shakuhachi players teaching other individuals. This becomes particularly evident after the Meiji period, when greater documentation allows transmission lineages of particular honkyoku to be partially traced over a number of generations of performers.

3.8 Transmission of honkyoku from the Meiji era to the present

The most visible mode of transmission of the shakuhachi tradition from the end of the 19th century until the present has been the various institutions and groups that proliferated once the monopoly of the Fuke sect was broken. A number of terms have been used to denote these institutions, such as ryû (, ‘school’), ha (, ‘faction’), kai (, ‘organization’) and sha (, ‘company’). Most of these are associated with a particular Fuke temple and with a particular person or founder who operated from that temple.

In the whole of the honkyoku tradition, there has been no single performer of the stature and lasting influence of Kinko I, though, as explained above, this may partly be the result of historical circumstances such as the fukiawase system in Edo. Consequently no single lineage exists that is the equivalent of Kinko ryû. Instead, numerous ryû or ha were founded, some lasting only a single generation and others still in existence today. Among the more lasting lineages that developed outside of Edo was one founded by Higuchi Taizan (, 1856-1914). Taizan is frequently given credit for playing an instrumental role in revitalizing the suizen tradition in Kyôto and increasing the influence of the Myôan kyokai (Kamisangô 1974:20; Tomimori 1979:35-36). He developed the lineage of shakuhachi playing known as Myôan ryu Taizan ha () and was posthumously given the title of the 35th patriarch of the priestly lineage of Myôanji, which had been temporarily suspended at the time. Kamisangô lists Higuchi’s successors as follows: Kobayashi Shizan () (36th), Tanikita Muchiku () (37th), Koizumi Shizan () (38th) and Fukumoto Kyoan () (39th). The 40th and present abbot of Myôanji is Yoshimura Fuan-sôshin ().

A major difference between Taizan ha and Kinko ryû, as well as nearly all other major shakuhachi organizations existing today is the complete abstention of Taizan ha from transmitting any pieces other than koten honkyoku. In contrast, particularly immediately after the abolition of the Fuke sect, Kinko ryû emphasized the playing of secular ensemble pieces, though it has maintained the tradition of its thirty-six honkyoku. As mentioned above (p.2), Tozan ryû, founded in the decade after the dissolution of the Fuke sect and now the largest shakuhachi lineage in Japan, totally abandoned the koten honkyoku tradition in favour of secular ensemble and newly composed solo shakuhachi pieces.

Kinko ryû and Taizan ha were not the only new institutions created that transmitted koten honkyoku. In Kyôto immediately after the dissolution of the Fuke sect, the Myôan Shinpô ryû (, ‘Myôan True Dharma Sect’) was important in continuing the honkyoku tradition after the Fuke sect era. Founded by Ozaki Shinryû (, 1820-1888), its leading proponent was one of Ozaki’s students, Katsuura Shôzan (, 1856-1942). Shôzan became the head of Myôan kyôkai in 1881 (see above), and was influential amongst a great number of honkyoku players. He left Myôan kyôkai soon after the arrival of Taizan. Outliving almost all of his contemporaries, Katsuura came to be known as the last of the komusô. Although there is no longer an organization called Myôan Shinpô ryû, much of Katsuura’s repertoire continues to be transmitted today both by individuals and as part of the repertoire of other organizations (Kamisangô 1974:20).

Chikuho ryû, a small school in the Kansai area founded in 1916 by Sakai Chikuho I (, 1892-1985) is one organization in which shakuhachi players continue to transmit Katsuura’s repertoire. Chikuho I learned as many as sixty honkyoku from the Myôan Jimpô ryû, first of all from a student of Katsuura, Minamoto Unkai (), and later directly from Katsuura himself. Sakai’s two sons, Chikuho II (, 1933-1992), and Shôdô (, b.1940) added to the Chikuho ryû repertoire koten honkyoku other than that of the old Myôan Shinpô ryû. Today the repertoire of the Chikuho ryû lists as many as seventy pieces koten honkyoku, more than any other ryû (see Lee 1986:289-290 for a complete list of honkyoku in the Chikuho repertoire).


Many honkyoku that Chikuho II and Shôdô added to their repertoire were transmitted to them by Jin Nyodô (, 1891-1966) through his student Moriyasu Nyôto (, b.1899). Jin was said to have learned honkyoku from as many as five lineages: Kinko, Shinpô, Taizan, Seien (, see below) and Kimpû (, see below), as well as from over twenty individuals (Kamisangô and Tukitani 1980:52). Jin did not found a ryû, but his line of transmission remains strong through the many individuals who learned honkyoku directly from him or from his students.

