The shakuhachi is an end-blown bamboo flute that has been played in Japan for over 1200 years. It is the only instrument associated with the practice of Zen Buddhism, and was performed during religious rituals by priests of the Fuke sect. During the Edo Period (1600-1868), Shakuhachi-playing monks known as Komusô (“Priest of Nothingness”) wandered throughout Japan playing the shakuhachi in exchange for food or alms. They would pass from temple to temple, learning pieces that were played at the various temples, as each had developed its own music. Thus was the repertoire expanded and shared as they sought to strike a perfect sound that would enlighten the world.
Traditional shakuhachi music, or honkyoku, are performed solo and are considered to express the original voice of the bamboo. The music is reflective and contemplative, and the instrument’s penetrating sound often produces an effect similar to sitting in meditation. As the music, playing technique, and instruments themselves developed over the centuries, concert performances of honkyoku became more frequent and many of the pieces became stylized, emphasizing the musical as well as the spiritual elements. Today there are several different and distinct styles of shakuhachi honkyoku which represent different schools of playing.
Shakuhachi music is at once spiritual and sensual. It combines breathing and silence with rhythm, melody, and the other elements of music to create a captivating and entirely unique art form of great depth and beauty. This extends to the secular, chamber music pieces, called sankyoku. Played together with shamisen (3-stringed lute) and koto (13-stringed harp/zither), this music has been performed for over three hundred years.
“Ifu Sashi” (On the death of Buddha) Contemporary Shakuhachi selection
“Funda” from “Five Pieces Chikurai” (1964) Makoto Moroi