The main subject of this thesis is the transmission of shakuhachi honkyoku, specifically the honkyoku known as “Reibo”. The first chapter discussed the issue of insiders and outsiders because of the importance given that issue by members of the shakuhachi tradition, and because of the influences the concepts of insider and outsider have had on how the tradition has been and is being transmitted. The second and third chapters surveyed the literature on the shakuhachi, and presented a summary of the history of the shakuhachi. Together these chapters provided a background of information against which the subject of transmission of honkyoku within the shakuhachi tradition could be more clearly seen. Chapter four focused upon the honkyoku “Reibo” of the Ôshû district and introduced a lineage chart depicting the lines of transmission of that honkyoku through selected shakuhachi performers.

The following chapter broadens the discussion of honkyoku transmission in the shakuhachi tradition beyond the relatively superficial parameters discussed in Chapter four. In this chapter, the fundamental question of this thesis will be addressed: What is being transmitted in the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition? From this first question are generated two other major questions. The second question, and questions related to it are: How does the transmission take place? In what context is the transmission accomplished? Who is transmitting, and to whom? The third and final major question looks at the interaction between the first two: How does the manner in which the transmission occurs affect, and is affected by, that which is being transmitted? What is the relationship between the process of transmission and the conception of honkyoku?

These three issues are best illuminated by looking at multiple points of view, that is, by noting what individual players themselves state and by examining what the notations and transcriptions of performances show. These viewpoints are numerous and sometimes conflicting. My own point of departure, discussed in chapter one, will affect how the three issues are presented. As a shakuhachi player and performer of koten honkyoku I am primarily interested in looking at, through the verbal or written medium of this thesis, the same tradition of insight that is inherent in the act of performance.

Before looking at the formal elements of transmission processes in the honkyoku tradition, I would like to explore certain cognate positions within three different but related realms of discourse. The first of these is the concept of subjectivity versus objectivity. The second area of discussion is theories of orality and literacy. The third realm of discourse is the relationship between performance and documentation. These three areas will be viewed from the western theoretical position; by examining post-modernist critiques of subjectivity/objectivity and by looking at western theoretical writings on orality/literacy and performance/documentation. Cognates of these postulates that can be found within Japanese culture will also be discussed. These include the distinction of Taoism or Zen and Confucianism, manifestations of orality/literacy in Japanese culture and examples of the role of documents and performances in Japan. All of the discussions will lead to the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition itself, within whose transmission processes can be seen these same sets of polarity.

5.1 Concepts of subjectivity, objectivity, and sound.

The Oxford English Dictionary (1971:3383) defines the verb “to transmit” as “to cause (a thing) to pass, go, or be conveyed to another person, place, or thing; to send across an intervening space; to convey, transfer”. The second meaning given is “to convey or communicate (usually something immaterial) to another or others; to pass on, especially by inheritance or heredity; to hand down”. Both of these definitions include an ‘object’ being transmitted, i.e., ‘a thing’ or ‘something immaterial’.

Barwick (1988:2) points out that research on transmission in cultural studies (including musicological ones) is usually document-centred, with written material such as transcriptions of performances, forming the data base used in the studies. Examples of such studies are those by Parry (1971) and Lord (1964). The written manuscript or transcription functions typically to objectify that which is being transmitted. These studies consequently imply that the transmission that is occurring fits the model presented by the conduit theory of communication, that is, “an item of information is passed or transmitted from person A to person B”. This in turn presupposes:

“1) an object (an item of information or repertoire) having some sort of existence independent of persons A and B (and potentially representable in the form of a document), and
2) a means of transmission capable of completely transparent communication.”

(Barwick 1988:1-2)

The validity of these presuppositions is questioned by modern communication theories, which “admit neither the existence of the item of information as an entity outside its utterance or manifestation, nor the possibility of a transparent mode of communication, nor indeed the discrete subjectivity of the individual” (Barwick 1988:2). Despite this, musicologists typically record, transcribe, analyze and discuss musical performances from an ‘objective’ viewpoint, treating the document not only as an accurate, but even a more exact substitute for the actual act of performance (Barwick 1988:2).

Barwick (1988:3) further argues that in concentrating on what is transmitted, that is, the ‘object’ of transmission, one is forced to explain or, more accurately ‘explain away’ any variation that might occur to that ‘object’ during transmission. Thus, variation becomes a problem that must be explained away, leading to a preoccupation with defining the original, the authentic or the deep structure, in order to identify or construct the ‘sameness’ that is necessary when talking about objects of transmission.

Returning to the topic of this thesis, Barwick’s position suggests that by answering the question ‘What is transmitted’, with simply ‘honkyoku’ or “the piece ‘Reibo'” one risks coming into conflict with the shakuhachi tradition’s own view of the process of transmission. This would be especially true if one were to take performance documents, such as notated scores, transcriptions, and/or recordings of individual performances of the “Reibo” piece and view them as the object of transmission. This thesis will, therefore, attempt to avoid viewing the transmission of the shakuhachi honkyoku “Reibo” solely as the transmission of an ‘object’ independent of its multiple utterances and manifestations, and separate from the process of its performance and those performing it.

It must be stated, however, that there exist some prominent members of the shakuhachi tradition who hold the opposite view, namely Inoue Shôei and to a lesser degree Aoki Reibo (see pp.288295). Nonetheless, the nature of honkyoku as performed by many, if not most, players facilitates, even demands, the opposite viewpoint. “Reibo” does not exist as a distinct ‘object’ or ‘piece’, but rather only as a phenomenon that exists in performance, in a relatively constant state of flux.


Ideally, during the course of transmitting honkyoku from one person to another, an intuitive form of communication or transmission develops that is non-verbal, non-visual, non-auditory, non-analytical, and non-logical. Without this form of transmission, which may be described as a sense of intuitive mutual perception on the part of both teacher and student, many believe that there is a chance that only the outer shell of the honkyoku might be transmitted and/or received, with no transmission of the ‘real essence’ or ‘inner core’ taking place. The ‘outer shell’ becomes the ‘object’ mentioned above.

Hisamatsu mentions this in “Hitori kotoba” (, Monologue, ca.1830, reproduced in Gutzwiller 1983:169-174), one of three essays that are possibly the only surviving writing on shakuhachi by a practising komusô of the Fuke sect. Hisamatsu wrote, “To play only the outer form is not called playing shakuhachi, and has nothing to do with it. Be aware of this!” Hisamatsu further admonished the beginner to learn to play the “real essence” of honkyoku.

Not surprisingly, what exactly constitutes the ‘real essence’ of honkyoku is never explicitly explained, possibly because the essence of honkyoku defies verbal explanation. It is like most fundamental Buddhist concepts, which are only “amenable to complete understanding through experience and definitions are inevitably inadequate” (Howard 1992a:35). Hisamatsu states in another essay, “Hitori mondô” ( 1823, reproduced in Kurihara 1918:209-215), that, “the essence of playing is beyond reasoning”. A strong parallel can be clearly seen between this aspect of the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition and Zen Buddhism, the essence of which has been described as, “an intuitive looking into the nature of things in contradistinction to the analytical or logical understanding of it” (Suzuki 1956:84).


The “essence of playing” mentioned by Hisamatsu is the concept of s̀ûnyatâ, the essential emptiness of all phenomena. S̀ûnyatâ is a principle central to Zen Buddhism as well as to the entire Mahayana Buddhist tradition. It is, according to Yasutani-roshi, “that which is living, dynamic, devoid of mass, unfixed, beyond individuality or personality – the matrix of all phenomena” (Yasutani in Howard 1992a:31). Howard further elaborates on s̀ûnyatâ (also called mu in the Zen tradition), explaining, “The experience of ‘realization’ in Zen is to glimpse this essential principle of the emptiness and unity of all things and thus to see that ultimate reality is identified with the intrinsic nature of things themselves” (Howard 1992a:31).

Whatever this indefinable ‘real essence’ or ‘inner core’ of honkyoku might be, according to members of the honkyoku tradition it is not such observable and quantifiable things as musical sound, and it cannot be attained by becoming an accomplished performer of advanced shakuhachi techniques. A contemporary shakuhachi player, Hanada Nobuhisa () quotes Rinzai: “In Buddha’s law there is no place for skill and usefulness” and elaborates by writing:

Just as a baby or a person sound asleep breathes naturally, in essence there is no good and bad in shakuhachi playing. A player who is said to be good is one who has abandoned all technique. A poor player is one who tries to play skillfully.

(Hanada, in Howard 1992a:33)

Kobayashi Shizan (), thirty -fifth head of the Myôan lineage is quoted by Howard (1992b:10) as stating that even when the shakuhachi player fails to produce the desired note when blowing his instrument, “the unwanted sound should be savoured. In this way you come to appreciate the taste of true accomplishment, of art that is artless.” Suzuki (1960:69-70) states, “[t]he Essence is to be grasped, not the hearing, nor the sound. To take the latter for reality is the result of confused mentality”.

Despite the obvious lack of correlation between virtuosic production of sound and essence of honkyoku, this element of the honkyoku tradition is most commonly the subject of musical analysis in musicological studies. In other words, most of the analytical tools of the musicologist are impotent in defining and understanding the ‘inner core’ of honkyoku and the intuitive means of transmitting it.

It is worthwhile to refer back to the modern communication theories summarized by Barwick, which deny the existence of both object and subject as separate, discrete entities within the dynamics of the communication of information.

This does not mean that the ‘outer shell’ of honkyoku, the sound, is to be ignored and discarded. In another sense, musical sounds and performance techniques are exactly that which is transmitted in the honkyoku tradition. The Heart Sutra, one of Zen Buddhism’s most central texts, states that form is empty, but also that emptiness is form. In non-dualistic thinking, there is no separation of inner core from outer shell, or objectivity and subjectivity. Howard (1992a:30) points out that there is no duality between the two co-existent principles of ultimate reality and perceivable things. This is also expressed in Zen literature as the ‘relative’ (the world of appearance) and ‘the ‘absolute’ (ultimate reality).

There is an object that is communicated, but it is separate from neither its subjective utterance nor its equally subjective reception. The object is the sound of shakuhachi honkyoku. The spiritual practices of the shakuhachi-playing members of the Fuke sect were based upon sound and hearing. Howard (1991:95-101) has suggested that these practices may have found their conceptual context in a Buddhist text probably written in China in the seventh century. In the Sûrangama Sûtra, which has had a significant influence upon the Zen Buddhist tradition, the Bodhisattva Avalokites̀vara (Jap. Kannon , literally ‘Seeing Sound’), the ‘One Who Hears the Sounds of the World’, describes how she attained enlightenment by initially meditating on hearing and sound.

An understanding of the sound that is honkyoku might be gained by first reflecting on the nature of sound itself. Ong deals with the subject of sound in his book Orality and Literacy (1982). He writes:

“All sensation takes place in time, but sound has a special relationship to time unlike that of the other fields that register in human sensation. Sound exists only when it is going out of existence. It is not simply perishable but essentially evanescent, and it is sensed as evanescent….

“There is no way to stop sound and have sound. I can stop a moving picture camera and hold one frame fixed on the screen. If I stop the movement of sound, I have nothing–only silence, no sound at all. All sensation takes place in time, but no other sensory field totally resists a holding action, stabilization, in quite this way.”

(Ong 1982:31-32)

In Buddhism, all phenomena are viewed as having the impermanence of sound. The traditional Buddhist dictum, which states that “Everything perishes as soon as it arises”, denies duration and is, therefore, “the ultimate limit of momentariness” (Kim 1987:148). Just as the only sound that one ever hears is the sound of the present moment, one’s entire existence, including the other senses, exists entirely in the present. Dôgen, 12th c. Japanese Zen master, writes:

“The present time under consideration is each individual’s absolute now. I think of the past, present, and future, and no matter how many periods–even tens of thousands of them–I may think of, they are the present moment, the absolute now. A person’s destiny lies necessarily in the present. In other words, the eyeballs are now, the nostrils are now.”

(trans. by Kim, in Kim 1987:147)

Sound exists only at a particular location and a particular time, that is, the absolute Here and Now. Hence the power of sound and the power of classical shakuhachi honkyoku.

Another Zen Buddhist vantage point from which to view sound and its relationship with time is given rather transparently by Suzuki Shunryû:

“We say, ‘To hear the sound of one hand clapping.’1 Usually the sound of clapping is made with two hands, and we think that clapping with one hand makes no sound at all. But actually, one hand is sound. Even though you do not hear it, there is sound. If you clap with two hands, you can hear the sound. But if sound did not already exist before you clapped, you could not make the sound. Before you make it there is sound. Because there is sound, you can make it, and you can hear it. Sound is everywhere. If you just practice it, there is sound. Do not try to listen to it. If you do not listen to it, the sound is all over. Because you try to hear it, sometimes there is sound and sometimes there is no sound.”

(Suzuki S. 1970:60)

1. The koan (, literally ‘public plan’, a catechetical question for meditation) “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” is attributed to Japanese Zen Buddhist master Hakuin Ekaku ( 1686-1769).

The sound made by one hand clapping is ‘absolute sound’, neither relative to nor dependent upon anything outside of itself, including time or location. In the honkyoku tradition, this concept is called tettei on (, literally ‘thorough’ or ‘complete sound’). Tettei on is translated as “absolute sound” by Gutzwiller (1983:248). The shakuhachi player strives to perform each honkyoku with tettei on; sometimes one hears it and sometimes one does not. One is striving to attain tettei on all one’s life and yet one’s first tentative sound on the shakuhachi is tettei on2. It is “One Sound Attaining Buddhahood” (ichi on jôbutsu) (see below). It is the sound of enlightenment itself.

2. The seemingly conflicting notion between an ‘absolute sound’ (enlightenment) that requires a lifetime of effort to attain and an ‘absolute sound’ that is effortlessly made from the very beginning is dealt with in the Buddhist tradition. For example, see Kim (1985) on Dogen’s thoughts concerning the dialetical relationship between acquired enlightenment (, shikaku) and original enlightment (, honkaku).

Sound is unique among phenomena perceived by the senses in its relationship to location as well as time, and the consequent illumination it sheds upon the concepts of interior and exterior. Ong calls this unique relationship or quality the “interiority of sound” (1982:71). Hearing is the best, if not the only, sense with which to perceive the interior of something from its exterior. Ong (1982:71) states “Sounds all register the interior structures of whatever it is that produces them”, adding that the sounds of various musical instruments and human voices differ depending upon their interior structure. The perception of sound outside the structure which produces it is partly determined by the inside of the structure.

The concept of interior/exterior extends beyond the characteristics of sound. It is the concept of I/Thou, and of subject/object (see above, p.109). The interaction between interior and exterior is dealt with in the visual art tradition of the East. According to Izutsu (1975:1-2), as early as the 5th century in China, Hsieh Ho established six principles of Chinese painting. The first of the principles is entitled “Spiritual Tone Pulsating with Life” (Ch’i yun shêng tung). Applicable to honkyoku as much as to painting, states that:

…there must be a perfect, harmonious correspondence realized between the inner rhythm of man and the life rhythm of the external Nature in such a way that, as a result, an indefinable spiritual tone pervades the whole space of the picture, vitalizing the latter in the most subtle way and imparting metaphysical significance to the objects depicted, whatever they might be. When a painter succeeds in actualizing this principle, his work will be filled with a peculiar kind of spiritual energy in rhythmic pulsation itself, in which the spirit of man will be in direct communion with the inner reality of Heaven and Earth.”

(In Izutsu 1975:1-2)3

Honkyoku performance, when accompanied in a manner which is harmonious with interior and exterior rhythms, is also filled with an indefinable spiritual energy transcending the performer, and which unifies the human spirit with all of nature.

3. For an illuminating discussion of the many similarities between painting traditions in Japan and the shakuhachi tradition, both as activities of Zen Buddhism, see Howard 1992b).

Looking at the qualities of sound once more, Ong (1982:72) observes further that, “Sight isolates, sound incorporates”. Vision dissects the entire panorama; one can only look at the one thing at a time. Yet one hears all of the sounds around one.

“By contrast with vision, the dissecting sense, sound is thus a unifying sense. A typical visual ideal is clarity and distinctness, a taking apart…. The auditory ideal, by contrast, is harmony, a putting together.”

(Ong 1982:72)

The unifying quality of sound is also recognized in the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition. In the well-known shakuhachi dictum ichi on jôbutsu (, ‘one sound attaining Buddhahood’), the ‘one sound’ is frequently given the meaning of a single note played on a single shakuhachi. Howard (1992b:6) translates ichi on jôbutsu as “enlightenment in a single sound”, which identifies the blowing of a single sound with the expression of pure realization. It is “an expression of a momentary experience of insight or realization triggered after long cultivation through the agency of sound” (Howard 1992b:6).

It is not necessarily incorrect to think of ichi on jôbutsu as meaning simply that the sound of the shakuhachi is so potent that it is even possible for a shakuhachi player to attain Buddhahood by merely performing a single note on shakuhachi. It does demonstrate, however, only a partial understanding of the expression. It is not any particular potency unique to the sound of shakuhachi that is enlightenment. Any sound and all sounds are capable of triggering enlightenment. Zen master Yamada Kôun Roshi states:

When your consciousness has become ripe by true zazen–pure like clear water, like a serene mountain lake, not moved by any wind–then anything may serve as a medium for enlightenment.

(In Aitken 1978:26)

Furthermore, though enlightenment may indeed be attained by blowing one note on shakuhachi, the expression ichi on jôbutsu is far more charged with meaning. First of all, it is not ‘sounds’ in general that is ‘Becoming Buddha’. Embedded in the expression ichi on jôbutsu is the understanding that the ‘One Sound’ is not ‘two or more’ sounds. It is also not ‘sound’ as a separate entity, that is, an object to be perceived by the listener (another separate entity) and categorized as something that is this and not that. The unified ‘One Sound’ is Absolute Sound (tettei on), limited by neither time nor space.

It is therefore every sound that has ever emanated, is emanating, and will ever emanate from all shakuhachi, past, present and future. All shakuhachi are resonating with Buddhahood, a veritable cacophony of enlightenment. Taking the meaning of ‘one sound’ even further, all sound from the unimaginable roar of a volcanic eruption to the inaudible sound of an autumn leaf alighting on the grass, the noise of all activities of all humanity, and in fact all creation, all form, all matter, all thoughts, and all energy is the ‘one sound’ becoming Buddha. In this light, the single sound emanating from one’s own bamboo flute is the very essence of what is being transmitted in the honkyoku tradition. It is in the spirit of this concept that this study has been undertaken.

5.2 Orality, Zen, and the Shakuhachi Honkyoku

The above discussion of the nature of sound and how it is treated within the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition leads to an important observation of honkyoku: the sounds that make up honkyoku have been transmitted primarily through an oral tradition. This single observation leads to a number of others, because all oral traditions share many elements which differenciate them from written traditions. Though the use of notation is found in the honkyoku tradition today, it was primarily an oral one before this century, with the extensive use of notation, hand-written and printed, dating only from the end of the 19th century (Lee 1986:87-89). I will argue below that the honkyoku tradition is still largely an oral one, which consequently affects the nature of honkyoku in predictable ways.

Seeger has suggested that the interesting thing about the oral/written paradigm was not the difference between the two but their “inextricably connected” relationship with each other (In Nettl 1983:187). This relationship can be readily seen in much of the honkyoku tradition. Some of the changes that may have occurred in the shakuhachi tradition because of the use of written, printed, and recorded forms have been discussed elsewhere (Lee 1988).

