Saturday, December 5, 2009

Overcoming the ji-ari and ji-nashi demarcation

In his dissertation exploring the features of vintage shakuhachi flutes from the Edo period and performers’ bodily experiences of playing them, Shimura conceptually distinguished a group of shakuhachi practitioners who pass down and practice a repertoire of honkyoku music on the ji-nashi shakuhachi—-those belonging to what Shimura describes as the “first world”—-from other practitioners in the “second world” who play a variety of music, ranging from classical music to pop music, using the ji-ari (ji-nuri, ji-mori) kairyo shakuhachi.

In the first world, the meaning of practice is determined and acquired by experiencing the spirit of komuso shakuhachi tradition through performing honkyoku music. While the emphasis of practice in the second world is often placed on enhancing one’s musicality, the practice of the first world is characterized by its spiritual orientation, often explained through the notion of ichion-jobutsu (“one tone, enlightenment”) in which the practitioners play music for their own self-cultivation.

Shimura argues that there is no distinction between professional and amateur players in this first world. Nor is there an audience who pay admission for a professional performance. The participants practice from a sense of community; this compels them to share, acknowledge, and uplift their spiritual experience of music, like how people experience at kensokai music offering events. Often, teachers in the first world possess a strong sense of responsibility to inherit and transmit traditional forms and thus provide austere lessons.

In contrast, the second world consists of institutional, school-based groups of practitioners, in addition to independent-minded musicians, that are characterized by such ranking as shihan (teaching license) and dai-shihan (great master license). In this world, performing with other established koto and shamisen groups is also an important aspect of their activities. Shimura, though quite implicitly, contrasts the epistemological differences of the two worlds and argues that the value system of one world is not easily understood from the perspective of the other.

Shimura demarcates these two worlds in order to underscore the value system of the first world, which is mistakenly labeled as “old” and “unmusical.” His distinction (between musical and the spiritual orientations to shakuhachi playing) seems more useful than the separation between the ji-ari and ji-nashi shakuhachi. For, many of the self proclaimed ji-nashi players, despites their use of ji-nashi flutes, actually belong to the second world, in which the musical result is an important determining factor. Besides, their choice of the ji-nashi flute in the second world is often based on functional reasons (e.g., volume, pitch, playability of the instrument) rather than spiritual ones. The former is associated more with the “external” dimensions of music, and the latter with the “internal” ones.

Where do you belong? What's your value? If you come across someone from the first world, you are lucky, as most players in Japan belong to the second world these days. Hopefully, there are still a number of practitioners in hiding while practicing the spiritual shakuhachi.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hi KM
    I find this article interesting, distinguishing between the two "worlds" of shakuhachi. This seems to put Shimura himself in the 2nd world, as he plays jimori shakuhachi and charges money for his performances. It also seems to put famous honkyoku figures such as Higuchi Taizan in the 2nd world, as he was a performer, also played sankyoku, established his own school Taizan-ryu, and made his own musical arrangements/adjustments of the honkyoku (the act of a musical mind). Then I wonder if we should group Taizan's students, the "school-based group" of Taizan-ryu (a.k.a. Myoan Taizan-ha) within this "2nd world". Another famous honkyoku figure Tani Kyochiku, whose passport identified him as a "religious musician" toured many countries. Since this was his profession, can we assume his audiences paid for his performances? If so, this puts him in the "2nd world".
    Other famous and widely admired honkyoku masters such as Tsunoda Rogetsu, also being sankyoku players/performers should seemingly be categorized as "2nd world".

    I'm personally not convinced by the division of players into "musical" and "spiritual" and can't help thinking that this seems like an artificial and inappropriate categorization. And if we are to believe it, who is left remaining in the "1st world"? If any of them are in the Taizan-ryu lineage for example, or any other lineage tracing back to a 2nd world player, and if the two worlds are mutually exclusive, then since this 2nd world is characterized by "experiencing the spirit of the komuso shakuhachi tradition" are we to assume that this is actually a re-created "spirit" unconnected (by lineage at least) to the real historical komuso tradition?

  3. Now we wonder how many of the komuso monks in Edo period were purely in the second world.

  4. Sorry for my late response. I haven't check this blog for a long time.... Do you think Shimura-san here is trying to categorize (and criticize) people into the first or second worlds? To me, he is rather trying to highlight the differences of values shared in these two "worlds" (or "cultures," I would put, in which the boundaries are determined by value differences), not by two groups of people. As you put, Higuchi Taizan, Nakao Tozan, Tanaka Fumon, Yokoyama Katsuya, and almost all fits in the second world (not sure if Tani Kyochiku does). But what if Yokoyama played at a kenso-kai (I don't know if he actually did it) along with other members who performed music as an offering with the spirit of messhi (or ichion-jobutsu, whatever). Would he charge the audience for his music? Probably not. But he obviously did when he performed with other sanbonkai members (Yamamoto Hozan & Aoki Reibo) because it was a concert. The point is that people go back and forth between these worlds. So does Shimura, just as you go back and forth between the East and the West. We all are situated in this shreshold. Having said that, I can think of several people who would be most respected in the first world.