Tuesday, December 22, 2009


My uncle passed away a couple of days ago. I came back home earlier today and played tamuke while his funeral was taking place in Japan. Facing north over incense sticks, I sat on the floor and played the piece countless times. (Later, my mother said that the monk's chanting at the funeral was extremely long. So was my playing/praying).

Tamuke has several versions. Someone told me that there are three versions. I know of only two. The most well-known version (perhaps, the only version known in the West) is Watazumi's rendering.

My learning of the piece owes much to the recording of Sakaguchi Tesshin. I notated the music by listening to his recording. Later, I noticed that my teacher's teacher learned the piece directly from Sakaguchi Tesshin, and so I got his transcription.

Tamuke is often said to have come from the Nagoya area. But my teacher's teacher believes that tamuke was composed by Takahashi Kuzan who was actually the teacher of Sakaguchi Tesshin (Sakaguchi's other teacher was Miyagawa Nyozan). The reason for his claim is that he could not find tamuke in the Fudaiji music score book. Besides, he cannot find anyone who played the piece before Takahashi Kuzan.

When I discussed tamuke with my teacher's teacher, he interestingly pointed out that tamuke has much in common with sanya, the myoan "shinpo" version of sanya (three valleys), which is a completely different piece from the taizan-ha sanya. It is played with deep tsu meri and chi meri (in the so-called miyako-bushi scale). I like this version of shinya. It carries some special import and taste. In fact, Katsuura Shozan (the last shinpo-ryu person from Kyoto Myoan temple before Higuchi Taizan took office) loved this piece. It was not just that he loved the piece, but the music was very special to him.

This afternoon, my hands naturally moved too much trying to execute Watazumi-like expressions, as I am also sort of familiar with that style. But for this occasion, the simpler version suited better. I believe that shinpo-ryu sanya also goes well for a funeral. The only problem is that the piece is too long. There is a dramatic expression near the end of the piece. But the audience needs to wait long before getting to that point.

So I did "tamuke" today (tamukeru as a verb). Hopefully, it reached my uncle's spirit before he reached Pearl Gate.

P.S. Some people say that Tamuke actually comes from Yamato or Nara. So there are more than just one homogeneous view about its origin.


  1. Koji-san,
    This is very interesting to learn about the background of the piece. My grandfather passed away recently too and I spent hours with Tamuke around the time of his passing with a sincere heart. I also like Sanya, the slow version, perhaps most of all the traditional pieces.
    Best wishes, Kirsty.

  2. Hello my friend,
    My condolences to you. I am glad you got to play Tamuke for his spirit.
    My favorite piece is Shinpo ryu Darani which has always felt like a Sanya to me. What do you think?
    I am not sure why but I cannot find a Shinpo ryu Sanya on Komuso.com
    I have never heard Shinpo ryu Sanya :(

  3. Hi Kirsty, thanks for your message.
    When offering tamuke, I was reminded of Yokoyama's message that we often lack a clear intention in playing shakuhachi: why we play music? What honkyoku is good for? I was glad that I had a medium to express my sincere heart, something to offer, for someone important to me. You must have felt the same way for your grandfather.
    (His current message is translated here: http://www.mejiro-japan.com/html/header_menu/info/live/e_live_main.htm).

  4. Hi Jon, I meant to write to you through email. Sorry that my busy work doesn't allow me to spend much time for email.
    Anyway, thanks for your message(s). I don't know much about Darani. I am sure it carries a sort of shinpo-ryu melancholic flavor. Shinpo-ryu Sanya is probably not known to many people? Personally, I've not come across any recording of this piece. I should write about it someday. It sounds a bit like nagauta and a sort of rainy reason music (the Japanese one, not tropical squall). Also, it is a long piece like nagauta: naga=long, uta=song.
    It's been raining where I am. So it's a perfect music to listen to. (i only have a recording of my teacher's teacher playing the piece).

  5. Dear KM
    I study Kuzan's lineage and also Shimpo-ryu. I've enjoyed reading your blog. I'm not sure how to contact you privately. My mail address is justinasia "at' yahoo "d0t" com.