The following discussion introduces the subject of orality and related topics as well as theories of orality that have been developed during this century, especially as they pertain to honkyoku. Similarities between the honkyoku tradition and other oral traditions are also examined in so far as they might shed light on the question central to this section; what is being transmitted.

One of the most comprehensive works on the subject of oral and written traditions is Walter J. Ong’s Orality and Literacy (1982). Ong is concerned basically with what he calls “primary oral cultures,” or oral cultures untouched by writing. Neither the honkyoku tradition nor Zen are products of a ‘primary oral culture’. In fact, in this century few cultures that might be thought of as non-literate have had no contact with literacy. Aboriginal Australia is considered one of the most conspicuously ‘oral’ cultures extant today despite contact with literate European culture to varying degrees over the past one hundred to two hundred years4 (Clunies Ross 1983:17). Even after writing is introduced into a culture, as in ancient Greece, there persists an “oral state of mind”, “a mode of consciousness…a vocabulary and syntax, which [are] not that of a literate bookish culture” (Havelock 1963:41). When applied to traditions that retain vestiges of orality within a largely literate context, theories of orality may lose their economy, but not their usefulness in helping to formulate a description of those traditions. Honkyoku is one such tradition.

4. Some members of the Pintupi tribe in Western Australia remained untouched by literate society until the 1980s.

Ong’s main premise is that there is a distinctly ‘oral’ and a quite different ‘literate’ mentality; the world seen through the eyes of orality is not the same world of the literate. The human experience has historically been overwhelmingly oral both in terms of time (only 6000 years of literacy within at least a 50,000 year existence) and numbers (of a possible tens of thousands of languages spoken by the human race, only 106 have had a writing system developed enough to produce literature) (Ong 1982:2,7). Yet those of us who belong to a modern literate society are so conditioned by our literacy as to be virtually unable to “conceive of an oral universe of communication of thought except as a variant of a literate universe” (1982:2).

According to Havelock, the oral mind, at least in ancient Greece, is a mind unconscious of itself, incapable of conceiving that

“‘I’ am one thing and the tradition is another; that ‘I’ can stand apart from the tradition and examine it; that ‘I’ can and should break the spell of its hypnotic force; that ‘I’ should divert some at least of my mental powers away from memorization and direct them instead into channels of critical inquiry and analysis”.

(Havelock 1963:200)

Havelock concludes, “The doctrine of the autonomous psyche is the counterpart of the rejection of the oral culture” (1963:200).


The dichotomy of inside/outside, of an ‘I’ that is separate from the tradition or from anything else is, in the context of Zen Buddhist thought an illusionary construct of the mind. It is related to the concepts of interiority and exteriority, discussed above. In a lecture entitled “The Interior and Exterior in Zen Buddhism”, Izutsu (1975:23) speaks of “the sudden realization of the ontological transparency of all things, including both the things existing in the ‘external’ world and the human subject which is ordinarily supposed to be looking at them from the outside. Both the ‘external’ things and the ‘internal’ of man divest themselves of their ontological opaqueness, become totally transparent, pervade each other, and become submerged into one.”

Though typically associated with Eastern philosophies, such thoughts have also long been a part of the Western spiritual tradition. For example, Jesus is quoted in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas as saying:

“When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same….then you will enter [the Kingdom].”

(quoted in Aitken 1984:130)

In playing shakuhachi honkyoku, as with Zen Buddhist practice, the separation of the ‘I’ from the tradition is transcended. In the act of performing honkyoku, the performer experiences an unselfconscious mind, in which differentiation between the performer, the performing, and the shakuhachi ceases to be. These are “the three wheels” (the actor, the action, and the thing acted upon) in the Buddhist sutra which states that all three are “vacant” (Aitken 1990:109). A fourth vacant wheel is added here, the performance or sound produced. Wumen warns “Don’t be victimized by sounds; don’t follow up on forms”, stating further “If you listen with your ear, it is hard to understand. If you hear with your eye, you are intimate at last.” (Aitken 1990:107).

The concept of critical inquiry and analysis simply does not exist in the mind of the honkyoku performer. Indicative of this is the lack of music treatises or analyses of the music of the honkyoku written by honkyoku performers5. To my knowledge, the few musical analyses of honkyoku that exist in Japanese, are all written by Tukitani, a non-performing scholar (see chapter 2).

5. This thesis is an exception. As author, I must consciously position myself within the western critical tradition of musicology during the act of writing.


Sounds, especially words, have power, particularly in an oral rather than literate frame of mind. “Sound cannot be sounding without the use of power,” Ong points out, adding, “all sound, and especially oral utterance, which comes from inside living organisms, is ‘dynamic'” (1982:32). In most Western cultures this idea is epitomized by the utterance “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.” The ‘Word’ is sound in its supreme power.

Zen also recognizes this special characteristic of sound. In many cases recorded in Zen literature, it is the sound of a spoken word, or the act of sounding the word as much as the meaning of the word that precipitates the listener’s enlightenment. In the famous koan, ‘Chao-chou’s Dog’, “A monk asked Chao-chou, ‘Has the dog Buddha nature or not? Chao-chou said, ‘Mu'” (Aitken 1990:7). The literal (and hidden) meaning of Chao-chou’s response, ‘mu’, is nothing at all. The meaning of the koan does not lie in the meaning of the word ‘mu’.

In some cases the moment of insight is preceded by just sound, no words at all. Zen master Xiangyan Zhixian (, J. Kyôgen Chikan, ca. 9th C.) attained enlightenment upon hearing the sound of a pebble hitting a bamboo while sweeping the ground. Wumen Huikai (, J. Mumon Ekai, 1183-1260) was awakened as he heard the sound of the drum that announced mealtimes. Hakuin Ekaku (, 1686-1769), was enlightened by the sound of the temple bell announcing dawn as he was meditating through a winter’s night. One monk experienced awakening with the clattering of a tile breaking on the ground. The sound of honkyoku being played on a bamboo flute is the sound of enlightenment itself. It is in this context that the expression ichion jôbutsu is made in the honkyoku tradition.

Oral traditions have a special relationship to time because of their existence as sound. Oral traditions give time a further perspective in their tendency to merge the past with the present. They exist only in the present moment. The present moment therefore has a much greater importance. For example, epic tales are not thought of as strictly historical in perspective in the Western sense, and do not accurately preserve the past. Rather, the composer/performer creates a consciousness of the present in his performance, in part by continually including present relevances and discarding or modifying past irrelevancies. What has been received from the past is brought into the present moment. “The living memory preserves what is necessary for present life” (Havelock 1963:122).

The concept of time and sound as dealt with in the Zen tradition has been mentioned above. On the subject of time D.T. Suzuki writes:

“In this spiritual world there are no time-divisions such as the past, present, and future; for they have contracted themselves into a single moment of the present where life quivers in its true sense. The conception of time as a objective blank in which particular events as its contents succeed one after another has completely been discarded….the past and the future are both rolled up in this present moment of illumination, and this present moment is not something standing still with all its contents, for it ceaselessly moves on. Thus the past is the present, so is the future, but this present in which the past and the future are merged never remains the present; in other words, it is eternally present.”

(Suzuki D.T. 1970:76)

In the honkyoku tradition, the act of performing honkyoku unifies the illusionary divisions of the past, present, and future. At the instance of performing a single sound, the performer simultaneously hears what precedes the particular sound as well as what follows it. If the previous sounds and those that follow it are not within one’s awareness while performing a sound, then that sound will not be performed as ‘absolute sound’ or with ‘absolute timing’ (see pp.284287). The past and future become part of the perception of the present moment.

This does not mean that while performing honkyoku a player is preoccupied with what has been or will be performed, at the expense of the present performance (a trap that all shakuhachi players seem to encounter). With the performance of every note, there is only that particular note, nothing else. Within that single note, past, present, and future merge into the ‘absolute now’ of Dogen (see above).

An interesting difference between oral memory and ‘textual memory’ noted by Ong (1982:67) is that unlike the latter, the former “has a high somatic component”. By this, Ong means bodily activity that accompanies vocalization, such as hand movements, swaying of the body, dancing, etc. A reason given by Ong for this “natural, even inevitable” behavior leads to yet another connection between Zen Buddhism, orality, and honkyoku. Ong states:

“The oral word, as we have noted, never exists in a simply verbal context, as a written word does. Spoken words are always modifications of a total, existential situation, which always engages the body.”

(Ong 1982:67)

The engagement of the ‘total, existential situation’ is the goal of Zen Buddhism, and of shakuhachi honkyoku performance. The inability of words, especially written words to address the total existential situation is one of the primary reasons Zen Buddhism has always been wary of literature. The founder of Zen Buddhism in China, Bodhi-Dharma taught that Zen is:

“A special transmission outside the
No dependence upon words and letters;
Direct pointing to the soul of man;
Seeing into one’s nature and the attainment
of Buddhahood.”

(Suzuki D.T. 1956:61)

This quote is quite emphatic in stating that awareness of the total, existential situation is not found in literature. Literature is by its very nature, linear rather than holistic. The linear time frame, the sense of traveling through points in a progressing history is enforced by the writing and reading of most literature.

This contrasts with the total situation, which defies the linear/literate mind set. Awareness of the interconnectedness of the whole is likened to knowing the Buddhist Net of Indra (a poetic description of the universe), an infinite net of jewels, each jewel reflecting every other jewel in the net. Compassion, one of the wellsprings of Buddhism, is born out of such awareness and actions based upon that awareness.

Playing honkyoku is an exercise in being aware of the total situation, in a way that neither notation nor a verbal nor a visual description can reproduce. It is a non-literate way of thinking. Honkyoku can only be experienced. The manner in which the first breath is taken before playing the initial phrase of a piece determines and is determined by how the final phrase of the piece is played, so interconnected are all of the breaths and phrases. Each phrase, note, timing, and minute articulation in honkyoku is affected by what precedes and follows it, by the physical, emotional and mental state of the performer, the physical state of the shakuhachi instrument, the surroundings in which the performance is taking place, the audience if any, etc.

Awareness of all of these elements is essential in every honkyoku performance, and defies the linear/literate mentality mentioned above. Likewise, the state of one’s being and mind at the moment of taking each breath also determines the nature of that breath. The realization of honkyoku is determined by all stimuli experienced by the performer, the listener, and the shakuhachi instrument itself. As will be seen in the analysis (chapter six), one of the ways this concept is manifested in performance is in the myriad variations in phrase length and number of total phrases that occur between performers.

Related to this is a statement of my first teacher, Sakai Chikuho II, that each performance of honkyoku is an event which is eternal and must be performed with the concentration, awareness and respect befitting that which is eternal. The playing of honkyoku forever resonates within and profoundly affects the performer and the listener, as well as those people and things that come in contact with the performer and listener, ever expanding in its influence upon the universe, to the degree that it becomes the universe.

5.2.1 Orality and Music

Besides the philosophical aspects of orality and how it relates to Zen Buddhism and shakuhachi honkyoku, the theoretical statements derived from the study of orality and music in general can be studied profitably as an avenue toward the understanding of honkyoku. Not surprisingly, a primary instance of music as an oral tradition is another music tradition of a primarily religious nature, Gregorian chants. Studies of Gregorian chant within the context of orality, notably by Treitler (1974, 1975) and Cutter (1976), are particularly pertinent to the study of honkyoku.

There are a number of similarities between Gregorian chants and honkyoku besides their probable oral origins. This can be seen in part by examining the role of Gregory. To an extent, Gregory is mythical in so far as he is more than his ‘historical’ component. The myths associated with this figure play an important role in the way in which the music has been viewed through the centuries, in particular, in disguising its probable origins as an oral tradition.

For example, Gregory is traditionally credited with having invented or created Gregorian Chant despite modern scholars believing otherwise. As such, he has been considered, at the very least, a legendary genius and has even been thought of as a recipient of direct inspiration and aid from God. Gregory especially has been thought of as having been personally helped by God in his creative endeavors. Similar observations can be made about Homer, the traditional creator of another oral tradition, the epic tales of the Iliad and the Odyssey (Treitler 1974:334-344).

There are a number of prominent figures in the honkyoku tradition that act in a similar fashion to Homer and Gregory. The prime example is Hotto Kokushi. Like Gregory, Hotto was an historical person, a famous Buddhist priest of the thirteenth century. But the legends of Hotto’s role in creating the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition in Japan, discussed in Chapter 3 (p.114) are of mythical proportions. Furthermore, as with the case of Gregorian Chant, the act of creating the earliest and most revered honkyoku, the three pieces known as “Sankyorei”, also featured divine intervention (see p.234). More recently, there are numerous legends and larger than life tales surrounding the ‘originator’ of the Watazumi lineage of honkyoku, the inimitable Watazumi dôso, who himself claimed to have had no teacher.

More important than the similarities between the semi-legendary ‘originators’ of the traditions and lineages mentioned above are the traits shared by all orally transmitted poetry and music. As briefly discussed above, this is due to the nature of human memory. Use of memory in transmitting music is treated by Treitler, first by describing a possibly typical view of the process of memory. He asks:

“Is performance without scores tantamount to performance from memory? As our scholarly habits have been conditioned by the study of texts, our recourse in their absence has been the concept of memory as a medium of storage comparable to a score: things are committed to memory whole, and there they lie fixed and lifeless until they are retrieved whole. We say that the singer has memorized a melody as though we might be saying that he had swallowed a score”.

(Treitler 1975:344)

This “unrealistic view of the process of remembering” is contrasted to the view taken by modern psychology. Quoting from Frederic C. Bartlett’s classic Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology (Cambridge, England, 1932; paperback reprint 1972), Treitler outlines ten features of memory that are pertinent to oral transmission, including that of shakuhachi honkyoku (Treitler 1975:344-345). As these features are particularly useful in understanding the transmission process of honkyoku, they are quoted in full below:

  1. The theory of remembering depends on the theory of perception, for the way we recall experiences depends on how we grasp them in the first place.
  2. Perceiving is not passive reception, it is active organizing. We strive to assimilate newly presented material into the setting of patterns and schemata left from the encounter with past experience. But that always results in the reorganization of those patterns. Thus perceiving, and indeed conscious life in general, is a continual process of adjusting our own records of our past.
  3. In perceiving we draw out certain salient features of the matter presented that are for us especially prominent. These serve as signposts for the process of assimilating and reorganizing.
  4. Those signposts play a central role in remembering. As perceiving is not simply a matter of the reception of stimuli, so remembering is not simply the storage of stimuli strung together and their later reproduction. Rather it is an active process of grouping appropriate details about such salient features. It is a process of construction, not reproduction.
  5. In remembering, therefore, we activate and reorganize the patterns of past experience. This has two important corollaries: (a) each recall is based, not on some fixed model outside ourselves, but on our own assimilated version of the matter recalled–not on the ‘original’ but on our most recent rendering; and (b) recall must be in conformity with the existing schemata in which our mind is organized. What does not conform will tend to be corrected or eliminated.
  6. The latter tendency, together with the role of persistent detail in remembering, leads to stereotyped forms. This is especially important in the conventionalization of the forms of cultural expression.
  7. In the recall of narratives, beginnings and ends especially provide those stand-out, persistent features that serve as the focal points of the reconstruction. Consequently it is beginnings and ends that tend to become most stereotyped in repeated recall.
  8. Form, as well as salient detail, is persistent and is therefore an important factor in what makes remembering possible.
  9. A salient detail may be common to two or more themes or streams of interest, and it may serve as a crossing point between them. In that way the theme originally presented may be left and another entered.
  10. Remembering and imaginative construction are on a single continuum. They differ from one another in degree, but not in kind.

(Treitler 1974:344-345)

The oral composition theory is so compatible with the theory of memory that the former may be thought of as a special case of the latter (Treitler 1974:395). The above features of memory can be used to explain much of the construction of honkyoku, as will be demonstrated in the analysis of “Reibo” (see chapter six). The musical formula is a salient feature or signpost used by composer/performer in oral music traditions. In the case of “Reibo”, one musical formula is so important in the honkyoku tradition as to be given the name, reibo no te (, “Reibo” fingering). This salient feature, as well as other features such as cadential formulae and beginnings and endings of formal divisions, operate in performances of “Reibo” in a manner consistent with the oral composition.

In orally composed/transmitted music, formulaic material becomes the notes, phrases, motives, or other salient features of the pieces in question. In order to understand a type of music of this kind, this formulaic material must be defined and recognized. Though the identifying, listing and cataloguing of possible formula is necessary, it is only a first step in analyzing a piece of music. More importantly, the system regulating the use of the formula must also be identified (Treitler 1974:356). For example, according to the theories of memory, the formulaic material should be more prevalent at the beginning of the piece (melody, section, etc.), should occur less frequently as the piece progresses, and more frequently as the piece nears its conclusion (Treitler 1975:9).

In Gregorian chants, the ‘formulaic system’, according to Treitler (1974:359), “is a construct, a way of referring to the singer’s assimilated sense of the pattern of a melodic phrase as that can be inferred from the study of numerous instances of phrases like it”.

Treitler argues that features in Gregorian Chant, such as recurring melodic patterns or formulae, can best be understood in the light of theories of orality. He gives as examples the musical transcriptions in figure 6 (Treitler 1974:358). The upper staff represents an abstract realization of what Treitler calls “the formulaic system”, features shared by every phrase in the particular position. The other staves show the recurrent formulae, identified with horizontal brackets (1974:357-358). For example, the formula identified as #1 consists of the notes D, C, and A. The formulaic system allows a beginning in either direction through the frame, but eventually the movement is downward.

Another study of orally transmitted music is the analysis by Seeger (1977) of approximately three hundred variants of the predominately orally transmitted American ballad “Barbara Allen”. The analysis showed that the lack of a score “not only encourages but enforces variance of performance” (Seeger 1977;275). It was found that one of the most useful and generally agreed upon of all criteria used to classify the variants was phrase endings (Seeger 1977:308), a conclusion predicted by orality theories. Seeger (1977:278) also observes that “what is sung and the singing of it are not, musically speaking, two things, but one”, and the abstraction of the song from its singing, which is what the written score does, leads to distortion.


The identification of formulaic material in shakuhachi honkyoku, using data from scores of traditional shakuhachi honkyoku notation and transcriptions of honkyoku performances, and the system by which that material may be organized will be the topic of chapter six (pp.304418). The following section examines honkyoku as an oral tradition in more general terms, and presents issues related to orality that are specific to the tradition.

5.2.2 Orality and the Transmission of Shakuhachi Honkyoku

The question of orality has never been examined in studies of honkyoku, by either Japanese or non-Japanese scholars. One might ask how instrumental music can be ‘oral’, as nothing is sung or spoken as in Gregorian chant or oral epic tales. The terms ‘non-notated’ or perhaps ‘aural’ would be more appropriate in the case of instrumental music that is transmitted primarily without recourse to written notation. Nettl (1983:187) points out that ‘aural’ emphasizes that people learn what they hear, not what is spoken to them. This differentiation becomes even more meaningful in the light of the features of memory listed above. Nonetheless, the term ‘oral’ will be used in this discussion of honkyoku for two reasons.

First of all, the issue of transmission remains basically the same whether the music is an ‘oral’ or ‘aural’ one, or even whether the tradition is a verbal or musical one. Secondly, there are ‘oral’ aspects to honkyoku. For example, in the course of transmitting honkyoku to a student the teacher does utilize the spoken word during a lesson, however briefly. The verbal discussion of the pieces by the traditional shakuhachi teacher may not be as elaborate or technical as would occur during the lessons of typically western instruments. Nonetheless, the teacher does not remain totally silent, if only to tell the student that his rendition of the piece is still unacceptable.

