This thesis has attempted to combine the insights and concerns of performance with the methods and strategies of scholarship to look at the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition, with the belief that the intersection of these two approaches will provide a valid understanding of the tradition. The opening chapters described my position as both performer and scholar, or participant within the honkyoku tradition and outside observer of that tradition. It also introduced the two-fold aim of this thesis: to enhance our understanding of the tradition by looking at the nature of transmission of honkyoku and to disseminate that understanding. In subsequent chapters, the environment in which this study was undertaken was described from a number of perspectives. These included the literary context in which this thesis was located (chapter two), a historical account of the honkyoku tradition (chapter three), the genealogy of “Reibo”, the piece central to the analysis (chapter four), and an exploration of the theoretical and philosophical bases from which an analysis of honkyoku could be undertaken (chapter five).
A number of specific questions about the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition have been asked in this thesis, in particular questions about the processes of transmission within that tradition. Is the nature of the transmission of honkyoku perceived differently by different teachers and students? How does the transmission from teacher to student, from individual to individual, and from lineage to lineage differ? What can be learned of the transmission of ‘Reibo’ by looking at the processes of performing the piece? What, precisely, is transmitted?
In the course of the thesis all of these questions have been addressed, if not fully answered. Three different ways of perceiving the honkyoku and the nature of its transmission were discussed with reference to the ideology of a number of shakuhachi players: Inoue’s ideology of honkyoku as object, Aoki’s ideology of honkyoku as music, and the ideology of honkyoku as transcending both object and music shared by Uramoto, Yokoyama, Watazumi, and others (see pp.287–304). In the analysis (chapter 6), a comparison of ten performances of players who represent primarily the third ideology showed that many of the patterns of similarities and differences observed between the performances correspond to transmission patterns between teacher and student, within lineages, and between individuals (pp.376–416). In most cases, performances by teacher and student displayed the most similarity, for example Watazumi and Yokoyama. Performances of the same lineage, for example, the Uramoto-Watazumi-Yokoyama lineage, also displayed more similarities than performances of different lineages (pp.384–385).
In many cases, however, a high degree of variation could be observed between members of the same lineage and between players in a teacher-student relationship. This is especially evident with regard to the relationship between Uramoto and Watazumi (pp.403–416). As explained above (p.403–404), although according to the genealogy chart Uramoto taught “Reibo” to Watazumi, Watazumi clearly repudiates the notion that Uramoto was his teacher. This is reflected in performance by differences between the two.
A notable example of this can be seen in the details of the process of performing the distinctive melodic formula known as reibo no te. An analysis of these details (pp.391–392) brought to light a process of producing certain notes in reibo no te which appear to be additions distinctive to Watazumi. These and other variations may be expressions of Watazumi’s understanding of the concept of honnin no kyoku (the piece being that of the performer) (pp.229, 255) or honnin no shirabe (searching for one’s original self) (pp.267–269). Watazumi is not the only player whose performance exhibits such a feature. All of the players represented in the analysis show, in the degree of variation of their performances, an appreciation of this concept.
The question, what precisely is transmitted, is one that can be addressed but perhaps never fully answered. The analyses support the conclusion that none of what is transmitted in the honkyoku tradition can be described precisely with words alone. Rephrasing the question: What is transmitted in the honkyoku tradition? The only short answer this thesis can provide is: Many things and nothing.
One conclusion, demonstrated empirically in chapter six by the analyses of the ten transcriptions, is that there is an indefinable, even mysterious something which is conceptualized as “Reibo” and manifested in all of the performances represented by the ten transcriptions. The analyses independently support the genealogy chart, which is based upon written and oral evidence, much of which is anecdotal (pp.173–196) in that the lines of transmission of “Reibo” fall within at least two main groups, “Futaiken reibo” and “Shôganken reibo”.
Evidence of a commonality can be found in the large number of similarities between the ten pieces, especially those made significant by their location and/or repetition. These similarities include the labelling, placement and content of formal divisions, cadential formulae, distinctive melodic formulae, in particular reibo no te (the “Reibo” fingering), and the high degree of correspondence of notes throughout the performances, especially those of significant duration (pp.371–376). With the common identity of the ten performances established, comparisons between the pieces were made, revealing patterns of similarities and differences.
These comparisons reveal, notwithstanding numerous commonalities, a high degree of diversity and variation between the ten performances. Not only is the amount of variation large, but the number of patterns of variation is great. Patterns of similarities and differences frequently correspond to either one of the two groups, “Futaiken reibo” or “Shôganken reibo”, or to one of the lineages of transmission. Many of the observed variations can be traced to Watazumi’s performance (pp.403–416). Importantly, however, many variations in the patterns of transmission which occur repeatedly cannot be ascribed entirely either to differences in group of piece or lineage, or to individual idiosyncrasies of performers.
