The Shakuhachi



The Shakuhachi is Japan's traditional vertical bamboo flute with five finger holes (four in the front and one on the back). Usually 54 cm in length, the shakuhachi is made from the lower section of the madake bamboo stalk. Its average diameter is 4-5 cm and the inside is almost cylindrical.

Despite the instrument's simple design, the player can dramatically alter tone and execute subtle pitch changes through fingering, the angle of the mouthpiece, and breathing techniques. Introduced to Japan from China in the 7th century, the early shakuhachi was used in Gagaku (imperial court music). Between the 15th and 19th centuries, the shakuhachi was played as a form of sonic meditation by wandering Zen monks - many of whom were former ronin (masterless Samuraļ). It was considered more of a religious device rather than a musical instrument.

The first of these flute-playing monks were called kosomo (rice straw monks), named for their practice of carrying mats made of woven rice straw that they used as protection against elements. Later, Buddhist monks of the Fuke sect adopted the shakuhachi and incorpored it into their meditative practices. These were famous komuso (literally, monks of emptiness and nothingness), who traveled with their faces hidden behind the tengai, a woven basket-shaped hat they wore to show their detachment from the world. It was they who coined the term suizen (literally, blowing meditation), the practice of blowing the shakuhachi as a path to self-knowledge. As the kosumo would say, "ichion jobutsu" (enlightenment in a single tone).

The compositions by anonymous kosumo were called honkyoku (sacred Zen music) and were mainly solo pieces. The essential purpose for playing honkyoku was to attain religious enlightenment rather than musical enjoyment.

By the mid-19th century, some shakuhachi musicians began to participate in sankyoku (secular chamber music) alongside the koto and the shamisen (3-stringed lute). The pieces specifically composed for koto, shamisen and shakuhachi were called gaikoku (outside pieces).

Alcvin Takegawa Ramos
Satomi Saeki & Alcvin Takegawa Ramos

CD's Available:

Oliver Sudden Productions K10-25CD
Japanese Traditional Flute for Meditation; Zen Shakuhachi Vol.2
Oliver Sudden Productions K10-23CD
Japanese Traditional Flute for Meditation; Zen Shakuhachi Vol. 1
Oliver Sudden Productions K10-22CD
Japanese Traditional Koto and Shakuhachi Music
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