It is common knowledge that the shakuhachi koten honkyoku tradition is basically an oral one, even among most of the lineages that use notation in the transmission of the pieces. Not only is it recognized that the pieces were originally created, performed, and transmitted orally, but many believe that the honkyoku must always remain fundamentally oral in character, even if scores are used as mnemonic devices. In a meeting or seminar on the Fuke shakuhachi held in Tôkyô in 1938, noted honkyoku player Uramoto Setchô explained, “In the Fuke sect, notation is really just a memory aid. It does not have an important function. Much [of the Fuke tradition] does not have notation at all, being an oral tradition. When notation is used, it is impossible not to acquire the limits of that notation. One ends up playing the notation, and not playing the true shakuhachi” (Inagaki, ed. 1985:47).

A quite different example of orality in the transmission process of honkyoku is called in the Chikuho ryû tradition hyôshi (, literally ‘the beat’). The teacher frequently sings, or asks the student to sing one or more phrases as an aid to learning them. The vocalization of shakuhachi honkyoku is somewhat similar to the practice shôga () in other Japanese music traditions. Even though notation is used, it is believed that if a student can sing a phrase, he is more likely to really know the phrase, and thus be able to play it on his shakuhachi.

The shakuhachi honkyoku tradition is largely an oral one even though notation of the pieces have existed at least for one hundred and fifty years. In the description of a typical shakuhachi lesson presented above could be seen the diminished role of the written score, as well as the repetitive nature of transmission of the music from teacher to student. Studies of present-day non-literate traditions and of material believed to be written versions of what was originally oral material, such as those of the Homeric and Gregorian traditions, suggest two possible aspects of the honkyoku tradition worthy of consideration. The first of these two aspects might be the characteristics of the honkyoku that suggest a basic oral tradition, through the transcriptions of contemporary performances. Secondly, written notation of honkyoku could be analyzed for any oral residue suggesting an originally oral tradition.

Although the analyses of both transcriptions of recorded performances and transnotations of traditional scores are the subject of a number of studies of honkyoku, and, in fact, constitute a major portion of this thesis, problems nonetheless arise with the division of the examination these two aspects. Transcriptions of recorded performances are at best imperfect records of a finished product, the end result of the act of performing a piece. The act or process of performing that piece is only indirectly and incompletely inferred by the recording and even less so by the transcription. Transcriptions of the notation may show more of the process of performing than do the recording or the transcription thereof, because of numerous written and symbolized instructions to the performer in the score.

In fact, the shakuhachi student today almost always relies on the notation to a certain degree when learning honkyoku. The notation, however, is not a complete written representation of honkyoku performance. The notation, a mnemonic outline of the actual performance, is not ‘all the music’. Though analysis of the notation does in fact indicate ‘oral residue’, as well as a number of other conclusions about the music (see pp.241244), it can only go so far in describing the process of performing honkyoku.

It has been shown elsewhere (Lee 1991:18-35) that notations of shakuhachi honkyoku may differ from their realizations in ways which can be divided into at least four categories: notation symbols that are given new meanings; symbols that are ignored; instances where pitch, duration or playing techniques are not notated; and inconsistent interpretation of symbols. The transnotation of traditional scores of shakuhachi

honkyoku into staff notation cannot indicate these discrepancies between notation and performance.

The usual method of study of a living music tradition, that is, the analysis of transcriptions of recordings of actual performances, also presents problems. The sound product of honkyoku performance, that which can be captured on recordings, is not considered a complete representation of what honkyoku is to the performer. There is more to honkyoku than the music. For example, it is extremely common in the honkyoku for alternative fingerings to be specified, either by the notation or by oral instructions from the teacher. These alternative fingerings frequently produce subtle changes in timbre, but often do not make noticeable changes in the sound product at all. In other words, the listener is not aware of these alternative fingerings, only the performer knows of them. The act or process of performing honkyoku is more important than the audible product. The transmission of these non-sounded processes may or may not be notated in the score. In any case, it may be that the formulaic system underlying the composition and performance of honkyoku may certains of these non-sounded processes.

Because of the above considerations, the validity of any study of koten shakuhachi honkyoku in terms of theories of orality may be related to the degree that the author of the study has experienced the process of performing honkyoku. In other words, the more the researcher has played honkyoku the better chance of his having a knowledge of the features of honkyoku that are oral in nature, particularly those features that are part of the process of performing, but which do not affect the sound product. The relationship between the musicologist’s experience in performing honkyoku and his success in transcribing and analyzing honkyoku performances will be demonstated in the analysis of “Reibo” (chapter six). This is particularly evident in the lining up of transcriptions of a number of performances of a honkyoku in order to facilitate comparison, and when dealing with the minute details of performance (see pp.358370 and 389393).

An analysis of honkyoku as an oral tradition must also address what may be termed as status-determined levels of orality. The frequency and/or acceptability of change in honkyoku increases proportionately to the ability and/or status of the performer. For example, acceptable deviation from a honkyoku score differs if the performer is an iemoto, a high ranking teacher, an advanced student, or a beginner. Change is severely limited at the level of the beginner. More fundamental changes occur at the advanced level. The performer’s reputation/status also determines the degree to which a change is considered a mistake or ‘creative licence’. An early task of any analysis must be to determine if such changes fit in the scheme of oral performance.

The possibility of status-determined levels of orality working in the transmission of honkyoku have bearings on past studies and analyses of honkyoku. If previous analyses of honkyoku fail to adequately describe how honkyoku work, could one reason be due to a disregard by the authors of those analyses of the above levels of orality? Were the persons analyzing the pieces working only with data derived at the beginner’s level, therefore, making the changes less apparent? This would likely be the case if the researcher was using data derived from his lessons with his teacher, regardless of the teacher’s rank. Some of the researchers (eg., Gutzwiller) later became advanced students, but were, at best, advanced beginners when they did their research (eg., Keeling, Weisgarber, Berger). There are also studies that have been authored by people who are not shakuhachi honkyoku performers (eg., Tukitani, Malm).

The difficulty for relatively non-advanced students of shakuhachi who attempt to author studies of the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition is compounded by some of the non-musical, philosophical aspects of the honkyoku performing tradition. Furthermore, these philosophical considerations in some respects reinforce the orality of the tradition. For example, the commonly held ideal of honkyoku as honnin no kyoku (, ‘the person in question’s piece) (see pp.255, 267) is that each honkyoku must become totally, in every way perceived and unperceived, the piece of each individual performer. Until the piece is truly ‘one’s very own’, it is impossible for one really to be able to play the piece.6

6. For more on honnin no kyoku, see pp.255,267. Also see Toya (1984:101) and Uramoto (in Inagaki, ed. 1985:198).

The process of any honkyoku becoming the performer’s piece may (or may not) include changes in the piece. These changes may range from nearly imperceptible subtleties, such as the timing of breaths between certain phrases, to gross changes, such as the inclusion or omission of entire phrases (Lee 1986:147). Furthermore, the idea of honnin no kyoku contains the probability of change with each performance, even after the piece is ‘one’s own’. Every performance of honkyoku is the manifestation of the entire situation or condition of the performer including the universe of which he is totally a part.

It could also be asked where the ‘performer’ ends and the ‘universe’ of which he is a part begins. For example, the simple answer, “At his skin”, does not suffice, if only because both the air being breathed in and out to play the honkyoku, and the sound entering his ears while performing transcend that barrier, which if perceived at the atomic level is no barrier at all.

Because a single condition of any given performance can not be the same any more than any point in time can repeat itself, each performance must be unique. In this context, Nakatsuka (1979:376) writes: “Therefore, the piece “Renbo” is not necessarily the piece “Renbo”; “Kokû” and “Kyorei” are not necessarily “Kokû” and “Kyorei….Today’s piece is not tomorrow’s piece”. In the context of the philosophy expressed by honnin no kyoku, all performances of honkyoku are authentic if they are performed as ‘one’s own’, regardless of the abundance or lack of change that occurs between individual performances. The concept of honnin no kyoku is one possible explanation for the tremendous amount of variation occuring in honkyoku. This will be dealt with in the analysis (chapter six).

The concept of honnin no kyoku and the uniqueness of each performance are manifestations of an oral tradition. The oral poet and musician create anew with each performance. The performance is unique to all other performances, even in cases where this is not recognized by the performer (Lord 1964:101). Each performance is infused with the individuality of the oral performer and the uniqueness of the moment of performance, regardless of the strength and depth of the characteristics which the poetry or music has developed over centuries of performance. Likewise, in all oral traditions, today’s performance can never be the same as tomorrow’s performance.

5.2.3 Dreams

An important element of many, if not most oral traditions is the function and status dreams are given by the members of the traditions. This was touched upon in reference to the legendary descriptions of the transmission of both the Gregorian chants and honkyoku through the human intermediaries, Gregory and Hotto Kakushin (p.114). The notion of dreams is important to the honkyoku tradition not only in the context of its orality, but also in the light of its spiritual background as well.

In Taoist and Zen Buddhist teachings, a valid part of the total existential experience, discussed above, is dreams. Far from being illusionary compared with waking experiences, dreams are considered as ‘real’ as any reality. Taoist Zhuangzi (, ca.4thC BC.) wrote the now famous story of a man he called ZhuangZhou (), who was Zhuangzi himself. The story is about Zhuang Zhou dreaming that he is a butterfly, happily fluttering about, unaware that he is Zhuang Zhou. He then woke up, Zhuang Zhou again. But he did not know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt of being a butterfly or in fact a butterfly who was now dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Zhuangzi also wrote:

“Someday there will be a great awakening when we know that this is all a great dream. Yet the stupid believe they are awake, busily and brightly assuming they understand things, calling this man ruler, that one herdsman–how dense!7 Confucius and you are both dreaming! And when I say you are dreaming, I am dreaming too! Words like these will be labeled the Supreme Swindle.”

(Aitken 1978:127)

7. According to Aitken, this is part of an attack on Confucius, who separated people by classes.

It is not surprising to find that dreams are an important feature in the honkyoku tradition, particularly in the creation of honkyoku. The shakuhachi honkyoku tradition shares with a number of other oral traditions the manner in which at least some pieces are believed to have been created. Pieces are not composed, but given or taught to a person by spirits or gods, frequently in a dream. The person receiving the piece is not the composer, but rather the transmitter or conduit of the piece to the rest of the people. This characteristic is a major difference between many oral music traditions and literate music traditions. In most literate societies, especially in the West, the notion is that music is usually composed by a ‘composer’, who single-handedly creates the music. The composer may utilize some sort of inspiration in the process of composing, e.g., from God or Nature, but nonetheless still expects and is given full credit for composing or creating the piece.

In a number of oral music traditions, many songs or pieces are not thought of as being composed in this manner. For example, in the Northern Australian Aboriginal song tradition, instead of a piece being created through the efforts of a ‘composer’, the piece is ‘found’ by the ‘song-man’ (Moyle, in Marett 1988:1). This implies that the piece already exists before the singer finds it. The finding of a piece frequently occurs in a dream, and often the song-man is given the piece by a supernatural being or the spirit of a deceased or mythical composer. In Melanesia, songs are also believed to originate in dreams (Marett 1988:1). The West has a similar tradition in Gregorian Chant, which Treitler (1974, 1975, 1986) has shown to have originally been an oral tradition. A number of illustrations in the ninth and tenth centuries depict the legend of Gregory being given the plainchant directly by God, who dictates the music to him in the form of a dove perched on his shoulder (Treitler 1974:335-336,339). Another example is the Shona mbira player of Zimbabwe, who learns new pieces through dreams with the assistance of spirits. The ‘new’ pieces are thought to be actually ancient pieces belonging to the ancestral spirits who are teaching him (Berliner 1981:86).


In all of these examples, the ‘composer’ is thought of as the medium or conduit through which the revelation of the piece is made available to all people. He/she may be honoured as such, but not as the actual creator of the piece. The music does not belong to the composer, because it existed before it was manifested. The composer is not the creator because the music is not created. The mbira pieces existed in the spirit world even before the mbira instrument appeared amongst the Shona people, one player explaining that “the mbira pieces first belonged to the spirits, who later taught them to the people” (Berliner 1981:87). An Aboriginal singer, in his story of how he received a new song, explained, “Well, Balanjirri8 and that dijeridu player9 showed me that song…. It was Balanjirri who made me know” (Marett 1988:5). A similar implication is made by the legend of Gregory, in this case, the Christian God in the form of a dove making known the plainchant to Gregory.

8. Balanjirri is the spirit of a long-dead song-man (Marett 1988:7).
9. The dijeridu player accompanied Balanjirri, his brother (Marett 1987:2).

The shakuhachi honkyoku tradition is also an example of a music tradition in which the origin of at least some pieces is traced to a time when they were given to a chosen member of the tradition during a dream. The Kyotaku denki, the most important legend within the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition (see pp.3739), describes how two of the three most revered koten honkyoku pieces, “Mukaiji” and “Kokû” or “Kokûji”10 were ‘received’ in a dream. Kakushin (or Gakushin, , posthumously known as Hotto Kokushi, d.1298) is the priest credited in the Kyotaku legend with bringing the suizen tradition to Japan from China in the 12th century (see p.114). Kakushin had four main students in Japan, who were collectively known as the “Four Devout Men” (, shikoji). One of Kakushin’s four students was named Kichiku ()11

10. The third piece is known today as “Kyorei”, but was originally known as “Kyotaku” (Yamamoto 1795). It is said to have been composed in the ninth century by Zhâng Bô (, J. Chôhaku), the legendary follower of Fuke Zenji and first practitioner of suizen or ‘Blowing Zen’.
11. Yamamoto, the commentator of the Kyotaku denki noted that “Kichiku is the same person who is later called Master Kyochiku (). He was said to be a man of high virtue” (Tsuge 1977:54). Kyochiku is credited with founding the temple, Myôanji in Kyôto.

Later, having a desire to practice itinerancy, Kichiku asked the master for permission to take his leave. He wished to play this flute in the streets and at every gate, and to let all the world know this exquisite music. Gakushin said, “Well! What a fine ambition!” Kichiku departed Kishû ()12 immediately and before long arrived at the shrine of Kokûzô-dô (), at the top of Asamagatake (, Mt. Asama)13 in the province of Sei-shû (, present-day Mie prefecture). [Having confined himself in the shrine], Kichiku concentrated strenuously on his devotions, praying deep into the night14. When he was about to fall asleep, he had a vivid inspired dream: Kichiku was poling a punt, alone on the sea, admiring the full moon. Suddenly a dense fog covered everything and the moonlight, too, grew dim and dark. Through the fog, he heard the sound of a flute, desolate and sonorous. The beauty of the sound was beyond description. Shortly the sound ceased. The fog got thicker and thicker and became a dense mass, from which the wonderful sound of the flute emerged [again]. Kichiku had never heard such an exquisite sound.

In his dream he was deeply inspired and wished to imitate the sound with his kyotaku [shakuhachi]. Then suddenly he awakened from the dream, and found no trace of the mass of fog or the punt and pole; but the sound of the flute still lingered in his ears.

Kichiku thought it very wondrous. Tuning his kyotaku he tried to imitate with it the two strains of music in the dream. Eventually he succeeded in reproducing the sound on his flute.

He immediately returned to Kishû and told Gakushin, his master, about the dream and the music he learned from it. Then Kichiku asked the master to name the two pieces. The master said, “That must be a gift from the Buddha! What you heard first shall be called Mukaiji [“Flute in the Misty Sea”], and what you heard next shall be named Kokûji [“Flute in the Empty Sky”].

Thenceforth, as he went to and fro on the road, Kichiku played Kyotaku (the piece) which he learned first; and when he was requested to perform something novel, he played the two newly acquired pieces.

trans. Tsuge 1977:51

12. Present-day Wakayama prefecture, where Gakushin had earlier founded his temple, Saihôji ().
13. Sanford (1977:430) incorrectly reads this important mountain in shakuhachi legends as Asakuma.
14. The original Japanese is gokô (), the hour between 2 and 3 A.M. (Tsuge 1977:54).

As mentioned above, the notion of receiving a piece or song in a dream is common throughout oral music traditions. It is interesting to note that in the above description, Kichiku has his vision or dream not while in deep sleep, but just as he is about to go to sleep. The Chinese character used in the original text is , read in Japanese as yume and generally translated into English as dream or vision. In the original text, the above character is combined with the character (rei, ‘soul, spirit’), to form the word reimu (), which is translated as “divine revelation” or “prophetic vision” (Nelson 1974:947). Kichiku was therefore neither awake nor asleep when he was given the two pieces in an ‘inspired dream’ or a ‘divine revelation’.15

15. See Marett (1987) for an illuminating discussion of the Zen treatment of dream state/wake state and of illusion/reality, in the context of an Aboriginal singer who was given a song both while asleep and awake.

In the context of Taoism and Zen Buddhism, there is fundamentally no distinction between the ‘dichotomies’ of the waking and dreaming state. Amongst cultures or traditions more oral than literate in character, transmission of important elements of the tradition frequently occur during the dream state. In the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition, the pieces “Kokû” and “Mukaiji” were gifts received in dreams. They were not composed or created. The shakuhachi player who performs them is dreaming them as well.

Much of what Zen Buddhism in general and the honkyoku tradition in particular attempts to transmit can be understood in the context of western theoretical thought on transmission, and especially on orality. Both Zen Buddhism and the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition incorporate, however, literature or notation in their transmission. Having discussed the issue of orality and the honkyoku, I can now turn to the subject of notation and transmission. The following section examines the relationship between documents and performance in the honkyoku tradition, and as viewed from a Japanese position and from a western theoretical one.

5.3 Documents and Performance

Associated with the issues of orality and the shakuhachi honkyoku presented above is the relationship between documents and performance. Though shakuhachi honkyoku remain predominately an oral tradition, notation has been in use for just over 150 years (Lee 1991:19) and is now very much a part of the tradition. Examination of the relationship and interaction between notations and performances can help illuminate the question of what is being transmitted in the honkyoku tradition.

In the shakuhachi koten honkyoku tradition, not only is it recognized that the pieces were originally created, performed, and transmitted orally, but many believe that honkyoku must always remain fundamentally oral in character. Even when scores are used, they function primarily as mnemonic devices. In a seminar on the Fuke shakuhachi held in Tôkyô in 1938, noted honkyoku player Uramoto Setchô16 explained, “In the Fuke sect, notation is really just a memory aid. It does not have an important function. Much [of the Fuke tradition] does not have notation at all, being an oral tradition. When notation is used, it is impossible not to adopt the limitations of that notation. One ends up playing the notation, and not playing true shakuhachi” (Uramoto, quoted in Inagaki 1985:47).

16. Uramoto is one of the six honkyoku players, whose recorded performance is transcribed and analyzed in chapter six.

Brief mention has already been made of what seems at first glance to be the rejection of both verbal language and written scriptures in the Zen Buddhist tradition, including the famous quote by Bodhi-Dharma stating that the Zen tradition is “a special transmission outside the scriptures” (Suzuki D.T. 1956:61). Other references, which similarly assert that words are the ‘Supreme Swindle’ (see quote by Zhuangzi above, p.231), abound in Taoist and Zen literature. Hisamatsu, the noted shakuhachi player of the mid 19th century, wrote, “Profound sayings are nothing but many words and false sounds” (Kurihara 1918:219).