A possible explanation for these idiosyncrasies may lie in the fact that just as honkyoku were composed, performed, and transmitted for a number of centuries in an atmosphere of largely unstructured interchange, interchange and cross-fertilization continue today. For centuries, honkyoku were transmitted by beggar ‘straw mat priests’ (薦僧 komosô), who lived at the lower fringes of their society (p.94). Some structure was imposed upon the interchange between these beggar priests by the organization and official recognition of the Fuke sect in the early seventeenth century. Even after the establishment of the Fuke sect, many honkyoku players, whose name had been ‘upgraded’ to ‘priests of nothingness’ (虚無僧 komusô), continued their wanderings around the countryside. They also continued to teach to and be taught by other equally mendicant komusô, an ever-changing repertoire of honkyoku (pp.102–135).
After the end of the Fuke sect and the official status of the komusô’s way of life in the last decade of the nineteenth century, the honkyoku tradition at first glance appears largely to have been transmitted within secular organizations such as the ryû. Because these organizations were primarily bureaucratic in their approach and function, they were not conducive to the diversity and variation resulting from the constant interchange between komusô (pp.149–164). Examples of this kind of approach to shakuhachi honkyoku can still be seen in the ideology of two contemporary members of the tradition, Inoue and Aoki (pp.288–296).
A richness of diversity and variation in the honkyoku tradition continued to persist after the abolishment of the Fuke sect and continues to be maintained today in spite of the pervasive influence of bureaucratic shakuhachi organizations (cf.pp.250–251) and ideologies. This diverse richness can be seen in both exterior elements such as titles of pieces and names and placement of formal divisions, and in interior elements such as embellishments and fingering methods. In the case of “Reibo” pieces, an example of this diversity can be found in the degree of complexity in which material appears to cross over between the two groups represented in the transcriptions. A great deal of cross-over seems to have occurred not only before the differentiation of the two groups, but after they developed their distinct titles and features. This is manifested in patterns of similarities and differences between performances in the two different groups, including those of the same performer (pp.371–416).
Although the institution of the wandering komusô has not existed since the late 1800s, the ideology of interchange and cross-fertilization of the Edo period and earlier appears not to have died out, but has continued to exist up to the present. There may no longer be shakuhachi-playing monks travelling on foot from komusô temple to temple exchanging their honkyoku and in the process varying and changing them. Instead, though travelling more by train or plane than on foot, there nevertheless continue to be shakuhachi players who transmit honkyoku between each other with a similar spirit of interchange and an understanding of the variable nature of honkyoku, as was held by many of the Edo period ‘priests of nothingness’.
In the last several decades, cross-fertilization of pieces within the honkyoku tradition has also been encouraged by the advent of readily available recordings. Recordings of pieces representing numerous versions of a single honkyoku, and different performances of the same version both by different players and by the same performer at different times are now available for repeated listening. Variations and changes in the honkyoku repertoire and in the pieces within that repertoire thus continue to occur as they have always occurred.
A major observation of this thesis concerns the variation and change that can be attributed to Watazumi, the person who most strongly denies any sources of transmission of his honkyoku, and who exhibits the most divergency in his performances. The correlation between how transmission is conceived and how “Reibo” is transmitted can be seen in the performances of the other performers as well. Watazumi is at one extreme regarding the conception of transmission and its affects on the degree of variation. If analyzed, performances of players who conceive transmission as do Inoue and Aoki, would most likely occupy the other extreme.
Much of the uniqueness of Watazumi’s honkyoku performances and his philosophy underlying those performances can be detected without analyzing transcriptions. The analysis in this thesis has shown specific elements of variation and their locations in his performance of the two “Reibo” pieces. Also, although his performances exhibit by far the most diversity and variation amongst those represented by the ten transcriptions, we can conclude from the analysis that Watazumi nevertheless remains very much within the honkyoku tradition in terms of the kinds of variations and changes he makes. Even in Watazumi’s performances, there appears to be little ‘original’ material (pp.408–409). Many of the differences between his performances and those of the other performers have to do with the variation and placement of material which can be found elsewhere, rather than with the inclusion of original material.
A second observation that can be made from the analysis is that variation occurs more at certain parameters than at others. For example, prominent notes such as those having durations of over two seconds are most likely to be transmitted and transmitted unchanged, while details such as embellishment are most likely to be transmitted with changes or not transmitted at all. Paradoxically, these details are important elements in the tradition, as evidenced by their prominence in tradition-based analyses. They are among the most talked about elements within the formal lesson.
