Saturday, September 17, 2011

Kobayashi Shomei

Jinashi maker Kobayashi Shomei got his own home pages (Japanese) (English)

It was in 2007 when I met him for the first time. He struck me as a living komuso because of his austere spirit. He traveled worldwide when he was young as a backpacker. He draws paintings every month on komuso and his paintings reveal his inner spiritual world. (He was once accepted to an American university to study art).

One day, when he allowed me to play his (and his friend's) vintage flutes, he scolded me and said: "I don't understand what you are trying to get from each flute. This precious moment won't come back aqain. Why don't you put all of your energy into each flute?" Since then, he became my good friend and mentor. Later, he explained that he had done research on kokan vintage shakuhachi, and the only useful way for him was to play them with the maximized energy for a few hours at least, not by playing lightly or measuring the bore shape, length, and size of those flutes. In other words, he embodied the characteristics of each flute.

Kobayashi is predominantly a jinashi maker, even though he gives shakuhachi lessons regularly at Mejiro. Among the many jinashi shakuhachi that I've tried, his flutes are most colorful and flavorful in terms of tone quality. I particularly liked his long flutes. The sounds of these flutes were profound, vibrant yet light and smooth. As a pianist, I always think of his jinashi as Steinway, whereas other makers' flutes, however functional and playable, sound like the Yamaha or Kawai to my ears. Of course, this doesn't devalue their flutes (I have theirs and love them). But the tone quality of Kobayashi's flutes is outstanding.

Interestingly, when Dr. Shimura Zenpo made his 2nd CD on kokan vintage flutes, he used the Kobayashi flute (the length is 3.3) as if it is a kokan vintage shakuhachi. (Also, because of this, it appears as if Kobayashi was a deceased maker from the previous century). Shimura explains that the Kobayashi flute is an example of modern jinashi shakuhachi. Other four flutes used for the recordings were borrowed from the Hamamatsu Musical Instrument Museum (originally a collection of Inagaki Ihaku). The makers of these flutes were Hayashi Kogetsu, Matano Shinryo, and Kokyo.

Unfortunately, Kobayashi is not as well-known outside Japan as he deserves. It was not until recently that we see his flutes on sale at Mejiro's website (previously, Mejiro had no interest in jinashi). Indeed, it has been difficult to obtain his flutes even in Japan. I am glad that he finally decided to make himself available for a broader community of shakuhachi players.

(p.s. The flute I used for the Eurythmy performances was also a 1.8 jinashi made by Kobayashi, which has a mellow yet crisp tone).

1 comment:

  1. I'm from the Philippines and I was amazed with the fact that even a Japanese bamboo flute looks simple in appearance but it is actually very difficult to play. I've read that if plays by the master this Shakuhachi Flute create an amazing, subtle, sensual music - prized as being perfect for meditation and relaxation. It’s beautiful, soulful sound made that best hear when you are taking a good rest or about to sleep. A must have shakuhachi flute!