Yet even Hisamatsu used words (and notations). Dôgen, Zen master of 12th century Japan, even conceived of linguistic activity as the ultimate spiritual freedom demanded by the Buddha-dharma (Kim 1985:56). Aitken (1978:127) helps us understand Dôgen’s position by pointing out that we must use words. The question is how. Aitken’s answer is:

“By playing with them, as [Bashô and Chuang-tsu] both did, and as did…countless other Zen teachers.”

(Aitken 1978:127).

Hisamatsu gives another perspective to the use of notation in the honkyoku tradition in his Hitori Mondô (an essay written in a question and answer format): “Question: Is one who can play every piece without differing from the notation a skilful player? Answer: Not at all. Someone who plays pieces without deviating may have a good memory, but that is not enough for a skillful player” (Kurihara 1918:213). Notation is thus not rejected in itself. Problems occur only when it is thought to be in itself the essence of the matter.

In the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition, notation is widely used as a memory aid both while learning a piece and while trying to remember a piece one has already studied. Nmemonic devices have no inherent authority. They are symbols or signals that jog one’s memory of what is already internalized. If the performer does not know the honkyoku, if honkyoku is not already ‘inside’ the performer, then the symbols of the notation are of little help. On the other hand, if the performer is truly intimate with the honkyoku, he can use the notation by ‘playing’ with it as Bashô and others do. For such a performer, the symbols of the notation become “bearers of ultimate truth”, just as words were to Dôgen (Kim 1985:58).

I have described in detail elsewhere (1991:18-35) how transcriptions (into staff notation) of performances of honkyoku contrast with transnotations (also into staff notation) of the traditional notation of the piece performed. Briefly, discrepancies between honkyoku notation and performance occur frequently and may be classified into four categories:

  1. Instances where symbols are consistently given new meanings which are, however, different from their standard meanings. The consistency of these new meanings may apply in a single piece only, or throughout the honkyoku repertoire [of a particular lineage].
  2. Instances where symbols are totally ignored.
  3. Instances where a pitch, duration or playing technique is performed, but is not notated in the score.
  4. Instances where meanings for symbols are inconsistent. For example, a symbol may have the standard meaning in one phrase, but be given one or more different meanings in other phrases.

(Lee 1991:27, 32)

In the light of the above, it is easy to understand that even if one knows the standard meanings of all of the symbols used in a honkyoku notation, one usually will not be able to perform honkyoku properly. A realization of a score of a honkyoku using only the standard indications of the symbols might be so far removed from the actual honkyoku as to be considered a different piece. The closer the adherence to the literal meaning of the symbols, the farther away honkyoku becomes. If one performs honkyoku with limited knowledge of the piece as well as the symbols of the notation, as would be the case of a beginner just starting to play with his teacher, then the realization of the notation would only be marginally nearer to honkyoku.

One who has studied a piece so as not to need notation at all may be able to play honkyoku, but the performance of one who has internalized all of the formulaic embellishments and playing techniques idiomatic of the lineage to which the piece belongs, has frequently performed other pieces related to it, and has also performed the piece (without notation) countless times over many years is the closest of all to the honkyoku. The more intimate one is with the honkyoku, the less reliant one is upon notation. One could even argue that the best notation for honkyoku is the least notation. Only when there is no reliance upon the notation, does it no longer limit the performer and honkyoku.

In my opinion, a major reason notation, especially published, copyrighted notation, for shakuhachi honkyoku exists at all is because of its bureaucratic function of asserting and maintaining authority rather than any function it might have in the transmitting and performing of honkyoku. The same can be said of shakuhachi organizations in general, as pointed out in the discussion of the history of shakuhachi (see chapter three, p.159).

When a shakuhachi player breaks away from his teacher’s sect or school and forms a new organization, one of the ways he can assert his new authority is to publish scores in his own notation. An interesting twist to this procedure of gaining authority by creating and publishing scores of new notation, and an example of the role of authority notation plays, can be seen in the case of Chikuho ryû. During his tenure as iemoto or head of Chikuho ryû, Sakai Chikuho II transcribed the honkyoku notation of his teacher, Jin, into the notation of his own sect. After Chikuho II retired due to illness in 1985, the new iemoto, Chikuho II’s younger brother, Shôdô, refused to use many of the scores transcribed by Chikuho II. Instead, Shôdô reverted back to using Jin’s original scores even though they are not in Chikuho notation. Shôdô asserted that Chikuho’s scores were not faithful to the way Jin played the pieces, partly because Chikuho put too many of his own idiosyncrasies into them.17

17. See Lee (1986:83-87) for further background on the manner in which Shôdô became iemoto of the sect.

The relationship between the realization of a piece in performance and its notation is more complex than the one we have just been describing, whereby notation is used only to help the performer to remember a piece that already has been learned orally. It is likely that there has also been a dynamic interaction between the orally transmitted honkyoku and the written score.

An example of this type of dynamic interaction between literacy and orality has been presented by Butler18 in his examination of early texts of the Heike monogatari (, “The Tale of the Heike”). The Heike monogatari is a medieval epic tale describing the rapid rise during the latter 12th century of the Taira () clan, also known in Sino Japanese as the Heike, and the clan’s equally rapid and remarkable demise at the hands of the Minamoto () clan (the Genji in Sino Japanese) during what became known as the Gempei () wars. There are sufficient parallels between the written and the oral in the Heike monogatari tradition and in the honkyoku tradition to warrant consideration.

18. For the material on the Heike monogatari presented below, I am relying upon the work of Kenneth D. Butler (1966a:5-51, 1966b37-54, 1969:93-108), in particular his research on the Rokudai gozen monogatari () text, the Yukinaga () text, and the Kakuichi () text.

According to Butler, the Heike monogatari may have originated in part from performances, two to three hours in length, by oral poets (biwa hôshi ) describing various battles and episodes of the rise and fall of the Heike clan in the early 13th century. The extant transcriptions of one relatively short oral tale, the Rokudai gozen monogatari, tells of young Rokudai Gozen, the last surviving member of the Heike clan. This historical transcription is used by Butler as a starting point from which to trace the development of the Heike monogatari in terms of orality.

Butler’s hypothesizes that the first written version of the Heike monogatari is the Shibu kassenjô daisamban tôjô Heike monogatari () manuscript, completed in the years 1218 to 1221, thirty-five years after the end of the Gempei wars, by a middle-ranking member of Kyôto’s aristocracy, a lay priest named Yukinaga. In addition to historical literacy data to which his social and hereditary positions gave him access, Yukinaga used miscellaneous oral tales in circulation at the time to create one continuous story.


Butler (1966b:45) states that the oral origins of much of Yukinaga’s work can be best seen in his book twelve which deals with the same subject matter as the Rokudai transcription. Yukinaga’s Book Twelve exhibits many characteristics, such as oral language formulae and themes, which are found in transcription of an oral tale. In fact, according to Butler, approximately fifty percent of Yukinaga’s work can be shown to be based on material from similar Buddhist oral tales and oral battle tales which had been in circulation during the several decades between the actual events and Yukinaga’s time.

The Shibu kassenjô text is not, however, an oral composition, despite Yukinaga’s dependence upon oral tales of his time. Up to fifty percent of Yukinaga’s work incorporates source material from written historical records of the period. Furthermore, his composition is written almost exclusively in kanbun (), a Chinese form of writing which is totally inappropriate for oral presentation due to a word order largely the reverse of colloquial Japanese (Butler 1966b:46). Even the sections clearly based on transcriptions of oral tales, such as the Rokudai gozen monogatari, are written in an unmistakably literary style. Yukinaga’s Shibu kassenjô, although based on oral tales is a product of a literate mind.

While Yukinaga’s usage of oral tales in creating a literary work is not unique in the history of world literature, evolution of the Heike monogatari from that point on is unparalleled. According to Butler, Yukinaga’s literary work, itself part oral and part literary, was subsequently reintroduced into to oral tradition. The oral poets after Yukinaga began using Yukinaga’s writings as an aid in creating versions of the tale which were longer or more complete than what they had previously performed. Texts of the Heike monogatari dating from the middle of the 13th century until the latter 14th century indicate that over a number of generations these poets reintroduced many of the original oral tale’s oral characteristics which had been eliminated by Yukinaga, and added other characteristics as well. The final result was the ‘perfected’ or standard version of the Heike monogatari, the transcription finished in 1371 of a performance or performances by the oral poet Kakuichi. The Kakuichi text exhibits all the characteristics of an orally composed and performed work. With this dictation of Kakuichi’s oral performance, the Heike monogatari became yet again a literary work. After Kakuichi’s death, the written text of his oral performance became the guide for most of the oral poets to follow him. Numerous versions of the Heike monogatari were written after Kakuichi’s time, but almost all were minor revisions of the standard Kakuichi text.

Many of Butler’s conclusions about the back and forth movement of the Heike monogatari from oral to written are based largely upon a comparison of a text known to be a transcription of an oral composition, the Rokudai gozen monogatari, with other texts. Unfortunately such an historical transcription of a shakuhachi honkyoku performance of, for example, the previous century or earlier, in contrast to a historical score, does not exist. Though it remains to be seen what, if any, conclusions can be drawn from an exhaustive study of historical shakuhachi honkyoku notations which do exist, there are indications that a mutually transforming relationship between honkyoku performance and its notation does exist today and probably existed in the past.

There are other areas of comparison between the Heike monogatari and shakuhachi honkyoku. For example, the role of Kakuichi and his ‘standardized’ transcription of the Heike monogatari is paralleled in many respects by the founder of Kinko ryû, Kurosawa Kinko (1710-1770) and his standardized repertoire of over thirty honkyoku. This and other avenues of research, particularly relating to orality, notation, and transmission, which are suggested by the Heike monogatari model await the attention of future honkyoku scholars.

Besides its possible interactive relationship with what remains largely an oral performance, the role that notation plays in the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition differs from that of most western staff notation in one very fundamental way. Honkyoku notation instructs or reminds the performer what to do rather than what sounds to produce. It is action or process rather than product oriented. The symbols of honkyoku notation denote fingering positions, articulation methods, and other performance techniques. In this respect, it is similar to various tablature systems in other musical traditions in depicting the act of performing. In contrast, staff notation is product oriented, functioning primarily to prescribe (or describe) the final product, the sound.

Differences between honkyoku notation and staff notation can be divided into three areas. In honkyoku notation, pitch is not notated at all, other than indirectly through the tablature symbols denoting fingerings and other pitch-changing techniques. Secondly, though durations are notated in general, they are at most used only as a broad and imprecise guide and are frequently ignored altogether, in contrast to the rigid precision of staff notation in representing durations (Lee 1991:32-33). Finally, the timbre or tone colour of each note, a vital element of honkyoku performance, is directly or indirectly indicated by traditional shakuhachi notation. In contrast, timbre is all but ignored in the majority of music scores written in staff notation.

These differences between honkyoku notation and staff notation illuminate an aspect of honkyoku that approaches its very essence. The most important part of a honkyoku performance is the act of playing the honkyoku. The significance of the doing or process and relative unimportance of the resultant sound or product in performing honkyoku is best illustrated by the often told story involving the well-known shakuhachi master Watazumi and popular radio personality Ei Rokusuke (). In the 1970s, Ei Rokusuke, accompanied by his production crew, went to interview the eccentric Watazumi in Tôkyô. The interview took place in an old house of traditional Japanese architecture.

After the suitable exchange of greeting, gifts, and small talk, Watazumi began to perform honkyoku for his audience. Before completing the first phrase, however, Watazumi suddenly stopped, exclaiming that there was not enough air for him to play. “Open up the room!”, he ordered. Being a traditionally constructed Japanese house, the entire wall of the room facing the small garden outside could be removed, which it immediately was. “Ah, that’s better!”, said the now contented Watazumi, who then proceeded to perform a piece which lasted over fifteen minutes.

The problem, Ei Rokusuke later recounted, was that there was heavy road construction just down the road from the house, and that now with the entire wall facing the road taken away, Watazumi’s playing was barely audible. As this did not seem to bother Watazumi in the slightest, there was nothing to do but sit quietly and wait until the ‘performance’ was over. At this point, Ei Rokusuke and his crew thought that Watazumi was indeed the crazy eccentric that he was reputed to be.

What interested Ei Rokusuke most about the performance, however, was his perception that by the end of the inaudible performance his state of being and the atmosphere of the entire room had changed. According to Ei Rokusuke, there was a calmness, a good feeling that was difficult to describe. Ei Rokusuke and his crew left Watazumi satisfied with the interview even though they were not able to record any shakuhachi music that was suitable for radio use.


The point of the story is that Watazumi himself did not value the product of his performance, the audible sound, as much as he did the process of the performance. In this case, part of that process involved opening the room in order to get enough air, at the expense of the audience not being able to hear the piece.

The emphasis on process rather than product in honkyoku performance operates on the smaller level of the phrase or the individual technique as well. On occasions, one performing technique is chosen over another even though the choice does not affect the final product. Examples of this can be found in the notation itself. In one phrase of the Chikuho ryû piece, “Yamato Choshi” (), the performer must execute a dai furi (, ‘big’; , ‘shake, wave’; a ‘head-bending’ technique), that is, as big as possible. Because of the nature of the technique, the sound produced may or may not be changed by executing the furi technique larger than normal. That is not a problem, however, since the idea is for the performer to execute and therefore feel a ‘big’ furi. It does not matter if he can hear the product of his action. This example is one of many cases in which a performance technique not connected to any particular resultant sound is notated (figure 7). There are other similar examples of processes of performance which do not produce noticeable changes in the musical sound and which are transmitted orally from one generation to the next rather than being notated.

The idea of ‘doing’ or playing honkyoku being given more importance than the resultant sound produced is compatible with the concept of ’emptiness’ in honkyoku playing discussed above (p.203). On this level, there is no right or wrong way to perform honkyoku, at least as determined by the resultant audible sounds.

As with the fundamental difference, that of process versus product, the three associated dissimilarities between honkyoku and staff notation concerning pitch, durations (rhythm), and timbre also shed light upon the question of what is being transmitted in the honkyoku tradition.

Mention here must be made of the widespread use of sound recordings and, more recently, video recordings by members of the shakuhachi tradition. These recordings must be considered elements of transmission as much as written documents such as scores. Almost all honkyoku players listen to the ever-increasing number of recordings of honkyoku performed by a growing number of performers. Furthermore, lessons are frequently recorded, with the teacher’s permission.19 Concerts of traditional music in Japan are noted for the pervasive distractions of cassette tape recorders being loaded or turned on and off.

19. For a brief period of time in the late 1970s, one teacher, Sakai Chikuho II, allowed his lessons to be recorded, but charged the student extra for the privilege.

Recordings contribute to the dissemination of various styles of honkyoku performance in the same way that public concerts and recitals do, but to a greater extent. More people have more opportunities to listen to more shakuhachi performers because of recordings. One of the effects recordings have on the transmission of honkyoku is the acceleration of cross-over of performance techniques and style between players of different lineages and teachers. Though actually taking lessons from a teacher who is not a member of the lineage of one’s original teacher is highly frowned upon in much of the shakuhachi world, there is no prohibition of listening to recordings. Examples of variation between performances which suggest that cross-over that may be partially attributed to recordings will be shown in the analysis of “Reibo” (chapter six).

Recordings of honkyoku are believed to be helpful in learning new pieces. They can facilitate in the committing of a piece to heart, but they cannot transmit all that is honkyoku. Recordings present only an analogue of a single manifestation among infinite possible manifestations of any one honkyoku. In terms of the ‘essence’ of honkyoku, recordings neither help nor harm its transmission. In this sense, as analogues they, like notation, are misleading only if they are mistaken for the real thing. The subject of recordings and honkyoku is examined further below, in the discussion on transcriptions and their use in the analysis of honkyoku (pp.313314).

5.4 Three formal elements of transmission in the honkyoku tradition: lineage, lessons, and notation

The previous sections dealt with concepts and philosophies relating to the subject of transmission in general and transmission of shakuhachi honkyoku specifically. The nature of orality was also touched upon in connection with honkyoku. Finally, the related subject of documents and their function and status in the honkyoku tradition was addressed. This section continues the discussion of transmission of honkyoku by outlining briefly formal elements of transmission that can be observed in the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition. A number of aspects of three elements, lineage centred organizations, lessons, and notations are addressed below. A fourth element, performance, will be discussed in the following section.

The first formal element of transmission is lineage centred organizations, as distinct from lineages. In this study, the word lineage is used to denote the individual line of transmission from an individual teacher to an individual student to his student, and so forth. Lineages can be traced whenever it is known who taught whom, and occur both within and without large organizational structures. Nonetheless, much of the shakuhachi tradition has existed within large formal organizations. The earliest known formal shakuhachi organization is the Fuke sect of the Edo period (see chapter three, pp.110139).

As discussed in chapter one (pp.2021), the Japanese have a propensity to create and belong to groups, their entire lives frequently revolving within a number of well-defined groups such as family, school, company, the Japanese people, and hobby. As is to be expected, this group mentality is evident in the shakuhachi tradition. Alhough the tendency to create and join organizations can also be seen in the more specialized tradition of the honkyoku, far more individualism is evident there than in the shakuhachi tradition20 and Japanese society as a whole.

20. It must be remembered that the majority of shakuhachi players in Japan today, belong to either the largest shakuhachi organization, Tozan ryû, or one of its breakaway organizations. None of these organizations has classical honkyoku in its repertoire. Furthermore, even among those players who can perform honkyoku, the majority of them, especially almost all of the members of the various branches of the Kinko ryû, play secular pieces such as traditional ensemble pieces or modern works, far more often than they do honkyoku. The shakuhachi players who play honkyoku exclusively, or who perform them outside the bureaucratic setting of an organization, are a tiny minority.

In the past century, since the proscription of the Fuke sect in the late 1800s, members of the shakuhachi tradition have continued to form groups within which the transmission of the tradition largely occurred (see chapter three, pp.154164). Some have flourished and dissipated, while others remain active. These groups are known by such words as ryû (, ‘stream’), ha (, ‘group’), and kai (, ‘society’). Their primary functions have been and continue to be bureaucratic and social, providing a power base from which a few members of the tradition are able to exert influence on what is transmitted, and how, over a larger number of members. This is not to say that transmission does not take place within the context of organizations, but that such transmission is not their main function.

As discussed above (pp.149150), transmission of honkyoku has always occurred outside the context of organizations, even during the monopolistic period of the Fuke sect. In general, transmission that occurs within organizations is more conservative and less subject to variability and change than that which occurs outside organizations. This can be seen in the Kinko honkyoku tradition, which has been transmitted largely within various organizations under the Kinko ryû umbrella (Tukitani 1990a:6). Pieces within this tradition are conspicuously resistant to change and variation when compared with honkyoku transmitted outside such organizations. This can be seen both in numbers, titles, and performance. The thirty-six honkyoku in the Kinko repertoire comprises only a fraction of the nearly two hundred honkyoku and their variations which are said to exist (Tukitani 1990a:32). Furthermore, large shakuhachi organizations can even be detrimental to the transmission of honkyoku. Tozan ryû, the largest shakuhachi organization in Japan in terms of membership and financial strength, has no classical honkyoku in its repertoire, and actively discourages its members from studying with any teacher who performs classical honkyoku.

In my view, in many cases the essence of honkyoku, musically, philosophically, and spiritually, continues to be transmitted from generation to generation in spite of the organizations. The richness of variation that can be observed, for example, in the analyses of “Reibo” (chapter six) occurs mainly outside the context of large organizations, although variation and change inevitably take place even within the Kinko tradition (Syakuhati kenkyû kai 1991:2-10).