Seien ryû represents the lineage of the former Fuke temple, Fudaiji (), which was located in Hamamatsu and founded by Kanemoto Seiin , 1819-1895). Kimpû ryû () was originally located in Hirosaki in northern Honshû. It was officially founded by Nyûi Getsuei (, 1833-1898) in 1883, but traces its lineage back to Kurihara Kimpû (), a komusô active in Edo during the early 1800s. Though there are very few active members of either of these ryû, their repertoire continues to be transmitted through other lineages and individuals.

Nine lineages related to the Myôan lineage are listed by Tukitani (1990a:5), quoting from “an abridged genealogy of shakuhachi adherents in the Myôan lineage as of February 1936”, found in the Shakuhachi shiryô Kyoreizan Myôanji bunken zen ( , Materials on the shakuhachi; all of the documents of the temple Kyoreizan Myôanji, 1937, ed. Tsukamoto Kyodô ). The nine lineages (called ha here) of shakuhachi players of are as follows:

Myôan Shinryô ha (), also known as the Kansai Shinryô ha () founded by Matano Shinryô (, 1791-1861),
Myôan Sôetsu ha (), also known as the Kansai Sôetsu ha () founded by Kondô Sôetsu (, 1821?-1867),
Myôan Jimpô ha () founded by Ozaki Shinryô (, 1820-1888), teacher of Katsuura Shôzan,
Kyûshû Myôan ha () founded by Shimizu Jyôzan (or Seizan) (, 1872-1913),
Myôan Rogetsu ha () founded by Tsunoda Rogetsu (, 1872?-1958),
Myôan Taizan ha () founded by Higuchi Taizan (, 1856-1914),
Fuke Shakuhachi ha () founded by Miyakawa Nyozan (, 1868-1946),
Fuke Myôan ha (, founded by Uramoto Setchô (, 1891-1965) and
Itchôken Fukkô ha (, revived Itchôken ha), also known as the Myôan Manshô ha () founded by Tanaka Yûhi (, 1911- ), later known as Watazumi/Wadatsumi Fumon (), or Watazumidôso ().

Of the nine ha listed above, only the Taizan ha still functions today as an organizational unit with a significant membership. Although the other eight organizations themselves have virtually ceased to exist, the honkyoku that they transmitted continue to be played. For example, honkyoku of Watazumi are among the most widely performed and appreciated today, due in part to a number of recordings made by Watazumi, but primarily because of the wide exposure given the pieces by one of Watazumi’s students, Yokoyama Katsuya. The large number of ha listed above is indicative of the complexity of the transmission lines of koten honkyoku after the abolition of the Fuke sect. It should be noted that the above ha were in no way exclusive, in the way that Tozan ryû, or to a lesser degree the sub-lineages of Kinko ryû are.

As stated above, because of the fukiawase system by Kurokawa Kinko, essentially a professional musician in Edo (now Tokyo) in the 18th century, continued after the abolution of the Fuke sect and came to flourish in the post-Fuke sect era of secular music. The Kinko lineage, founded by essentially a professional musician, was in an excellent position to thrive in a post-Fuke sect era of secular music because of the fukiawase system. Because of the complete dissolution of Ichigetsuji and Reihôji, the two temples from which Kinko I operated, the association between them and the Kinko ryû today is not stressed.

The disciples of the Kinko lineage transmit a basically set repertoire of pieces, a particular performance style and techniques, which are believed to have been crystallized by Kinko I and his immediate successors. Sub-lineages within the main Kinko lineage have occurred from as early as the generation after Kinko I. There are at present five or six sub-lineages of the Kinko ryû, called sha or kai, for example, Chikumeisha (). All Kinko sub-lineages are completely separate administratively and compete in varying degrees for new members and prestige.

The honkyoku repertoire performed and transmitted by Kinko players are fixed in number (thirty-six), and, to a large degree, in performance practices as well (Tukitani et al. 1991:34). Most of the sub-lineages publish some if not all of the Kinko honkyoku repertoire. Although each Kinko sub-lineage uses slightly different scores and performance techniques for honkyoku (see Gutzwiller 1984:199-217), the distinctive Kinko style can be heard in the playing of all Kinko players.