Another area of variation is the length of phrases and their number in a piece and the breaths that occur between them. This might be considered anomalous to honkyoku, since the phrase is considered a fundamental structural unit of honkyoku, and since the breaths between the phrases are given as much importance as the phrases themselves. It might therefore be expected that, because so much emphasis is placed on the breath and on the phrase as a structural unit, the placement of the breath and the number of phrases in a particular honkyoku would show stability rather than variability over the course of transmission.
From this observation one can make a theoretical conclusion about the individual nature of performance. Variability with regards to breath and phrasing is a prime indication of the importance placed upon the mindfulness that is needed to make each honkyoku performance a reflection of the absolutely unique situation that it is. The singularly different breathing capacity and control of each performer with each performance necessitates differences in phrasing. Thus, the musical product becomes subservient to the process of performing, which includes breathing. This is in stark contrast to what occurs in other genres of music, in which standardized phrasing is common, the placement of the breaths is dictated by the music, and the ideal manner of breathing is one that is unnoticed by the listener.
It must be remembered that this study, in which only ten performances by six performers are transcribed, cannot take into account the infinite number of possible performances at different times by each of the countless honkyoku performers. The issue of how the passage of time affects the transmission of honkyoku has, for the lack of data, only briefly been touched upon.
Scholarly approaches such as this thesis can never reflect the entire picture of the honkyoku tradition and its transmission, but they can shed a particular light on the subject that may not be apparent with other approaches. Nevertheless, transmission of honkyoku in the shakuhachi tradition includes far more than the transmission of just the notes and the technical details of performance. It is the transmission of ‘ideals’. The form that each individual’s ideals take may vary as much as the individuals themselves.
While each transcription is an analogue of only one performance by each individual performer, even a limited analysis of a limited data base such as the ten transcriptions used in this thesis provides a remarkable glimpse of the incredibly complex diversity and variability of the shakuhachi classical honkyoku. These two elements, diversity and variability, are two of the most fundamental defining features of honkyoku. That these two features can still be so readily observed confirms the enduring nature of this living tradition.
In addition to the above issues, the question of ‘insider/outsider’, first raised in chapter one, must be addressed. The ways in which the analyses were set up and executed necessitated an insider’s knowledge of “Reibo”. The lining up of the orthographically simplified transcriptions (pp.359–369), which was a crucial step in the analyses, was particularly dependent upon an understanding of the piece achieved only through the insider’s experience of performing “Reibo”.
One of the insights gained in the process of researching and writing this thesis has to do with the insider/outsider theme and how it relates to Watazumi’s honkyoku. The problems associated with any paradigm of insider/outsider with regards to the shakuhachi tradition are solved instantly by Watazumi. In his repudiation of the teacher-student relationship, of the notion of lineage and transmission and of the labels honkyoku and shakuhachi (pp.415–416), Watazumi transcends the insider/outsider dichotomy, and arrives at a unifying state of being eloquently referred to in the shakuhachi tradition with the expression, ichi on jôbutsu (一音成仏, ‘one sound attaining Buddhahood’). In the ‘one sound’ there is no inside and no outside.
A series of questions have haunted me throughout the writing of this thesis, which may have contributed to the seven years required to complete it. Part of the intuitive understanding of honkyoku and its transmission is the knowledge that that intuitive understanding comes from direct experience. As a honkyoku performer, I have from the beginning of this project wondered if studying honkyoku in a scholarly manner was either valid or necessary. Would any sort of understanding acquired through scholarly endeavours bear any relation to the absolute understanding of the player during the act of performing honkyoku? Even if some kind of non-intuitive understanding of honkyoku could be achieved (the first part of my initial aim), would it be possible to transmit that understanding to the reader (the second part of my initial aim)?
From the vantage point of having finished the research and all the writing of this thesis, save the final paragraph of this conclusion, I can, in retrospect, gratefully answer all of the above questions with an emphatic yes! With the act of submitting this thesis, it becomes a part of the honkyoku tradition, one of its many aspects. The ‘essence’ of honkyoku, though beyond the ability of words to describe, is in its very limitlessness, manifested in all aspects of the tradition, including this thesis. The words in this thesis are offered in the spirit described by Aitken:
“…we must use words. How should we use them? By playing with them, as [Chang-tsu and Bashô] both did, and as did Huang-po, Yun-men, Ch’ang-sha, and countless other Zen teachers. The purpose is to present something, not to mean something. Meaning something destroys it.”
The words in this thesis present something, but do not attempt to mean anything. In the process of my researching, organizing, and finally presenting these words as author, and with the act of you, the reader, receiving them, transmission of honkyoku takes place.