It is precisely because of the bureaucratic power these organizations wield, and because the honkyoku tradition outside their domain has always been less conspicuous than that which exists within them, that this thesis deals only indirectly with the transmission of honkyoku in terms of shakuhachi organizations.

Perhaps for the first time in the history of the shakuhachi tradition, an exception to the trend of great influence residing mainly within shakuhachi organizations has taken place in the personage of Watazumi.21 There are two primary reasons why Watazumi, who has consciously distanced himself from all shakuhachi organizations, has been able to strongly influence the honkyoku tradition in general. First of all, Watazumi’s honkyoku have been promulgated to a great extent by his student Yokoyama,22 in his capacity as one of Japan’s (and the world’s) best known and most respected shakuhachi performers, through his many concerts and recordings, and by the many students of Yokoyama. Secondly, Watazumi has himself released a number of widely distributed recordings of his honkyoku, an avenue of dissemination unavailable to preceding generations of independent honkyoku performers. This is all the more remarkable because Watazumi is the antithesis of the formal shakuhachi organization. He is, in fact, the antithesis of the shakuhachi player, as will be seen in the examination of his ideologies (pp.302304) and in the comparison of his performances of “Reibo” with those of other players (chapter six).

21. Watazumi is one of six performers whose recorded performances are transcribed and analysed in chapter six.
22. Yokoyama is also one of six performers whose recorded performances are transcribed and analysed in chapter six.


The second formal element of transmission is the lesson. The most typical setting in which the student is taught the mechanical techniques of a piece is a one to one lesson. Features of a typical shakuhachi lesson have been described elsewhere, particularly those features which differ from or have no counterpart to those of a western musical lesson (Gutzwiller 1983:64-89, Lee 1986:141-159). These features include the largely non-verbal and intuitive method of learning by imitation; the system of a monthly retaining fee rather than a payment based upon the number and length of the lessons; and finally the non-scheduled lesson days and the related practice of having the lesson in the presence of other students.

It is largely during the lesson that the relationship between the teacher and the student of shakuhachi develops. This relationship is partly determined by the larger cultural setting in which it occurs, and partly by the nature of the shakuhachi tradition itself. For example, much of the honkyoku is transmitted intuitively, with verbal or practical explanation considered neither desirable nor possible. This intuitive form of transmission and the importance given it within the honkyoku tradition contribute to the high value placed upon the development of a proper relationship between teacher and student. This relationship is further elevated in Japan by the neo-Confucian ethics evident in the shakuhachi tradition and prevalent in much of traditional Japanese culture.

Another example can been found in the role mutual respect plays in the teacher-student relationship in the shakuhachi tradition. Ideally, one of the main elements in the nurturing of the proper relationship between teacher and student is mutual respect. With a mutual and intuitive perception of each other, the teacher and the student develop respect for one another. Though the respect is mutual, the nature of the respect harboured by the teacher for the student and that which the student has for the teacher are not the same, just as the roles of teacher and student differ. This difference can be more pronounced in Japan’s hierarchical, neo-Confucianist traditional society than it is in other more egalitarian societies where shakuhachi is now being performed and transmitted. As acknowledgement of the priceless gift of instruction, the Japanese teacher and society in general expect much more from the student in terms of time, servitude and money than would be expected by Western teachers and their society.

The remaining discussion about lessons and teaching methods is based upon my own experience as shakuhachi student for twenty-two years and teacher for fourteen years as it relates to the subject of transmission. In my experience, the complete transmission of any single honkyoku never occurs within the lesson. Before the student is assigned a new piece to learn to play, he or she must first perform the current piece. Depending upon the piece and the student, the use of notation may or may not be permitted. Among the many students who have studied with me, none has been able to perform a honkyoku piece to my satisfaction while learning the piece. In other words, even when the student can perform the piece at a level which warrants going on to the next piece, that level of performance has never been completely satisfactory.

This does not prevent us from eventually leaving one honkyoku aside and going on to another. There have been occasions outside the lesson context when, upon hearing a student or former student perform a honkyoku learned from me at some time in the past, I have thought that the performance was quite well done. It seems that regardless of how much and how long a student studies a piece with me, it is never played as well as it could be.


It is only after the student takes the piece and performs it outside the boundaries imposed by the lessons that it is ever played to my liking. It is as if shakuhachi students cannot perform a honkyoku well as long as they still believe it belongs to the teacher, who can determine, by virtue of the teacher’s ownership, if the student is performing the honkyoku ‘correctly’ or not. In my experience as both student and teacher, this is invariably the case when the honkyoku is performed by the student in the context of a lesson.

This also seems to be true regardless of the length of time spent on a piece, and even when a student reviews a piece that had been learned a number of years before. It appears to me that the full transmission of a piece does not take place until the shakuhachi performer stops learning the piece as something separate from one’s self, i.e., something belonging to the teacher rather than the student. Only after a honkyoku can be played with the conviction that it is the performer’s own piece, beyond the criticism of the teacher, or anyone else, can the honkyoku be played to its potential. My thoughts on this are, no doubt, strongly influenced by my concept of honnin no kyoku (, the piece of the person in question, that is, the performer of the piece).

The idea of honnin no kyoku is the belief that for the performer, each honkyoku must become ‘that particular individual’s own piece’. The idea of honnin no kyoku encompasses the belief that in order for a piece to become ‘one’s own’, the performer must imbue his performance of the piece with the very essence of his nature, including all of his past unique experiences, disappointments, and satisfactions of life as well as his present wisdom, hopes, and desires, and his health, vitality, or life force. If the performer does not put his ‘self’ into the piece, thereby allowing the piece to become a part of him, the piece will remain outside the performer, something separate from him, and consequently will not become honnin no kyoku (see pp.229,267).

It follows that pieces which the performer has allowed to become honnin no kyoku have become an actual part of that performer, there no longer being a separation or distinction between the piece and the performer. The piece is a part of the performer; each performance of the piece is a manifestation, however fragmentary, of the essence of the performer, laid bare for all to see (hear). Thus, when a teacher endeavors to transmit to a student a piece that has become for the teacher honnin no kyoku, he is actually attempting to transmit to the student a part of himself. A gift of such magnitude can never be repaid.

Changes may occur to a honkyoku during the lesson. Yokoyama has said that if one understands a piece, one knows what may and may not be changed. There are times when I consciously change the way I teach a piece, a phrase, or a particular technique during the lesson. Some of the changes made to pieces I have been teaching for many years can be attributed to the different performing styles of my original teacher, Sakai Chikuho II, with whom I studied for over ten years, and of my teacher since 1984, Yokoyama Katsuya.23 With many of the changes, however, there appear to be no set patterns of when and how I might make them. There are times when I consciously decide at the instant of teaching a phrase, the manner in which I will perform the phrase, choosing from an ever increasing number of ways to perform it. This becomes more difficult with pieces that I have taught innumerable times. The ever-increasing challenge as I teach the same pieces repeatedly to more and more students is to allow those honkyoku to continue to vary with the varying circumstances of every new performance.

23. This is an example of the type of change which may explain many of the variations which will be seen in the analysis of the piece “Reibo” in chapter six.

In spite of knowing that I change pieces, students are discouraged from changing the way I have taught a phrase or technique, especially during the lesson. One cannot know how to change a honkyoku until the honkyoku is internalized. The honkyoku is automatically externalized during the lesson because of the relationship between teacher and student. That hierarchical relationship demands the recognition by the student of the authority or ownership of the honkyoku by the teacher, at least in the context of the lesson. To say that one cannot know how to change a honkyoku is the same as saying one cannot know how to play a honkyoku, because change is inevitable.

It is therefore necessary for the student of honkyoku eventually to throw off the student role in the teacher-student relationship and claim ownership of the honkyoku. This idea is behind Yokoyama’s comment that the student must eventually cut himself off from the teacher (see p.417), and may partially explain Watazumi’s refusal to acknowledge that anyone taught him the “Reibo” piece (see p.302). In summary, a major part of the transmission of honkyoku takes place during the lesson, but the transmission can never be completed there. The lesson is only where the seed of honkyoku is planted in the mind and being of the student. Whether or not it germinates, and if so how it grows after that depends upon the subsequent efforts of the performer to cast aside the role of student.

In teaching and in learning honkyoku, I have used scores written in traditional shakuhachi notation, including notation systems of the Chikuho, Kinko, Myôan and Tozan24 lineages. In my experience as student, it was my responsibility to annotate the scores being used in whatever manner I chose in order to help remember how to perform the piece. As a rule, neither Sakai nor Yokoyama wrote on my score. If I did not play an embellishment or note or phrase as they wished me to or if I omitted something, they would tell me and play the passage in question for me again. It was up to me to remember the passage. Writing a word or symbol on the score as a reminder was completely permissable. If I thought that I could remember the passage without noting it down, that was also acceptable. Finally, my teachers did not tell me it was my responsibility to annotate the scores. Nothing was said on the matter one way or the other.

24. Though Tozan ryû does not have in its repertoire any classical honkyoku, a number of such honkyoku have been transnotated into the Tozan notation system. These notations are useful in teaching players who have had experience in using the Tozan notation system.

In my experience as teacher, I find myself making annotations to the scores of my students instead of allowing them to do it themselves. This may be indicative primarily of my own impatience and of the cultural background of both the students and myself in which the teacher plays a more active role than is found in the shakuhachi tradition in Japan. Although I am experimenting with refraining from interfering with the, in many cases, slower learning process of students, unaided by my annotations, how active a role to play as a teacher of shakuhachi outside Japan is still a dilemma for me.

Mention must be made of other methods of learning honkyoku that are available to today’s shakuhachi student. These methods include a number of teach yourself books and recordings. For the majority of potential shakuhachi players outside of Japan, these are the only feasible ways of learning anything about performing shakuhachi, including honkyoku. As such, they are better than nothing at all. The obvious disadvantage of relying solely upon books and tape recordings to learn honkyoku lies in the nature of honkyoku and the importance placed upon the process of performing.

If the essence of honkyoku lies in the process, then that essence can only be suggested by recordings, which are representations of the product of a single process. Likewise, written instructions describing the process of performing honkyoku can only present a description of a single process out of an innumerable number of processes. A great deal of diligent practice by a talented performer who has relied solely upon recordings and books to learn pieces in the honkyoku repertoire may result in beautiful music, but it is unlikely that the essence of honkyoku will have been transmitted. But then, much more unlikely events take place constantly in our universe.

In addition to lineage-centred organizations and lessons, notation used to represent honkyoku is another formal element of transmission. Traditional notation used in the honkyoku tradition and its relationship with honkyoku performance has been dealt with in detail in the sections on orality and on documents and performance (see above pp.237250). Suffice it to say that scores of honkyoku, whether written in traditional notation, in western notation, or in one of the graphic notations which have been developed recently as a teach-yourself method, all function as aids or tools to facilitate the transmission of honkyoku.

The emphasis or value given to honkyoku scores varies from lineage to lineage and between teachers. More bureaucratically inclined lineages place a greater value upon the scores than lineages less so inclined. Some lineages use no scores at all. Some have no ‘official’ honkyoku scores, using instead whatever is available and/or encouraging the student to develop his own score. The more organized lineages have ‘official’ scores which are copyrighted and sold for a price. As seen in the example of Araki’s score of “Shika no tône”, discussed in chapter two (pp.3032), scores are sometimes used as a physical representation of the successful transmission of the immaterial honkyoku.

The increased use of staff notation in scores for shakuhachi music, by both composers of music for shakuhachi and by shakuhachi performers, has resulted in a number of changes in the shakuhachi tradition. One such change has been the standardization of pitch, partly because staff notation denotes pitch while traditional shakuhachi notation denotes fingerings (see Lee 1988:71-79). Although staff notation can act as a catalyst for a greater standardization of pitch, its use is almost entirely limited to modern compositions. Scores of classical honkyoku in staff notation exist only as transcriptions in scholarly articles and, to my knowledge, have never been used in actual teaching/learning or performing situations.

In all of the above cases, the scores are not the honkyoku. Like words, they do not mean anything, but rather they present something. In order to find the meaning of honkyoku, one must look to the performance. Four aspects of performance are the subject of the following section.

5.5 The fourth formal element of transmission: performance

The fourth formal element of transmission to be addressed in this thesis is that of performance. Of all the elements of transmission, performance is the most significant. It is in the performance of honkyoku that all the historical, philosophical, spiritual, and technical elements of the honkyoku tradition come together as a unified whole. As is the case of all oral traditions, the honkyoku tradition is maintained only during performance. Once a honkyoku is no longer performed, it becomes extinct. Furthermore, the most recent performance of a honkyoku is the most authoritative, due to its characteristics as an oral performance.

In the following discussion, the element of performance is viewed through three of its aspects; that relating to timbre such as the notion of ‘complete sound’, that relating to pitch such as the meri/kari techniques and instrument making and, finally, that relating to rhythm such as the notion of ‘absolute timing’. Though separation of honkyoku performance into the aspects of timbre, pitch, and rhythm, reflect western cultural patterns of thought, they will be approached in this thesis from the perspective of the, largely non-western, insider to the honkyoku tradition.

5.5.1 The aspect of timbre

The first of the aspects of performance enumerated above, relating to timbre or tone colour, overlaps the second aspect, that of pitch. The intertwining of timbre and pitch in the honkyoku tradition can be seen in the discussion below of the meri/kari techniques. Though timbre and pitch are never completely separate in performance, they will be isolated for the purpose of the discussion. A brief comparison between how timbre is treated in the honkyoku tradition and in the dominant western music cultures will demonstrate a number of its characteristics.

In many Western instrument traditions, particularly that of nineteenth century art music, the ideal is of even and consistent timbre throughout the pitch range of the instrument and in almost all musical contexts. The piano is the most extreme example of the Western trend to produce even voicing, standardized and unvarying pitches. In general, modern Western musical instruments tend to maintain the same timbre at all times, in contrast to the uneveness of early instruments. There are exceptions, such as the pizzicato technique on the violin, or modern pieces that purposely attempt to extend the variety of tonal production of an instrument, such as in pieces for the ‘prepared piano’. Additionally, with the advent of electronically manipulated sound, changes in the timbre of a single instrument have become more common than in the past, with the modern synthesizer being the extreme example of multiple timbres of one instrument.

Nonetheless, the general rule for many traditional Western instruments is that they are constructed and played so as to minimize changes in timbre, especially within a single phrase or while sustaining a single note. Gutzwiller and Bennett (1991:51) have shown examples of this with graphs of the spectral evolution of a crescendo and decrescendo played on a transverse flute. The dynamic evolution of the partials of the tone produced by the transverse flute are relatively synchronic. The human ear perceives the timbre to be constant with the increase and decrease of the dynamics (figure 8).

In contrast, there is no single most desirable timbre for shakuhachi, especially in the context of honkyoku performance. The shakuhachi player is required to produce a number of tone colours from his instrument, including sounds that are without a specific pitch. More than one change in timbre commonly occurs within a single phrase or even a single note, the tone colour evolving from the beginning to the end of the phrase or note. Unlike the transverse flute example above, graphs of the spectral evolution of a crescendo and decrescendo produced by a shakuhachi show the partials of the tone reach their relative maxima at different times (Gutzwiller and Bennett 1991:50). A change in timbre as well as dynamics is perceived by the human ear (figure 9).

The shakuhachi is not unique in its production of poly-timbres. Many other traditional instruments in Japan and elsewhere in Asia are routinely played so as to generate various timbres and non-pitched sounds. For example, the Japanese stringed instruments, the koto, the shamisen, and the biwa are all played with various techniques such as plucking the strings at different locations, scraping the strings and hitting the body of the instrument with the picks or plectrum to create variations in timbre.

Of all the musical elements, timbre is possibly the most difficult for musicians untrained in the physics of acoustics to accurately describe, measure, and quantify. Words commonly used to describe differences in timbre illustrate this problem; usually they are terms borrowed from other sensory perceptions and are extremely subjective and relative, for example, ‘warm’ or cold’, ‘mellow’, ‘blue’, ‘harsh’, etc. The timbre of sounds, including those produced with a shakuhachi, may, in fact, be accurately measured and described in mathematical terms, using concepts such as input admittance, resonance curves, and peak frequencies. Such acoustical analyses are for the most part beyond the scope of this thesis. Studies that deal with the timbre of the shakuhachi in these and other terms include Ando 1983a, 1983b, 1986; Ando and Ohyagi 1984, 1985; and Gutzwiller and Bennett 1991.

In the study of Gutzwiller and Bennett (1991:36-59), the acoustical characteristics of the shakuhachi are described and combined with a knowledge of the shakuhachi tradition. That is, the basic musical structure of honkyoku, which Gutzwiller calls the ‘tone cell’, is examined in terms of its physical development. The evolution of timbre within a musical phrase compliments the musical meaning of the phrase.

The two most common variations of timbre performed on the shakuhachi are related to breath and embouchure. Frequently the shakuhachi performer purposely adds a breathiness to the flute sound by over-blowing and by changing the position of his mouth, tongue and lips to create a rough air stream. A very light touch of breathiness added to a soft tone is sometimes referred to as sasabuki (, literally ‘bamboo grass blowing’). This technique is supposed to bring to mind the sound of a gentle breeze blowing through small bamboo grass. The technique known by all shakuhachi players as mura iki (), commonly translated as ‘thrashing breath’ is one of the most well-known and dramatic shakuhachi performing techniques. Mura iki is a very violent and loud burst of air through the instrument and is mostly non-pitched.

Partly because each shakuhachi is made of an individual piece of bamboo, no two pieces having the same inner and outer dimensions, and partly because the instruments are all hand made, every flute has a unique sound. Many players believe that those qualities desirable in instruments used in honkyoku performances are different from those qualities desirable in instruments used for modern pieces and/or ensemble works. These qualities include timbre and pitch; the latter instruments should generally be louder, brighter, and more accurately pitched than instruments for honkyoku use. The main quality desirable in a shakuhachi used for honkyoku performance is an acceptable timbre or tone colour. ‘Right’ timbre is difficut to define precisely, being mostly a matter of personal taste. It is expressed by such vague concepts as the ‘soul’ or ‘heart of the bamboo’ (, chikushin), or that sound which has great ‘depth’.

All players also have their individual sound; the connoisseur can frequently tell who is playing just by listening to the tone quality of the performer. Though the same may be said of other instruments, this is particularly true of the shakuhachi. This is because the embouchure and mouth cavity, which vary dramatically with each player, are in fact a major part of the instrument. However hard a student tries to create a sound exactly like that of his teacher, his chances of sounding the same are as slight as his being identical in appearance.


There is no ideal or standard sound for the shakuhachi. Generally speaking, a consistently pure or clean sound such as is cultivated by performers of the western transverse flute is not as valued in playing the shakuhachi. More hiss or air in the tone is acceptable to or even desired by the shakuhachi performer. In fact one of the frequently heard criticisms levelled against shakuhachi players by other shakuhachi players is that their tone quality is too ‘flute-like’. A student of Yamaguchi Gorô said that his teacher taught him that the airy sound, which a western flute player would attempt to eliminate entirely as unwanted noise, is essential in the shakuhachi tone. The tone produced by the typical beginning shakuhachi player is almost all hiss. But rather than try to eliminate the hiss as the flute player might do, the beginner should strive only to increase the flute tone. Gorô likened the ‘hissing noise’ to pepper. All noise and no tone, as might be the case of a beginner’s playing, is like eating a spoonful of pepper without any food: unpalatable. In contrast, that same spoonful of pepper spread over a great enough quantity of food will make the food all the more delicious. With the production of enough ‘flute sound’, the hissing sound acts like the pepper, adding just enough spice to the tone to make it better (Kudo OC1984).