The degree of standardization which occurs in the number of honkyoku in the Kinko repertoire, the scores for the pieces, the performance practices of those pieces, and the early occurrence of this standardization in time is exceptional in the suizen tradition as a whole. This atypical degree of standardization may be the result of a bureaucratic approach to transmission in contrast to a more musical or spiritual one.

Among the sub-lineages of the Kinko ryû today are those headed by Araki Kodô V (, b.1940), Nôtomi Judô II (, b.1929), Aoki Reibo II (, b.1935), Yamaguchi Gorô (, b.1933) and Kawase Junsuke III (, b.1936). See Gutzwiller (1984:24-25) for a lineage chart of the Kinko ryû.

During the Edo period, komusô of the Fuke sect traded honkyoku among themselves while on pilgrimages, either teaching or being taught. In this way the collective repertoire of honkyoku within the Fuke sect was continually being diffused throughout Japan, with a noticeable degree of variation and change occurring in the process. Even the members of the Kinko lineage exchanged pieces with ‘non-Kinko members’, as evidenced by the Araki score of the piece ‘Shika no tône’ (see p.32) that was given to a komusô visiting from the country. The sharing and comparing of honkyoku was deeply ingrained in the komusô tradition. The exclusivity of the iemoto system, e.g., that of Tozan ryû, though advantageous in building economically and politically powerful organizations, is diametrically opposed to the spirit of suizen and of koten honkyoku.

Tukitani (1990a:5-6) gives the example of Miyakawa Nyozan as illustrative of the lack of constraint of many shakuhachi players in learning honkyoku of other schools or lineages. Nyozan studied honkyoku from Higuchi Taizan of the Myôan Taizan ha, from Katsuura Shôzan of the Myôan Shinpô ryû and from Hasegawa Tôgaku (, 1847?-1909), a komusô of the Ôshû lineage as transmitted at the temple Futaiken () in northern Japan. Tôgaku also mastered the repertoire and performance practices of his native Kyûshû (he was born in Kumamoto). Tukitani (1986:288-301) states that Nyozan created the honkyoku ‘Ajikan’ by combining elements of all of the above lineages.

Takahashi Kûzan (, 1900-1986) is another example of the eclectic nature of honkyoku transmission. Kûzan is said to have studied with Miyakawa Nyozan and Katsuura Shôzan as well as with Takase Sukeji(), Kobayashi Haou (), Komichi Toyotarô ( ), Kobayashi Shizan () and Okazaki Meidô (). He also played pieces from Kimpû ryû, and is said to have learned over one hundred and fifty honkyoku. Uramoto Setchô and Jin Nyodô also had numerous teachers. Yamaue Getsuzan (, b. 1908) also devoted his life to learning honkyoku from as many sources as possible, notating honkyoku that he learned and documenting the complex lineages of individual pieces. The material he gathered and arranged is one of the most important sources of data on the transmission of honkyoku during the twentieth century. For example, Yamaue alone learned four versions of ‘Reibo’ of the Ôshû district, the central piece of this thesis.

Finally, mention must be made of Watazumi Fumon. Originally from Kyûshû, his shakuhachi training began in the Itchôken tradition. As was typically the case, he travelled throughout Japan, learning and teaching honkyoku and eventually developing a repertoire of at least forty pieces (Yokoyama OC1989). He does not call his instruments shakuhachi, instead using the term hôchiku (, ‘dharma bamboo’). He also avoids the word honkyoku to indicate pieces that he performs, using instead the term dôkyoku (, ‘pieces of the Way’, a reference to one of his aliases, Watazumi dôso , literally ‘founder of the Way of the ocean-child’). The beauty and intensity of their form and performing style, as well as the high calibre of technique required to play them have made dôkyoku one of the most performed repertoire of honkyoku today.

Watazumi became well-known in the 1960s and 1970s largely due to the efforts of his student, Yokoyama Katsuya, who assisted in the release of a number of Watazumi recordings. Watazumi soon gained notoriety for his eccentric actions, which were usually aimed at destroying set patterns or behaviour and thought. As only one of numerous examples, he was once invited to participate in a tea ceremony, an extremely formalized event in any circumstance. In this instance the ceremony was performed by an elite group of ladies representing Japan’s highest society. During the course of the ceremony, in which utensils worth many thousands of dollars were used, Watazumi proceeded to urinate in his tea bowl. The other participants at the ceremony were left speechless (Yokoyama OC1989).

