Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

The shakuhachi flute and Zen Buddhist monks. And what are those baskets on their heads for?

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

Stylish bamboo hats, deep passionate music, and a spy bashes in a samurai’s head with a flute.

Welcome to Shakuhachi. Hello Everyone! I am so happy to be on this channel today to tell you about the Shakuhachi, the Japanese End Blown Flute. My name is Shawn Renzoh Head and I hold a Shihan degree or teaching license in the Kinko Ryu school of Shakuhachi. Today, we will go through some interesting stories and unexpected events.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

The first question you may have is, what is a Shakuhachi? Well, have you ever seen one of those old samurai films and right before the big fight scene this explosive flute sounds appears? That’s Shakuhachi. Also, if you’re a fan of Naruto, practically every track has a little bit of Shakuhachi in it. The Shakuhachi is a bamboo flute with four holes on the front and one on the back. It is held like a recorder but has a blowing edge instead of a mouthpiece. We can this an Utaguchi. The name Shakuhachi actually comes from the size of the instrument, I – shaku – ha– sun, or one shaku, eight sun. Shakuhachi come in many sizes but we refer to them as Shakuhachi no matter the size.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

Now let’s begin our journey in…You guessed it, China! The Shakuhachi came into Japan from China, most likely via Korea in the 7th century. This is during the Yamato-jidai. The first shakuhachi looked quite different from its modern counterpart having an additional hole on the front. We call this version Gagaku Shakuhachi because it was used in an ensemble called gagaku. Over time this version of the shakuhachi fell out of fashion but in its time, it was a very popular instrument.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

There are records of royalty playing shakuhachi in the Heian period and there is even mentions of the shakuhachi in the Genji Monogatari, written by Murasaki Shikibu. But when we say Shakuhachi today, this is not the instrument we think of. We think of the medieval period where shakuhachi were most notable for their spiritual role in Zen Buddhism-The Fuke Sect.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

Let’s jump forward to the Edo period 1603 to 1867. The Fuke Sect monks were called komuso and they were very distinct looking among the edo crowd. For one, they had these giant baskets on their heads called tengai. This was most likely to avoid their ex-girlfriends… just kidding, that’s what I use it for.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

The idea was that by wearing such a disguise they removed their egos. What the Tengai also did was remove their identity. In addition, they had their Shakuhachi in hands which they would play out in public. This practice was twofold, one for practicing suizen, blowing meditation (get your mind out of the gutter!), and begging for alms. The music they played what called Honkyoku. Honkyoku means original pieces. They were traditionally handed down aurally from teacher to student and were the main tool for practicing suizen, the blowing meditation.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

There are a variety of pieces that are played for certain purposes. Let me give you an example. Hifumi hachigaeshi. This is the title of a traditional work. It literally means 123, return the bowl…but we’re not talking about weed, we’re talking about alms. The 123 in the beginning of the piece stands for the form of the musical composition. Hachigaeshi has the meaning to give thanks for the alms received. So this would be a work play in public, begging.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

This piece we know more about the lineage and how it was transmitted over time through the Fudaiji Temple. Fudaiji was a branch of the famous Ichigetsuji Temple, where my school lineage began, with Kinko Kurosawa, the founder of Kinko Ryu, but more on that later. Back to the komuso. These Komuso would travel around Japan with their shakuhachi in hand and their tengai on their head begging for alms and studying at different temples. But you may be wondering, “Wasn’t it illegal to travel though Japan throughout this time?” Yes! It was against the law to travel from one city to another without a traveling permit.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

CONSPIRACY THEORY TIME!

The Fuke Shu school was a branch from the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. In order to be taken seriously as a religion you need some proof of your practices and historical footprint. So they did what any one would do, they fabricated text and sent it to the Government #fakenews. This document, called the Kyotaku Denki, written around 1640. It lays out rules for the komuso, lineages, pieces of music, and mythical stories of the great flute players of the past. BUT, it’s real purpose was to obtain the special privilege to gain access to all of Japan.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

After they gained these exclusive rights, many were required to spy on the behalf of the shogun. Shogun were also noted to send their own spies as well disguised as Fuke monks. The perfect plan to infiltrate neighbouring lands. However, having no swords, due to edo policies, the komuso changed the design of the bamboo flute to make it double as a weapon, cutting it from the root end of bamboo where are the sharp prongs are instead of the smooth and thin surface. This led to flute with an end that resembles a mace. The shakuhachi is three tools in one: a gorgeous flute, a meditation device, and a weapon. Not only is it all of these things, but it’s not illegal to have in Japan at this time.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

For a skilled samurai, it doesn’t get much better than that. So it is safe to say that lots of people were viciously beaten to death by a bamboo stick. Now the komuso had to protect their own butts even if they were spies so they came up with a solution. Several extraordinarily difficult honkyoku pieces were rendered. One such piece was called Distant Call of the Deer (Shika no tone). Pieces like this became well known as “tests works.” Today we still use them for teaching licenses. If you could play them, you were a real Fuke Shu Komuso. If you couldn’t, you were probably a spy and might very well be killed if you were in the wrong neighbourhood.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

This brings up a good point about schools and licensing. There are two primary schools of Shakuhachi. We call these schools “Ryu.” My school is called Kinko Ryu, founded by Kinko Kurosawa, and the other is by Nakao Tozan, the Tozan Ryu school which was found in the late 1800’s. He is responsible for the jump between the traditional music to modern and contemporary music. There are other schools, but the main two schools are Kinko Ryu and Tozan Ryu.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

Let’s move to the fall and rise of the shakuhachi. The Meiji Restoration, beginning in 1868, the shogunate was abolished and so was the Fuke Sect. This was done in order to help eliminate all of the possible shogun hideouts, which we can assume was quite a few. For a few years, even playing the shakuhachi was 100% forbidden. Tunes that might have been played on the shakuhachi such as folk songs were not affected because they could easily be played on instruments like the takefue, Koto, and shamisen. However, the honkyoku repertoire was known only to the Shakuhachi and remember, this was an aural tradition.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

When the Meiji government did permit the playing of shakuhachi again, it was only allowed as an accompanying instrument to instruments like the koto or shamisen. It wasn’t until later that Honkyoku music was allowed to be played but unfortunately the damage had already been done. Today we are left with only 36 of all the original pieces, many of them now lost never to be found again.

Linfamy (YouTube Channel):

Also papers from the Fuke Sect are also gone, all the fake documents. Today there are people all around the world like myself who play this instrument. You can hear them in jazz ensembles, Western classical music, in the traditional form, in other ensembles called sankyoku, which is shakuhachi, shamisen, and koto with somebody dubbing as the singer. You can also hear it in film scores, as well as video games. One of my personal favourites is the video game Sekiro, which came out this year…and I still can’t beat it. As well as there are some animations such as Naruto that heavily use and heavily rely on a lot of these traditional instruments to create some of that Japanese feel. Well I hope that you enjoyed this and if you did.




Watch The Video Below!

Train Hard, Fight Easy!

Wall Bag