One of the most frequently occurring instances of timbre change within a single phrase is that related to the meri/kari techniques (changes in timbre and in pitch produced without changing the fingering, by altering the angle and distance from the embouchure to the blowing edge of the mouthpiece) (see p.323). By applying the meri technique to a particular fingering position, not only is the pitch normally produced by that fingering position lowered, the timbre is altered as well, becoming more muted and nasal-sounding, and decreasing in dynamics. Notes played using the meri technique also may become more breathy than the more frequently occurring kari notes. In contrast, kari notes are louder and sharp in pitch. Consequently, pieces in which meri/kari techniques are used, including virtually every classical honkyoku, will exhibit constant variation in tone colour, a direct result of the differences in tonal production between meri and kari notes.

As in the case of much of the other tonal variation that occurs in shakuhachi performance, the shakuhachi performer does not attempt to minimize differences in timbre between meri and kari notes. Instead these differences are not only considered desirable but even essential for the correct performance of the music. The contrasting timbres of the meri and kari notes is a fundamental aesthetic quality of honkyoku. For this reason alone, honkyoku can be performed only on the shakuhachi. No other musical instrument can produce such variation in timbre and dynamics. By using a system of colouring certain note heads, the transcriptions used in the analysis of the honkyoku “Reibo” (chapter six) attempt to reflect the importance placed upon the differences in timbre as related to the meri and kari techniques (see p.353354).

An important concept pertaining to the quality of sound in the honkyoku tradition is described as tettei on (, literally ‘thorough’ or ‘complete sound’). Yokoyama (1985:228) uses the term hon ne (, literally ‘main’ or ‘original sound’) for the same concept. This clearly links the concept with the honkyoku itself, and also with that of honnin no kyoku. The idea is that hon ne must be produced by the performer if the honkyoku is to become honnin no kyoku (his ‘own piece’).

The expression hon ne commonly means ‘one’s true intentions’ or ‘one’s real motives’, and is frequently used in the dichotomy hon ne and tatemae (, literally ‘before building’, that is, erecting the framework of a house) (Masuda, ed. 1983:1750). In this case, tatemai means one’s stated or ‘official’ intentions. In Japanese society in general, it is almost always assumed that hon ne and tatemae, one’s true intentions and one’s stated intentions, are (and should be) two quite different things. One’s actions and responses toward others are usually affected by that assumption. Being able to grasp how much or how little of one’s own hon ne should be evident in one’s tatemae, to sense the hon ne of others from their tatemae, to understand how to incorporate the intuitive sense one may have of other’s hon ne without causing any loss of face, and knowing how to do all of these things instantaneously in a prudent, socially acceptable manner are all essential skills needed to function in much of Japan’s society.

There is an interesting Japanese idiom using the expression hon ne. Hon ne o fuku () means to “drop [throw off] one’s mask” or “give oneself away” (Masuda, ed. 1983:482). The etymological suitability of this expression in terms of the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition could not be greater. The word fuku () most commonly means to blow, as in ‘to blow air into a shakuhachi’, or ‘to play’ as in ‘to play a wind instrument’. The shakuhachi honkyoku player really is trying to uncover his ‘true’ or ‘original self’ when attempting to blow hon ne, to play the ‘original sound’ while performing honkyoku.

Yokoyama does not use the expression honnin no kyoku (see pp.229,255), but uses instead honnin no shirabe (). The word shirabe corresponds to a surprising number of words in English related to music, among which are “a note; a tune; a melody” and “music” itself (Masuda, ed. 1983:1567). The character for shirabe () can also be read chô. When combined with the character shi(), the word chôshi () is formed, which can be defined in this context as ‘mode’.

To my knowledge, there are shirabe or chôshi pieces in every shakuhachi school or lineage that has a repertoire of classical honkyoku. In the Kinko ryû repertoire, there are two such pieces, “Hifumi hachigaeshi” ()25, and “Banshiki shirabe” (). In the Chikuho ryû, there are four such pieces, Honte chôshi (); Yamato chôshi (); Hifumi chô (); and Chôshi (). Also, there are a number of pieces, including Shôganken reibo, which have a beginning section called Shirabe. On a superficial level, these pieces or sections of pieces are considered preludes, tunings, or warm-ups for the larger pieces.

25. In many of the Myôan lineages, this piece is thought of as two separate pieces, “Hifumi chô” () and “Hachigaeshi”.

There is another set of definitions for the ideograph , however, which gives a deeper meaning to the Shirabe or Chôshi pieces and which Yokoyama is alluding to in his use of the term honnin no shirabe. These definitions include “investigate, scrutinize; provide, prepare…test, examine, survey, check up; inspect, overhaul; search for… interrogate… arrange… put to order, tidy up… regulate; settle” (Nelson 1974:4392). Honnin no shirabe can therefore mean ‘searching for one’s true or original self’. The Shirabe pieces of the honkyoku repertoire therefore can mean a searching for the relationship between the true nature of both performer and bamboo flute, searching for a relationship between the two that is most conducive to performing honkyoku.

To make a honkyoku into a honnin no shirabe is, according to Yokoyama (1985:228), to change it into a piece that is absolutely and unconditionally one’s own. To do that, the performer must entrust the sound of his shakuhachi with the most sincere and urgent expression of hon ne (one’s true self). Such a hon ne, in Yokoyama’s words, is a desperate matter taking on life or death dimensions. But by doing so, the sound becomes an ‘ideal’ sound and the piece an ‘absolute’ piece. Though Yokoyama does not state this, implied in his use of the word shirabe in the phrase honnin no shirabe is the process of searching for, examining, or preparing one’s Self. The task of playing honkyoku with hon ne (absolute sound), thereby making the pieces honnin no shirabe (a search for one’s original self) requires a lifetime of practice. Honkyoku becomes one’s life’s work.

On a more mundane level, a performance of honkyoku in which the performer has incorporated the idea of hon ne is likely to reflect the uniqueness of the honnin, the performer, and result in a unique performance. The many kinds of variations between the ten performances of “Reibo” that are brought to light in the analysis (chapter six) are consistent with the realization of hon ne in performance.

Within the philosophical framework of the honkyoku tradition, the significance of honkyoku goes beyond even that of a practice worthy of the devotion of one’s entire life. Each individual honkyoku is considered a manifestation or reflection of the whole universe, of all of reality and non-reality, of everything physical and metaphysical. This is thought to be so because of the philosophical symbolism of the meri/kari techniques. These techniques and the sounds they produce are considered to represent the yin and yang (Japanese in yô, ) of the original Chinese philosophy. Yin, the principle or force of the universe that is earthy, passive, inward, negative, and feminine, corresponds to the meri technique and the tone it produces. Yang is the universal force or principle that is light, heat, active, outward, positive, and masculine, corresponds to the kari technique and the tone it produces. Yin and yang always both contrast and complement each other; without one, the other does not exist. Together, they form the universe in the broadest sense of the word. The same is considered true of the meri/ kari techniques and their corresponding tones.


The yin-yang symbolism of meri/kari can be readily appreciated on a number of levels. Notes that are played with the kari technique are in fact loud, outward, bright, and ‘masculine’ in tone quality and dynamics, while notes played with the meri technique are soft, inward, earthy and ‘feminine’. Furthermore, yin and yang correspond perfectly to the actual physical movements associated with the meri/kari techniques respectively. In order to play a meri note, the performer must change his embouchure in two ways. He must change the angle that the air stream from his mouth hits the blowing edge, and he must allow his lips to get closer to the blowing edge of the mouthpiece. The former is usually considered more important in the execution of the meri technique. The angle at which the air stream hits the blowing edge is changed by the performer bending his head downward while holding the flute loosely. The hands act only as a fulcrum, so that the mouthpiece of the flute moves downward with the head, while the bottom of the flute moves upward. The player appears to blow more into the flute. The movement is therefore both downward (earth) and inward, corresponding to the downward change in pitch and the softer, earthy change in tone colour.

Every honkyoku has both meri and kari notes and therefore manifests both yin and yang. Each honkyoku therefore can be thought of as an embodiment or expression of the entire universe, including both the physical and the metaphysical. Each performance of honkyoku then becomes not just the realization of one piece of music, but the enactment of creating ‘everything’. The ‘life and death’ importance placed by Yokoyama on producing the ‘original sound’ of the honkyoku becomes more comprehensible in the context of the yin-yang symbolism of the meri/kari techniques.

The completeness implied by the yin/yang symbolism of the meri/kari techniques exists on the level of the phrase as well as the entire piece. Many phrases in classical honkyoku have within them both the meri and kari notes of a yin-yang equivalent (figure 10). In these cases the individual phrases themselves reflect the entire piece and become representative of the cosmos. More often, a phrase will end on the meri note of a yin-yang pair, followed by a phrase beginning with the kari equivalent to complete the pair (figure 11). Finally, there are phrases that are composed almost entirely of meri notes, many of which are part of a yin-yang pair. Usually immediately following these phrases are kari phrases centered around the kari equivalent of the meri note of the preceding phrase.

Gutzwller and Bennett (1991:54-56) describe the manifestation of the yin-yang principles in honkyoku performance as conceived in the Kinko ryû, particularly among the members of the Kawase branch. Tone cells, around which most Kinko honkyoku phrases are organized, evolve through three stages: 1)meri beginning, 2)kari body, and 3) meri ending. These stages can be seen as circular, the ends always returning to the beginnings in an intertwining yin-yang-yin cycle (figure 12). Likewise, the breathing process during honkyoku performance also manifests the non-dualistic yin-yang principle. The inhalation is yin, with its inward, receptive qualities. The exhalation is yang, with its corresponding outward, projecting qualities.

In every honkyoku performance, the whole or ‘Oneness’ is thus reflected on many levels, from the macro to the micro. This ‘Oneness’ can be heard in the pitches as well as the timbres of the meri and kari notes, and can be physically felt by the performer during the process of performing these notes, using techniques such as meri/kari that are unique to and, at the same, time fundamental to the shakuhachi tradition.

5.5.2 The aspect of pitch

Besides timbre, the meri/kari techniques are also one determinant of the second aspect of performance, that of pitch. Though pitch is conceived in varying ways among the different lineages of the honkyoku tradition, in general, the emphasis is not upon producing standardized pitch as it is in the dominant western music traditions, but rather upon the process of playing the pitches. Honkyoku are composed, notated and performed in such a manner that the production of pitches that are standardized in terms of western music is not necessarily of great concern. The following are factors that contribute to a conception of pitch in the minds of honkyoku players during performance that is (by western musical standards) variable and non-standard. Each of these will be discussed in more detail below:

  1. the concept of the process of the meri/kari technique being more important than the production of standard pitches;
  2. the vagueness and inconsistency of the score with regard to the notation of pitch.
  3. the deliberate use of an instrument whose construction emphasizes timbre at the expense of standardized pitch production, whose blowing edge encourages variation in pitch, and whose finger holes historically have been located according to a mathematical equation (see below) rather than at locations which produce standardized pitches;
  4. the custom of being able to play much of the honkyoku repertoire on any length instrument, including those whose fundamentals produce non-standard pitches;
  5. the conscious variation of intervalic relationships such as larger or smaller than standard minor seconds, and the unconscious variation of pitches and interval relationships, such as sustained pitches descending over time, and finally;
  6. the monophonic nature of the honkyoku, which does not require the production of standardized pitch.

First, the meri/kari techniques described above, which produce changes in timbre during performance, also produce simultaneous changes in pitch. Though the process of making the changes in both timbre and pitch through the meri/kari techniques is given great importance, the resultant pitches produced by those techniques may be variable. This is one of many examples of the process-oriented nature of honkyoku, with the product, in this case the pitches produced by the meri/kari techniques, being less important than the process. The methods of executing these techniques and the resultant pitch variations are elements which are tranmitted from one performer to another. It will be shown in the analyses of performances of “Reibo” that differences in these methods correspond to the differences between lineages and individual performers.

Secondly, with regard to to effect of notation, as previously discussed in detail above (pp.237250, 259260), traditional shakuhachi notation systems are themselves process-oriented, instructing the player which fingering position and blowing techniques to use. They may also directly denote to a greater or lesser extent what pitch should be produced by the fingering and/or blowing processes. This factor is also determined in part by the lineage or teacher through which the transmission takes place. Lineages, and in some cases teachers, use their own differing notation, or no notation at all. Some notation systems are more precise in denoting pitch than others. Variations in pitch related to the differing notations are therefore directly linked to the transmission process, of which the lineage and the teacher are fundamental components.


Thirdly, the nature of the instrument as well as certain construction methods further help to form many honkyoku performers’ traditional concept of pitch. As mentioned above (p.264), instruments used in honkyoku performance ideally have certain qualities of timbre that are difficult to verbalize, being defined largely by personal taste. It is frequently considered more important that instruments on which honkyoku are to be performed have suitable timbre than that they produce those pitches which are considered western standards. In contrast, greater standardization of pitch is required of instruments that are used for ensemble piece playing and modern works composed largely within the framework of western musical theory. Thus, it is common for performers to own several shakuhachi instruments used especially for honkyoku performance, and others used for performing other genres of music.

Differences between types of instruments can be clearly seen by comparing instruments made before and after the turn of the century. Earlier instruments are characterized by two construction techniques, one pertaining to the dimensions of the inner bore, called ji nashi (), and the other involving the placement of fingerholes, called to wari () (see below). These instruments were more likely to have been used exclusively, or at least predominately, for honkyoku. Honkyoku were much more frequently performed before this century; before the latter 1800s it was technically illegal to perform anything but honkyoku, though the law was often ignored (see pp.139149). Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that some of the differences in construction of historical and modern shakuhachi, resulting in non-uniform pitch production, are due to the demands made by the different performance practices characteristic of honkyoku and of modern compositions.

In fact, the specialized honkyoku instruments mentioned above are, in one respect, made in a way similar to the historical instruments. Indicative of the practice of using specialized instruments for the different types of music is the growing popularity of instruments called ji nashi shakuhachi () for honkyoku performance. Almost all shakuhachi made professionally within the last fifty years or more are constructed using some type of filler to create the proper dimensions of the bore. The most common filler used is called ji (, literally ‘earth’), a mixture of tonoko (, powdered claystone) and urushi (, Japanese lacquer). The term ji nashi shakuhachi (nashi=without) means shakuhachi instruments made without the use of ji as a filler in the bore. Such instruments were common before the advent of the professional shakuhachi maker, that is before this century. While urushi is still used in ji nashi shakuhachi, the very thin layers in which it must be applied in order to dry properly make urushi alone inappropriate as a filler (Tukitani et al. ed. 1991:9).

It is extremely difficult to make an instrument that plays well by today’s standards without any filler at all. Yet according to one maker (Yamaguchi 1991), ji nashi flutes have become somewhat in vogue in the past several years, and are used exclusively in the playing of honkyoku, or occasionally in modern pieces that require honkyoku-like techniques and phrases. The ji nashi shakuhachi are usually less accurately pitched, and generally more difficult to control than the standard modern instrument. The ability to produce a timbre with more of the soul of the bamboo, however, is thought to be worth the trade-off.

The construction of shakuhachi instruments, including standard modern ones made with ji, makes the consistent production of standardized pitches quite difficult. In addition, the unique shape of the blowing edge contributes to this difficulty. Without a good measure of technical ability resulting from many years of diligent practice, a trained ear that hears precise pitches and pitch intervals and, finally, the musical values and consequent desire to constantly be alert to and strive for the consistent production of standardized pitches as defined by the western musical tradition, variability in pitch will inevitably occur. In other words, unless the shakuhachi performer is both able to and wants to produce pitches consistent with the model of standardized pitches of western nineteenth century art music, the tendency is for pitch variation. Both the construction of the instrument and the music performed on it are not conducive to the production of standardized pitches.

The value placed on producing pitches that are not variable by western standards seems to be lower with many performers of honkyoku than with players who concentrate on other genres of shakuhachi music. This level of importance given to standardized pitch is another element of performance that is transmitted from performer to performer. It is one explanation for some of the variations in performances that are shown by the analysis in chapter six (see p.405407).

In the case of ji nashi flutes, large variations in the bore sizes of different flutes result in identical fingering positions producing different non-standard pitches on different instruments. The placement of the fingerholes can also be a determinant of pitch variation or consistency between instruments. Many shakuhachi instruments, especially those made before 1970 and/or by amateur or less skilled makers, are constructed with the fingerholes placed so as to produce non-standard intervals between the pitches produced with various finger positions.

This older method of determining the placement of the fingerholes is called to wari (, ‘divided by ten’). To wari consisted of dividing the instrument into ten equal parts and positioning the finger holes at specified points corresponding to a certain number of ‘tenths’ of the length of the instrument. Mo consideration is given to the bore dimensions of the bamboo being used. The result is variable pitches for each fingering position, in particular the fingering position which produces the pitches a’ and d” on modern standard 1.8 flutes. On flutes made with the to wari method, these two notes are usually sharper than on modern flutes. The positions of fingerholes on flutes made in the last decade by professional makers are usually dictated by the unique dimensions of points along the bore of each instrument and by the desire to produce standardized pitches, rather than by an inflexible mathematical equation.

Variation from standardized pitches as defined by western musical theory that is caused by either or both of the two construction methods, ji nashi or to wari, are frequently not taken into account by honkyoku performers who use these instruments. This is not surprising when considered in the light of the other factors contributing to variable pitches, such as the process of the meri/kari techniques, the vagueness of the scores, and the variability of pitch resulting from the construction of the blowing edge of the shakuhachi. Finally, it should be said that even modern shakuhachi, constructed with methods thought by those performers who value standardized pitch to be better than ji nashi or to wari methods, are still frequently ‘out of tune’. Variations in pitch which would be unacceptable on instruments used by many western trained musicians remain prevalent in many shakuhachi produced in Japan today.

Another factor which can affect the pitches produced by the instrument, though not the intervals between the pitches, is the overall length of the flute. Although lengths of shakuhachi, and consequently the pitches of their fundamental have become somewhat standardized in recent decades, in fact the shakuhachi can be made in any length, thereby producing, with all holes closed, a fundamental of any pitch. The name ‘shakuhachi’ itself denotes a standard length, one shaku () and ‘hachi’ or eight sun (, ten sun equals one shaku). Thus a standard length shakuhachi, being always 1.8 shaku, should always produce, with all holes closed, a standard fundamental pitch, assuming that other variables such bore dimensions are relatively standard. Today, the linear measurement called a shaku is defined as the equivalent to 30.3cm. The 1.8 shaku length instrument of today, that is, the standard length shakuhachi, is approximately 54.54cm. and as a result produces, with all holes closed, the fundamental pitch of d’.

The value of the linear measurement called a shaku, however, has not remained constant or standard over the centuries. The shaku of China during the Tang dynasty, for example, was shorter than the length of the modern day shaku (Kamisangô 1974:10). This would explain the relatively short lengths of the Nara period shakuhachi preserved in Shôsôin, the longest being only 43.7 cm. and the shortest a mere 34.35 cm.26 Even if the length of the standard shakuhachi, true to its name, has always been a consistent 1.8 shaku, it has not remained a consistent length, because the shaku measurement itself has not remained constant. Consequently, the fundamental pitch of the instrument (with all holes closed) has fluctuated accordingly. For example the Shôsôin instruments produce, with all fingerholes closed, fundamental pitches ranging from 449 Hz (a slightly sharp a’) to 353 Hz (a slightly sharp f’) (Ueno 1984:20), compared with modern shakuhachi producing the pitch d’. Therefore, even the fundamental pitch of the shakuhachi has fluctuated over the centuries.