Watazumi’s eccentricity is matched by equally outstanding performance techniques, one example being a standard of pitch control rare among shakuhachi players who perform only honkyoku. During his lifetime, Watazumi gained almost legendary stature in the shakuhachi world, with a number of myth-like stories about him circulating widely. One such story relates how Watazumi blew into a shakuhachi with such force and concentration that the bamboo actually split in his hands. Watazumi, and his student Yokoyama, even more so, have given honkyoku in general and the repertoire other than the thirty-six Kinko honkyoku in particular an unprecedented amount of favourable exposure.

Tukitani (1990a:6) estimates the total number of extant honkyoku, including variations, as approximately one-hundred and eighty pieces. This number is reached by adding together the repertoire of the main honkyoku lineages. These lineages and the number of pieces they have transmitted are as follows: thirty-six of Kinko ryû, ten of Kimpû ryû, eleven of Seien ryû, about sixty of Myôan Shinpô ryû, thirty-three of Myôan Taizan ha, about ten of the Kyûshû lineages such as that of the temple Itchôken in Hakata and between ten and twenty transmitted by the Ôshû lineages such as those of the temples Futaiken and Shôganken.

As stated above, the shakuhachi tradition in Japan today is dominated by Kinko ryû, and by Tozan ryû. In terms of numbers of members alone, these two lineages account for the overwhelming majority of contemporary shakuhachi players. The remainder of the shakuhachi tradition consists of a small minority of players, many of whom belong to less prominent organizations such as Chikuho ryû or Taizan ryû, and some of whom are individuals belonging to no organization.30 In terms of the honkyoku repertoire, however, the Kinko ryû, with thirty-six pieces, and the Tozan ryû, with none at all, clearly represent the minority. This is true not only in terms of actual numbers of pieces, but even more so in terms of multifarious transmission processes without which the honkyoku could nothave been handed down.

30. This thesis has deliberately ignored the min’yô shakuhachi tradition, which is vibrant and multifaceted. The omission is due to the limited subject matter of this thesis and is not meant to assign an inferior status to min’yô players.

Most of the literature on honkyoku, especially that in languages other than Japanese, presents an image of a tidy transmission process, in which sub-lineages and minor ryû may be created and eventually die out, but which is dominated by the stability of the Kinko lineage, whose honkyoku repertoire remains constant in number of pieces, titles and musical content. This picture may well serve forces within the shakuhachi tradition driven by a power seeking bureaucratic approach, but it does not reflect the intricate reality of the majority of honkyoku transmission.

A more realistic image of the transmission of koten honkyoku is one of diversity, change and variation, of a level of complexity approaching nature itself. As will be shown, most honkyoku undergo variation and/or change in almost all aspects, including their titles, form and performance practices, during the process of transmission. In the face of such complexity, the principle research question of this thesis can be delineated as follows: until what point is a piece still the same piece as the level of difference in name and/or form increases with the process of transmission? A more fundamental question is: what is being transmitted in the koten honkyoku tradition? The remaining chapters of this thesis attempt to address these and related questions. It is hoped that the resultant picture of the honkyoku tradition approximates reality at least to the degree that enables the reader to begin to appreciate the beauty and complexity of shakuhachi honkyoku.

In conclusion, the history of shakuhachi honkyoku shows that their transmission has occurred not through institutions or organizations, but always from one individual to another individual. Though those involved in transmission are frequently classified under a particular ryû or ha, such as Kinko ryû, the individuals who comprise the organisation are, nonetheless, the sole conduit of transmission. In almost every case, shakuhachi organizations are attempts to perpetuate the repertoire and performance style of the founder and immediate successors, and are specifically administered to increase their political and economic influence. This is true not only of shakuhachi organizations existing today but can also be said of the Fuke sect, which for two hundred years monopolized shakuhachi for its own purposes.

Although the Fuke sect existed for two centuries, it did not survive the changes of the Meiji period, and was largely replaced by a number of shakuhachi organizations. The organizational structures within the shakuhachi tradition since the demise of the Fuke sect have tended to flourish for only one, two or at most three generations, after which they usually diverge into either one or more competing institutions or disappear entirely, their repertoire sometimes kept alive only by individuals not affiliated with any organization. Shakuhachi honkyoku transcend the political and economic concerns of the Fuke sect and of these latter day organizations, both as music and as the spiritual practice of suizen. Because of this, shakuhachi honkyoku have survived and will always survive the eventual and inevitable demise of these organizations.