26. The instruments preserved in the Shôsôin are called shakuhachi in the original catalogue made at the time the instruments were donated (see p.63).

In practice, most honkyoku can be played on any length shakuhachi, that is with any set of pitches. This includes modern, professionally made shakuhachi of varying but standardized pitches (that is, ‘D flutes’, ‘A flutes’, ‘B flutes’, ‘F# flutes’, etc.), as well as historical and ‘homemade’ flutes of non-standard lengths and pitches, e.g., flutes whose lengths are basically randomly determined by the length of the bamboo used. The length of flute chosen and the resultant pitches produced are partly determined by the lineage through which the transmission of honkyoku occurs. Players of the many lineages of Kinko ryû and of Myôan Taizan ha most frequently perform on the 1.8 shaku length flute. Longer flutes are especially popular with members of shakuhachi lineages other than Kinko ryû and Myôan Taizan ha, although the exact length of flute is rarely specified by teacher or score. Thus the fundamental pitch of the instrument used to perform honkyoku can be determined directly by the medium (in this case the lineage) through which the transmission occurs.

It has been shown above that the physical characteristics of the instrument and the manner in which it has been constructed contribute significantly to the variations in pitch typically found in honkyoku performance. A fifth factor that contributes to pitch variations is rooted in certain performance practices which are not in themselves dependent upon the construction of the shakuhachi. As mentioned above, these variations occur both as departures from a standard of pitch relationships based on the western system of A-440 Hz and as non-standard relationships or intervals between pitches.

Some honkyoku performers argue that the correct production of octaves, fourths, fifths, minor thirds and seconds, etc. is necessary in the performance of shakuhachi honkyoku. Yet even amongst those performers, the intervals are not in every case consistent by western standards. For example, Yokoyama (1989a) teaches that the minor second between the pitches d and e-flat (as produced on a 1.8 shaku length instrument), an important and frequently occurring interval in almost all honkyoku, should be played as a smaller interval than is standard in western music. When asked how much smaller, he replied by saying only that one must go by the ‘feel’ of the interval. He then demonstrated the interval on his shakuhachi.

In contrast, other players consistently perform the same interval, that is, a corresponding interval in a corresponding phrase within the same piece but of a different lineage, as much larger, even approaching a major second. For example, Tukitani (1974:24) notes that members of the Myôan Taizan ha of honkyoku playing consistently perform the same interval as a major second (D to E-natural on a 1.8 shaku flute) rather than a small minor second.

All five of the factors of pitch variation discussed thus far, the nature of the meri/kari techniques, methods of notating pitch, the nature of instrument construction and the placement of finger holes, the choice of length of instruments and their resultant fundamental pitch, and variations in the sizes and level of standardization of intervals between pitches are determined in part by the lineage throught which honkyoku are transmitted.

In addition to the apparently conscious variations in intervalic relationships such as the major and minor seconds, there are variations that are unconscious. For example, the pitch of a diminuendo note sustained over many seconds, of which there are many in all honkyoku, has a tendency to descend in time, because more effort and control is needed to maintain a constant pitch as volume is decreased. This is true especially in the upper octave. Also, as is the case with many wind instruments, the pitches of the notes in the upper octave have the tendency to be sharp in relation to those of the lower octave. Though this tendency is caused partly by the dimensions of certain points along the bore, unconscious fluctuations of upper octave notes relative to the lower octave are especially prevalent in honkyoku performances because of the nature of the blowing edge. Such fluctuations in pitch relationships, though unintended, are common in honkyoku performance even among performers considered to be of very high calibre, for example, Chikuho II (Lee 1986:223).

Finally, in classical honkyoku, there is little emphasis on melodic structure, with no implied harmonic background and no “architectonic formal relationships” (see Gutzwiller and Bennett 1991:58). The monophonic nature of honkyoku allows for a variability of pitch that might otherwise be unacceptable in an actual or implied harmonic setting. This may help explain the variations in the intervals between pitches that commonly occur between individuals and lineages or schools. Many of these variations are shown in the analysis of “Reibo” below (chapter six).

In spite of the insignificance placed upon the production of standardized pitch by many members of the honkyoku tradition because of the reasons described above, there appear to have always been some honkyoku performers who place great importance upon pitch. Examples of these performers are Uramoto, Watazumi and Yokoyama, and their students. The latter two honkyoku performers are particularly known for maintaining extremely consistent interval relationships between the pitches being produced (see below, p.405). Also, some members of Kinko ryû, such as Yamaguchi Gorô and Aoki Reibo II perform honkyoku within a framework of fairly consistent pitch intervals. In all of the above examples, although pitch is relatively consistent in terms of interval relationships, the intervals themselves do not always agree with the standardized intervals found in the western music tradition. The consistency of intervals is another element of honkyoku performance which may be linked to how honkyoku is transmitted, in this case the lineage or performer through which the transmission occurs.


In addition to the individual examples above, there is a trend in the shakuhachi tradition as a whole toward the standardization of pitch, though this trend is more evident in genres of shakuhachi music other than honkyoku. This standardization of pitch in the shakuhachi tradition in general, partly due to the influence of the high profile professionals, can also be seen in changes in instrument construction, with makers taking (and buyers demanding) far more care in ensuring that their instruments produce standardized pitches as defined by western musical theory than was deemed necessary even twenty years ago.

In summary, the lack of standard pitch values and interval relationships in much, though not all, honkyoku performance appears to be due to both unconscious and conscious factors. What appears in much of the classical honkyoku tradition to be a rather ambivalent attitude toward pitch is in marked contrast with the highly evolved and idealized concepts of both tone colour or timbre, as demonstrated earlier, and of rhythm or timing (see below). In nearly every case, the factors which determine the degree of inconsistency of pitch in honkyoku performance are themselves influenced by the medium through which honkyoku are transmitted.

5.5.3 The aspect of rhythm

The shakuhachi honkyoku is typically described as having “free rhythmic structure” (Malm 1959:160), or at least “open to a freer interpretation” than other forms of shakuhachi music (Blasdel 1988:29). Though Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians does not discuss free rhythm, it is defined elsewhere as “employing temporal values not derived from a basic unit” (Apel and Daniel, ed. 1960:248). If one assumes that the ‘basic unit’ equals the ‘beat’ of Western music, that is, “the temporal unit of a composition as represented by the (real or imagined) up-and-down movement of a conductor’s hand” (Apel and Daniel, ed. 1960:29), then it is accurate to describe almost all honkyoku as having free rhythm. In the majority of koten honkyoku, there is no discernible beat, and no meter.

The lack of any discernible beat in honkyoku can be seen in honkyoku scores. In many honkyoku scores, symbols indicating only very long or very short durations are used (see figure 13). In many of the scores used by shakuhachi players today, for example those of Kinko and Chikuho ryû, duration symbols that were developed to notate precisely the duple meter rhythms of ensemble pieces (gaikyoku), are also incorporated in honkyoku notation (see figures 14 and 15). The rhythmic symbols however, are either ignored, or, at the very most, used only as a broad guide to the durations of the notes of the piece, particularly in Chikuho ryû (Lee 1991:32).

It can be said that every note in each performance of any honkyoku has a single, specific temporal value, from which the performer tries not to deviate. This can be illustrated by two concerns of the honkyoku performer. With the first concern, the student of honkyoku is expected to imitate the teacher’s performance of the piece in every way, including rhythm. During the lesson the advanced student ideally becomes able to anticipate the teacher’s every breath, length of note, and musical nuance, becoming ‘one’ with the teacher in a deeper, more metaphysical sense than is implied by the typical usage of the word ‘unison’ when describing a performance. Furthermore, the student typically does not have the liberty to determine the durations of notes and pauses when playing the piece for the teacher during the lesson, striving instead to reconstruct or imitate the durations of the teacher’s performance.

The rhythmic restriction at this level is only present during the course of a student learning from the teacher. As mentioned previously, the performance of honkyoku can transcend strict memorization and repetition of the example provided by the teacher. Implicit in the term honnin no kyoku is a performance as unique and non-imitative as the performer himself. The rhythmic determinancy experienced by the student during the process of learning in the context of a lesson does not exist for a performer who has made that piece ‘his own’.

There is, however, a second inclination towards rhythmic determinancy besides that seen in the imitative performance of the student. Contrary to the sense of volition implied in the expression ‘free rhythm’ is the term zettai no ma (, ‘absolute timing’)27, used by Yokoyama to express this level of rhythmic restriction. This concept is so important for Yokoyama as to warrant an entire chapter in his book Shakuhachi gaku no miryoku (The Fascination of the Shakuhachi 1985:217-225).

27. Nakatsuka (1979:377) uses a similar term, zettai ongaku (, ‘absolute music’) to distinguish honkyoku from “ordinary worldly music”.

For Yokoyama, ‘absolute timing’ means giving each note, pause, ornament, attack, i.e., every musical event in honkyoku performance its one, single, correct temporal value. That single right temporal value is determined precisely by the events leading to and following the note, pause, etc., in question. Therefore, to be able to play honkyoku with ‘absolute timing’ requires extreme, almost instinctual reflexes and sensitivity. Above all, it requires the performer’s consciousness to be completely focused on the very instant of the the present moment while performing.

Yokoyama uses an analogy of the samurai or swordsman of the Japanese warrior class to elaborate on the concept of zettai no ma. The analogy is appropriate because during the Edo period all komusô, who were the only persons legally able to play shakuhachi, had to be of samurai birth. Thus, technically, until the end of the 19th century, all shakuhachi players were samurai, even though in reality from at least the 18th century there were common townspeople or chônin () playing the instrument (see pp.139149). Yokoyama describes the idealized samurai as having to stake his very life on his ability to perform (with sword rather than shakuhachi) with zettai no ma. In a sword fight, the person who did not perform with ‘absolute timing’ lost the fight and frequently his life.

The sword fighter analogy is only one example showing the extraordinary immediacy and heightened awareness of ‘absolute timing’. A more contemporary example of this might be the experience of a high-speed racing car driver. One’s usual sense of time is suspended with the single-mindedness of the moment; everything is in ‘slow-motion’. One’s actions become gracefully ‘perfect’ and seemingly automatic, with little element of self-consciousness. Together with this heightened awareness is a calmness resulting from the absolute acceptance of the inevitable outcome.

Yokoyama points out that the word ma (), in the expression zettai no ma, is used in many expressions and set phrases in the Japanese language, and denotes space as well as time. Zettai no ma thus means ‘absolute space’ or ‘absolute interval’ as well as ‘absolute timing’. The samurai also had to judge absolutely the distance or spacing between one’s sword and that of one’s opponent. Likewise, the honkyoku player must create the exact appropriate spaces or pauses between phrases or notes when these occur. The importance of space or ma is not unique to shakuhachi honkyoku, but is evident in much of Japanese culture, from large amounts of blank space in brush painting or long pauses during which the actors do not move in Noh drama, to large areas of raked pebbles in traditional gardens devoid of plants and long moments of silence during which actors in many Japanese films do not speak. The notion of ma is one of the most pervasive and important concepts of Japanese art.


Because the phrase is the single most important divisive unit in honkyoku, the pauses between phrases are particularly important. Breaths are taken only during these pauses, so that every phrase is only one breath’s length. In most music for wind instruments employing temporal values derived from a basic unit, the timing of the performer’s breathing is determined by the melody. Ideally, one inhales where there are rests in the music, but frequently one is forced to inhale in the most appropriate places in the music, and in the time there is between the notes at those places. The player must learn to snatch breaths as quickly as possible in those cases. At times the breathing is automatic, with the performer’s consciousness completely on the ‘music’, the sound as well as the beat.

In contrast, the timing of the breaths in honkyoku are not subservient to the sound element of the music. All phrases in koten honkyoku must be performed in a single breath. The breathing always occur between the phrases. As there is no set rhythmic pulse or beat to adhere to, the breaths between each phrase need not fit within a set space or time. In fact, the time allowed for taking any given breath is in a sense predetermined by the preceding and subsequent phrases under the concept of zettai no ma. But conversely, the phrases themselves are just as predetermined by the breath taken between them. The breath, the space between the notes, is as important as the notes themselves in honkyoku. This is all the more true because the process of performing honkyoku is more important than the product. Breathing in the air needed to play a phrase is as much part of the process of performing as producing the sounds that make up the phrase. As will be shown in the analysis of “Reibo”, variations in the placement and number of phrases accur among all ten transcribedperformances. Variations in phrasing are found even between the performances most similar in other respects, those by Jin and Sakai (see p.386).

Zettai no ma is not a single, rigid ideal, a one ‘True’ and unchanging way of performing honkyoku. Instead, it is a fluid ideal, differing with each performance. There may be one single right timing for every single event in any given performance. But the ‘absolute timing’ of any single event in honkyoku performance is determined by what has occurred prior to and what will occur following the event. Since these elements differ to a certain degree with every performer and performance, the ‘absolute timing’ that is determined by them will differ as well. Because of the interconnection between all of the events in honkyoku performance, it follows that how the performer takes his initial breath immediately prior to playing the very first note of the piece determines the ‘absolute timing’ of the entire performance, including, for example, the length of the very last note of the piece. Zettai no ma is absolute, but only for one performer accomplishing a single performance at a specific time.

Herein lies the reconciliation between the two concepts honnin no kyoku with its implication of individuality, and zettai no ma and its seemingly contrasting concept of the ‘absolute’. In fact, only by making honkyoku ‘his own’ for that particular performance is it possible for the performer to play with ‘absolute timing’. Both are manifestations of enlightened awareness. As Yokoyama (1985:222) rightly points out, zettai no ma is worthy of even more than a lifetime of practice.

5.6 Ideologies of transmission

The four elements of transmission discussed above, lineages, lessons, notation, and performance all address the question of how transmission takes place in the honkyoku tradition, just as the preceding sections in this chapter addressed the question of what is being transmitted by looking at concepts of subjectivity and objectivity, theories of orality, and the relationship between performance and documents. Both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of honkyoku transmission are influenced by and in turn influence each other. The interaction between these two components can be approached via the ideologies held by members of the tradition regarding transmission. The following discussion compares the views about transmission of three prominent shakuhachi teachers as espoused in verbal and written communications. They are a representative sample of the full spectrum of beliefs that exists in the honkyoku tradition. It will be shown that what these teachers believe is being transmitted in honkyoku affects how they endeavour to accomplish the transmission and that how they transmit honkyoku affects what is transmitted.

5.6.1 The ideology of honkyoku as sacred object

The first set of doctrines or way of thinking with regards to the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of honkyoku transmission views honkyoku as sacred objects that can be defined and owned, and whose transmission can be physically and psychologically controlled. This ideology is held by Inoue Shôei (, ne.Shigeshi , b.1922). Inoue, a shakuhachi teacher in Tôkyô, claims to be the iemoto (, head of a shakuhachi sect or lineage, usually hereditarily or bureaucratically decided) of the originally Aomori based Kimpû ryû (), having inherited the school in 1960 from Narita Shôei (). This claim is questionable, as Inoue’s name does not appear in the lineage charts for Kimpû ryû of either Tukitani (in NOD 1989:46) or Yamaue (1984:169), nor is he mentioned in a book devoted to Kimpû ryû (Uchiyama 1973). Kudo (1977:20) does list, however, Inoue as head of Kôun kai (), a sub-branch of the famous Kawase lineage of Kinko ryû. This sub-branch of Kinko ryû was founded by Inoue’s father, Inoue Shigemi (, 1890-1952). In any case, it is not as leader of a little known, but independent sub-branch of the Kinko ryû, but rather as iemoto of the quite famous Kimpû ryû that Inoue would like to be known.

As proof of his authority as iemoto, Inoue possesses a shakuhachi instrument that he claims is the symbol of authority in Kimpû ryû Like the cloak given by the Zen master to the one student who had received transmission of the true Dharma as a symbol of that transmission, only iemoto of Kimpû ryû could possess the instrument.28 Inoue claims that he received this particular instrument when he become iemoto on 22 November 1960.

28. Inoue appears to ignore the entire Zen story about the cloak, which makes clear that both the Dharma and its transmission have nothing to do with the cloak (see Aitken 1990:147-154).

Inoue believes that his being iemoto of Kimpû ryû means, among other things, that his performance of the Kimpû pieces are the most correct of any shakuhachi player, that is, that his performances are the least altered and closest to the performances of the founder of the lineage, Nyui Getsue (). Furthermore, as iemoto, Inoue believes he has a responsibility to preserve the Kimpû repertoire by transmitting it with as little change as possible. One of the ways available to him to accomplish this is being able to choose his successor. The student who will become the next iemoto of Kimpû ryû is, according to Inoue the one who can perform the pieces of the school with what Inoue perceives to be as little variation and change as possible.

Consistent with the high value Inoue placed on his authority as iemoto, and on the unchanged purity that he claimed his performance had, was his low opinion of other performers of shakuhachi honkyoku. In Inoue’s opinion, almost all of the well-known shakuhachi players, both living and dead, either were not recipients of the honkyoku tradition, or if they had in fact received the honkyoku tradition, did not faithfully transmit the tradition as they had received it. They did not know how to perform honkyoku in the ‘true spirit’ of the tradition, even if they were technically very proficient. In fact their technical proficiency more often than not made it more difficult for them to perform honkyoku correctly. Inoue also told this non-Japanese author that gaijin (foreigners) could never really learn to play honkyoku because they were not Japanese and did not have the heart or spirit (kokoro ) of the Japanese, which was essential if one were to perform honkyoku correctly.

Although Inoue and his lineage is not the subject of this thesis, a comparative analysis of transcriptions of honkyoku performances of Inoue’s teacher, Inoue himself, and his students would most likely show far less variation and change than can be seen in other lineages where ‘purity’ of honkyoku performance is not such an important issue (see the analysis of such lineages in chapter six). At the same time, it is probable that far more variation and change has occurred in Inoue’s lineage than he would like to admit.

For Inoue, the possession of the heirloom shakuhachi instrument as an ‘unchanging’ material object of transmission, is both necessary for and perfectly suited to his concept of honkyoku and how honkyoku should be transmitted. The instrument symbolizes both the successful transmission of the honkyoku repertoire from his predecessor to himself, as well as the authority and responsibility he has as iemoto to define and preserve the authenticity of that repertoire. But more than that, the instrument, a concrete physical object, symbolizes the nature of his repertoire as well.


In Inoue’s mind, honkyoku appears to be an unchanging object which, like the bamboo instrument, has an existence independent of himself and his students. Because of this, Inoue may view his task as trying to preserve his repertoire of unchanging honkyoku, just as he must preserve the old bamboo flute. The process of transmitting his repertoire would to him be equivalent to the act of transmitting the shakuhachi instrument itself. For Inoue, his repertoire is an object being passed or transmitted from himself to his students in a manner that presupposes the repertoire having some sort of existence independent of himself and his students.

He also believes that he is capable of transmitting the repertoire with completely transparent communication.

Inoue (n.d.:194) has written that having inherited Kimpû ryû from Narita Shôei, the two discussed many things concerning the sect. Two of the most important issues discussed, according to Inoue were: 1) the use of shakuhachi instruments that are two shaku in length when performing Kimpû pieces; and 2) that all heirs to the position of head of the Kimpû school use the character (ei) in their name.

Finally, just as there is only the one heirloom shakuhachi invested with the authority of iemoto, there also can only be a single ‘right’ way to perform honkyoku. Thus, there is some logic in Inoue believing that just as he is the only shakuhachi player to possess the heirloom shakuhachi, he is likewise the only shakuhachi player who can perform correctly the honkyoku of his lineage. Having convinced himself of that, it is a small mental step to the belief that not only can the honkyoku repertoire of his lineage be performed correctly by himself alone, but also that only he himself can truly perform honkyoku of any lineage correctly.

5.6.2 The ideology of honkyoku as music

Another ideological position within the shakuhachi tradition regarding the transmission of honkyoku is held by Aoki Reibo II. Aoki Reibo is head of Reibo kai (, Reibo Society), a sub-school of Kinko ryû, which descended from Kawase Junsuke I, and therefore is of the same lineage as Inoue; the fathers of both Aoki and Inoue were students of Junsuke I. There are a number of major differences between Aoki and Inoue and their ways of thinking.

Aoki’s organization, Reibo kai, is similar to Inoue’s Kôun kai, being an independent lineage within Kinko ryû. Its administration and finances are completely separate from other organizations classed under the umbrella term, Kinko ryû. Thus, Aoki Reibo, as head of Reibo kai, in effect has the authority of iemoto, like that claimed by Inoue. Despite this Aoki is quick to state that he is not iemoto and in fact is against the whole iemoto system. What Aoki means by this can be seen in the way his concept of authority differs from Inoue’s.

Aoki believes that performers of shakuhachi honkyoku have no more claim to spirituality than any other musicians who perform in public. In his opinion, many shakuhachi performers who stress the connection between honkyoku and Zen Buddhism are little more than spiritual charlatans.29

29. Aoki was quite adamant in expressing these opinions during his interview with me. One reason for his doing so may have been my having unfortunately begun the interview by stating that the topic of my thesis was in part the connection between classical honkyoku and Zen Buddhism.

What Inoue and Aoki have in common are their ideas about their authority as a teacher and transmitter of honkyoku. As with Inoue, Aoki believes that his students must perform honkyoku exactly as he teaches them. Aoki thus considers himself to be the absolute authority on honkyoku in his lineage. His students must accept this authority unconditionally without question. Aoki does not see the ultimate basis for his absolute authority as something outside himself, which had been invested in him by someone else, as in the case of Inoue and his heirloom shakuhachi. Aoki has no need for such symbols.

The reason Aoki demands complete authority over his students and the manner in which they perform honkyoku is, in his own words, because none of his students has ever even vaguely approached his ability and virtuosity as a shakuhachi performer, and none are likely to do so. Theoretically, if a student were to become truly better than Aoki, then the latter’s authority would no longer be valid over that student. In Aoki’s opinion, it is highly unlikely that such a student might materialize in the future. Because it is Aoki’s own subjective judgment that determines who is ‘better’ than whom, he is probably right.

Unlike Inoue’s authority, which is absolute until such time as he decides to bestow it onto his successor, Aoki’s authority is limited by his own level of performance, and may be challenged at any time. Thus, for Aoki, honkyoku is not perceived as an unchanging, sacrosanct ‘object’ that should not be modified or reinterpreted, and it is not the responsibility of the iemoto to transmit it in its purest ‘original’ form. Instead and in contrast with Inoue, Aoki believes that honkyoku, as transmitted by his lineage, is a repertoire of music that might indeed change over time, depending upon the interpretation of the ‘best’ performer, that is, the one in the position of authority.

Such changes cannot, however, be made by just any performer. A performer may interpret honkyoku in his own way only if he has the authority to do so by virtue of his superior level of performing ability. Otherwise, shakuhachi players in Aoki’s lineage must perform honkyoku exactly as they were taught the piece.

It is interesting to note that Aoki had no desire to discuss the seeming inevitability of appointing a successor to his position of authority prior to his own retirement, nor the process in which such an appointment might take place. It is possible that Aoki could refuse to relinquish his authority to anyone. If that were to happen, the students of Aoki might codify his performances into inviolate ‘objects’ invested with their own authority, which would then be transmitted in the same manner and context as the honkyoku repertoire of Inoue.

It should be noted that Aoki, and his teacher and father, Aoki Reibo I, operated almost entirely within the context of Kinko ryû. Though administrating their own independent organization within Kinko ryû, all of their classical honkyoku but for a few exceptions, are from the Kinko lineage. The Kinko honkyoku repertoire, which numbers thirty-nine pieces in all, has for the most part been codified since the time of Kinko I in the 18th century, earlier than that of any other existing lineage (Tukitani et al. 1991:34). Inoue’s lineage, Kimpû ryû, although completely separate from any and all independent sub-schools of Kinko ryû, traces itself back to Kurihara Kimpû (), a high ranking member of the Kinko lineage during the mid-1700s (Inoue n.d.:194), and thus shares much in common with such organizations as Aoki’s Reibo kai.

Kinko honkyoku in Kinko notation are generally far more detailed and precise in performance prescription than are non-Kinko honkyoku scores used by shakuhachi players who are not associated with Kinko ryû. Furthermore, notation appears to have been used in the transmission of Kinko honkyoku since at least the early 1800s (HHJ 1984:1106; NOD 1989:332; Syakuhati Kenkyûkai 1990:5), while the Reibo pieces of the Ôshû lineage, for example, were transmitted without the use of notation at least until the 1940s (Yamaue 1986:8).30 Thus, Tukitani can assert that the Kinko ryû piece “Kokû reibo” has been transmitted relatively unchanged since Kinko I codified it in the 18th century (Tukitani et al. 1991:34). Any modification or reinterpretation of Kinko honkyoku that Aoki or his successor might undertake would tend to be minor if compared with the variation and change that can be seen in honkyoku that have been transmitted outside the Kinko tradition.

30. The transmission of “Reibo” having taken place without notation until the 1940s has profound implications for the types and the degree of variation found between performances of the piece. The analysis presented in chapter six will show a number of prominent features of the “Reibo” performances which are characteristic of music transmitted orally.

5.6.3 The ideology of honkyoku as transcending ‘object’ and ‘music’

As stated above, the ideologies of the above two shakuhachi players suggest relatively little variation and change during the process of transmission within their lineage, although there is no conclusive data to support this, as neither of the two lineages is represented in the analysis. The shakuhachi players whose performances are analyzed in chapter six31 appear to share, in varying degrees, a third way of viewing the transmission of honkyoku. The ideology held by these performers can be seen in their beliefs and actions, especially those of Yokoyama and Watazumi.

31. These are Uramoto Setchô, Jin Nyodô, Sakai Chikuho, Watazumi dôsô, Yokoyama Katsuya, and Iwamoto Yoshikazu.


Both Uramoto Setchô and Jin Nyôdo are representative of the era of shakuhachi players before bureaucratic organizations such as those of Inoue and Aoki became as pervasive as they are in Japan today. Both players learned pieces from a number of teachers, though Uramoto (1985:10) primarliy credits Konashi Kinsui as his teacher. The multifarious influences of their numerous teachers may help to explain the variation between their performances of “Futaiken reibo”, even though, according to the genealogy chart, they both learned the piece from Konashi (see pp.398403). Uramoto did not create an organized shakuhachi lineage such as those of Inoue and Aoki, although one can argue that an unorganized lineage of his honkyoku performance continues to exist through his numerous students. Uramoto has expressed his belief in the unlimited nature of honkyoku in a way that would seem incompatible with both Inoue’s ideology of honkyoku as object and Aoki’s ideology of honkyoku as music (see pp.288295).

Jin’s lineage likewise exists largely outside of any single organization, though his son, Jin Nyosei () is head of his official organization. For example, much of Jin’s honkyoku, which was learned from many individuals, was transmitted and continues to be performed by members of the organizations of Kurahashi (in Kyôto) (see p.10) and Sakai. His ideas concerning honkyoku clearly had elements of spirituality as transmitted by komusô of previous generations (see Jin 1980).

An indirect receipent of Jin’s honkyoku is Sakai Chikuho II. Though Chikuho II inherited the title of iemoto of Chikuho ryû from his father, the manner in which he received his honkyoku and his ideas regarding honkyoku transmission differ considerably from those of Inoue and Aoki. His initial and primary teacher was his father, Chikuho I, but he learned many honkyoku in his repertoire from other teachers such as Moriyasu, one of Jin’s students. Sakai learned both “Futaiken reibo” and “Shôganken reibo” from Moriyasu.

Sakai considered his performance of honkyoku repertoire as only one of many manifestations of the pieces, and in most cases was open to discussion of how certain pieces had been transmitted through certain people before becoming Chikuho pieces. Unlike both Inoue and Aoki, he had no objections to his students going off to study with shakuhachi performers of different lineages. It appears that he attempted to consciously imbue his honkyoku performances with a quality uniquely characteristic of Chikuho ryû, so much so that his brother Shôdô later publicly rejected his interpretations and scores as being unauthentic (see p.241). In spite of Chikuho’s attempts to make his honkyoku unique and of Shôdô’s subsequent objections, the degree of similarity between the “Reibo” performances of Jin and Sakai is among the highest among the ten performances analyzed (see pp.385387), even though Sakai was one generation removed from Jin.

Yokoyama Katsuya is the head and founder of his own shakuhachi organization, Chikushin kai (, The Society of the Spirit of Bamboo). Unlike Inoue and Aoki, Yokoyama has no claim to leadership of a lineage directly descending from a major recipient of Kurosawa Kinko’s transmission of his honkyoku repertoire, although both his father and grandfather were fairly high ranking shakuhachi teachers. His father was also a highly acclaimed maker of shakuhachi.

As with Aoki, Yokoyama is a noted performer both in Japan and overseas, claiming to have performed in more foreign countries and on more occasions abroad than any other shakuhachi player in history. He also has made many recordings, especially of honkyoku. Unlike both Inoue and Aoki, three persons are publicly known to have been his shakuhachi teachers.32 Furthermore, the three teachers represent completely different lineages. In the light of what has been observed regarding the effects lineage has on the transmission of elements of honkyoku such as pitch and rhythm (see above, pp.271287), this has surely influenced the nature of Yokoyama’s performance. The relationship between lineage and performance will be demonstrated repeatedly in the analysis (pp.376418).

32. There is strong evidence that Aoki has learned at least one honkyoku from persons other than his publically acknowledged teacher, his father Aoki Reibo I, but he does not publicly admit to this (p.194).

Yokoyama’s father, Yokoyama Rampo (), belonged to the Kinko style of shakuhachi playing. Yokoyama’s second teacher, Fukuda Randô (), a composer of music for shakuhachi and other instruments, played in the Azuma ryû style. Finally, Watazumi dôso () performs honkyoku originating from many different lineages but in his own unique style. As was seen in cases of Uramoto and Jin, the numerous sources of formal transmission represented in Yokoyama’s playing reflect the transmission practices of the 19th century and earlier, when wandering komusô would teach and learn honkyoku to and from numerous other komusô from various districts throughout Japan. It will be shown in the analysis (chapter six) that these transmission practices continue to be reflected in the tradition by the multifarious variations between performances.

It is therefore not surprising that Yokoyama is eclectic in his view of honkyoku, and the manner in which it should be transmitted. Yokoyama believes that honkyoku constantly change as they are transmitted from one generation to the next. He has told me during lessons what he says is an old Japanese adage: that the art of the student is usually fifty percent of that of his teacher, with the other fifty percent presumed to be lost in the transmission. While this may reflect reality in many if not most cases, Yokoyama points out that if this were true all of the time, the tradition would soon die out, which has not happened with many traditional arts, including that of shakuhachi honkyoku. That these arts still flourish indicates that sometimes at least one hundred percent of the tradition is transmitted. But even that would not be enough for an art to survive, if so much is usually lost with each transmission between generations.

Yokoyama therefore believes that periodically, one hundred and fifty percent or even two and three hundred percent of the traditional art is transmitted from teacher to student. In other words, occasionally a student will far surpass the art of his teacher, elevating

the art to a level much higher than the teacher had achieved, and possibly even higher than had been achieved in many generations.

If the transmission of honkyoku were portrayed on a graph with the horizontal axis being transmissions over numerous generations and the vertical axis showing the level of the art, then Yokoyama believes that the line on the graph would generally be sloping downward, with occasional sharp jumps of varying degrees upward in such a way that the overall average level of the art stayed basically the same.

Though Yokoyama does not define what exactly the ‘level of the art’ is regarding honkyoku, he does state that it cannot be thought of as merely the summation of all of the individual musical elements such as pitch, timing, tone colour, etc., which are usually thought of as constituting the pieces, because these individual elements inevitably change with each transmission. Rather, it includes all of these elements, yet transcends the sum of these elements. Yokoyama’s concept of the level of the art of shakuhachi honkyoku may be similar to the indefinable ‘inner core’ or ‘real essence’ mentioned earlier upon which Hisamatsu urged students of shakuhachi to concentrate.

For Yokoyama, it is not important that his students play honkyoku exactly as he does; it is in fact impossible for them to do so. What is important is for his students to try to elevate the level of the art of playing shakuhachi honkyoku above that of their teacher.33 He believes that his own teacher, Watazumi achieved this, and is himself striving to do the same. While Aoki acknowledges the possibility of a student surpassing his own art, Yokoyama actively encourages it. Furthermore, Aoki spoke of his art only in terms of musicianship, while Yokoyama suggests another dimension to the honkyoku tradition, which is indefinable and inexplicable.

33. One of Yokoyama’s teachers, Watazumi, takes this concept much further, by completely repudiating the notion that he ever had a teacher. See below, p.302.

In contrast to both Inoue and Aoki, Yokoyama believes that in the case of shakuhachi honkyoku, authority rests ultimately with each individual player. Yokoyama does not think of honkyoku as something that can be owned. Likewise, neither he nor anyone can have the authority to determine authenticity. In fact, for Yokoyama, neither authority nor authenticity is an issue when performing and transmitting honkyoku. With Yokoyama, there is no object of authority, such as Inoue’s heirloom shakuhachi instrument, and no demands upon his students to imitate his performances exactly, as is the case with both Inoue and Aoki.

Of the twenty or thirty pieces that he learned from Watazumi, Yokoyama claims to have deliberately changed only one piece. Watazumi played the piece Tamuke in a very light and lively manner, as a min’yô (folksong) might be played. Yokoyama could not bring himself to play it that way, and so changed his way of playing it to a slow, solemn tempo and style. Yokoyama did not purposely change the way of performing any of the other pieces taught him by Watazumi, but says that changes have occurred nonetheless. According to Yokoyama, the reason for these changes is because Yokoyama did not have the capability to perform the pieces as Watazumi played them.

To aid in the formidable task of transmitting honkyoku, Yokoyama uses scores of traditional notation as one tool of transmission. In contrast to most shakuhachi teachers, Yokoyama does not offer neatly written and published scores of honkyoku he teaches. His teacher Watazumi used an extremely skeletal form of the fu ho u () notation system. Because in most cases Yokoyama’s students would find it took too long to learn the fu ho u system, most of the scores used are written in Kinko notation, and are more descriptive than the bare bones of Watazumi’s scores.

Yokoyama does not publish scores because of the impossibility of creating a finished score to his satisfaction. Scores can only be ‘memos’ of honkyoku itself. Over the past twenty years or so, he has continually revised the scores of honkyoku in his repertoire. The revision takes on a cyclical form. First more detail is added to describe the piece. Then, realizing that the added detail does not accurately represent the piece either, the score is simplified again. The process continues even today, though usually it is his students who try their hand at notating a piece. In this respect, Yokoyama concurs with Uramoto’s opinion that too much emphasis placed on notation will inevitably limit honkyoku (see p.225).

For Yokoyama, the issue of succession, apparently so prominent in the minds of both Inoue and Aoki, does not even arise. It is as if there is really nothing to succeed to in Yokoyama’s mind. There are only honkyoku to transmit, however imperfectly or perfectly. The honkyoku as transmitted by Yokoyama experience constant outward change, whether by will or unconsciously, by genius or by inadequacy. Simultaneously, the essence of honkyoku as transmitted by Yokoyama transcends the change to which objects or music are subject.

The fifth performer represented in the analysis of “Reibo”, Iwamoto Yoshikazu, is one of Yokoyama’s early students. He was one of Yokoyama’s first students to become a professional shakuhachi player, and has spent much of his career in England. His self-imposed separation from his teacher and the shakuhachi tradition would indicate a disregard for issues such as succession and lineage. It will be shown in the analysis that Iwamoto’s performance of “Reibo” reflects his isolation in England in its relationship to both Yokoyama’s and Watazumi’s performances (see p.396).

The sixth and final shakuhachi player represented in the following analysis of ten performances of “Reibo” is one of Yokoyama’s teachers, Watazumi dôsô. Watazumi’s ideology, though related to those of the other five performers represented in the analysis, is the most exceptional. It will be shown in the analyses that Watazumi’s singular ideology is manifestly evident in his performance of “Reibo”, which is the most dissimilar among the ten performances.

In contrast to Inoue and Aoki, Watazumi does not acknowledge belonging to any lineage. Furthermore, unlike any of the above-mentioned performers, including Yokoyama, Watazumi does not even acknowledge any individual as his teacher, as the original source of his honkyoku repertoire or his performance practices and techniques. This is so even though it is common knowledge, according to Yokoyama, that he did learn pieces from such noted players as Uramoto Setcho. Yokoyama conjectures that Watazumi claims to have had no teacher because he feels that compared with what Watazumi himself added to the performance of his pieces, what he may have learned initially from others is so trivial as to not warrant acknowledgment.34 Watazumi deals with the problem of authenticity in his usual inimitable fashion by declaring that he has no teachers and no lineage and therefore no problem of authenticity (Yokoyama 1989a). In this assertion may be found the explanation of Watazumi calling what appears to be a close variant of Jin’s “Shôganken reibo” by the unique name “Furin” (see p.417).

34. See pp.317318 for another explanation for Watazumi’s repudiation of his teachers.

Watazumi pursues this third ideology of transmission much farther than Yokoyama. Unlike Yokoyama, who calls his instrument shakuhachi and the pieces he plays koten honkyoku, Watazumi goes so far in repudiating the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition as to say that he does not play an instrument called shakuhachi. Rather he plays hochiku (, dharma bamboo). The pieces he performs are not honkyoku, but dôkyoku (, pieces of the Way).

Watazumi’s actions and motivations may be partially explained by a quote by a member of a tradition far more conservative than the shakuhachi honkyoku tradition, that of Nô drama. The highly respected Nô actor Kanze Hideo has said:

In Noh, it is considered crucially important to preserve tradition…. In my opinion nothing happens unless you are creating new things…..I don’t believe tradition is something you preserve. If Noh has a tradition at all, it is the tradition of life through the ages. I’ll be damned if I’m going to devote myself to protecting somebody else’s mouldy…notion of what Noh was centuries ago.

(In ‘Noh, Business and Art’, The Drama Review, Spring 1981)

Like Yokoyama and in extreme contrast to Inoue and Aoki, the issue of succession does not exist for Watazumi. Watazumi, according to Yokoyama, is one of those players who, every several hundred years or so, comes forth to elevate the honkyoku tradition to such a high degree compared with those players who lived during or immediately prior to his time that he might be considered to have completely renewed the tradition, if not having created it anew. Watazumi would most likely object to Yokoyama’s description, since he does not consider himself a member of the honkyoku tradition and there is in any case, nothing to elevate or renew. In contrast to Yokoyama, it is reasonable to imagine that

Watazumi might assert that, as there is no honkyoku, there is no ‘essence’ of honkyoku, and nothing to transmit, much less to change during transmission.