Friday, October 21, 2011

Another invention (attempt)

Relatively good sounding

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).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Just came back from a tour to Steiner schools with performers of eurhythmy. We share much in common as we are sensitive and responsive to energy (rather than scale, harmony, pitch, etc., which many musicians are concerned about).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I asked Shimura-sensei this kind of questions - Which maker is good? Whose shakuhachi would he recommend? He was very careful making any judgmental statement. He almost implied that there is not absolute criteria. "If you are into myoan, kyosui playing is essential. Therefore you need to find one that allows you to play so." When it comes to this kind of advice, he becomes a clinician: He attends to the needs and preference of each person, the style of music the person is into, and then gives suggestions.

Among the many shakuhachi people I've met, he is one of the most balanced. He is aware of his standpoint as a leading player as well as a scholar whose opinion always counts to lay people, often much more than he anticipates.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Shofu Bunko

I finally visited Shimura Zenpo’s jinashi shakuhachi museum this summer. We talked on a wide range of topics related to the shakuhachi. I had a precious opportunity to play some of his collection flutes, such as those made by Fujita Masaharu and Kobayashi Shomei. Fujita’s 3.6 was a giant and hard to hold with the finger holes in a straight line. But once I got used to it I could get some sounds. My impression of this flute was similar to that of Nishimura Koku’s kyotaku. I am not making any generalization out of this particular flute. Fujita made hundreds of jinashi, and they probably bore distinctive characteristics. I wished I could try those made by others such as Kono Gyokusui I and II.

While we were blowing into each other’s jinashi, I was constantly listening to how he played, especially how he controlled the tone quality. I often noticed that his tone color changed after adding an atari. I pointed it out to him. He simply responded that it was probably due to the flute’s capacity.

To note some memorable moments:

1. He used table gongs, small and big, to explain layers of the intricate tone coming from a jinashi flute. The sound of each gong was deep and reverberant with many overtones. These overtones sometimes merged in singular harmony, other times created layers of resonant vibration. This complex tone color is not easily attainable through jinuri shakuhachi as the latter tends to produce more focused tones.

2. He believes that the body for jinashi playing is different from that for jinuri playing. I asked him if he still plays a jinuri. “Yes,” said him, but he does that only to demonstrate the differences. Indeed, he picked up a jinuri and played it for me (only a few notes). His expression “keep pushing the air” is apt to explain the jinuri playing. “Save the air” for the jinashi, as “it vibrates with little air.” This made sense a lot to me.

3. Some flutes are suited for playing koku, and others are for mukaiji. Koku (Takiochi, Ajikan, etc.) begins with “tsu-re” and repeats the phrase “tsu-re” many times. Mukaiji repeats “ha-I” (“ri-hi” “ha-ro”). Jinashi flutes tend to bear characteristics that can be judged on these criteria.

4. He distinguished the art of "finger" and the art of "breath" to highlight what he thinks of as the jinashi playing.

5. He often plays takiochi (takiotoshi) using his 3.3 made by Kobayashi Shomei (see here for example). He claims that it is in the myotan taizan-ha style. But his playing of this particular piece on shorter flutes is much faster than how it is “normally” played by taizan-ha players (examples are included in his recordings of kokan shakuhachi). For this reason, some believe that Shimura’s taizan-ha playing is not authentic but influenced by the chikuho style. Well, Shimura was clear: He learned it from Sakaguchi Tesshin who was a student of Miyagawa Nyozan and Takahashi Kuzan. Sakaguchi’s playing of myoan pieces sounds similar to Miyagawa’s. It is faster, vibrant, making a significant contrast to the slower version of the piece performed by players of Tanikita Muchiku’s lineage. However, a question still remains. Shimura’s “tsu” for “tsu-re” is much deeper, which doesn’t sound like an influence from Sakaguchi. It sounds like the Jin Nyodo style. I wanted to ask about this point. But It was already time to say good-bye.

I was grateful that Dr. Shimura spared many hours for me when he was extremely busy with some deadlines for publication.

(Taken at Shofu Bunko)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yamato Homei

There seems to be a person in Europe interested in this information.

Mr. Yamato Homei is a Kinko player and maker. He studied with Master Yamaguchi Goro. He joined several of Yamaguchi's recordings. His shakuhachi is similar to that of Yamaguchi Shiro (with rough surface of the bore).

He graduated from the University of Tokyo and became a teacher at a university-prep school.

His website is:

It's probably best to see an excerpt from his upcoming DVD on Youtube.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Blowing angle

This topic again.

This person explains that it is very important to maintain the blowing angle. According to him, the air needs to go downward. Put the second join of your finger as high as your nose and blow toward the palm. In theory, this leads to the uchibuki. He says that maintaining this blowing angle is very important.

He is also a great shakuhachi player. As far as I know, the dongxiao are jinashi (no ji in it).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


In continuation to the previous post...

I didn’t have a chance to take a lesson with Watazumi. But I have taken lessons with teachers whose lineage is “watazumi do.” They didn’t use such terms as “jiki, ai, kiri, chu, kai, koku, and mataiki.” Did Watazumi use these terms when teaching his students? Was it Yokoyama-sensei who used more generic terms for these expressions (ai for komibuki, kai for tamane, etc.) as a kinko player? These expressive characteristics seem to be essential elements of Watazumi’s art of shakuhachi playing. If there is anyone who teaches those as a basis for watazumi-do I would love to take a lesson.

Note: You don't have to preach me that those are Watazumi's jargons. He reconstructed many things including honkyoku pieces, shakuhachi terminology and concepts.

Watazumi Live CD Translation Track 1-3

Track 1

If I explain before playing, I (or you?) would be distracted. So that is not good. Today, because no one could tell what I would be playing, the stagehands were really in trouble. But there is no way because I cannot tell until I go on the stage. So I will explain by myself and perform. Before a performance I normally do seikan. For Soen Roshi that can be zazen shitting. But in my case it's seikan. I twirled a bow a moment ago. I normally do seikan while twirling in a standing position. But today, I didn't do because there is not time for it.

[00:42] 最初、今、静観の末、考えつきましたのは、やはり本調というものを吹定します。これは最初に修行する道曲でございます。
After some seikan the first piece that came to my mind is after all honshirabe. This is the first dokyoku piece to study.

[03:30] 曲は、同じ曲は心境によって変化をさせることができるのですが、それはなぜかというとやはり呼吸の使い方にありますが、普通の呼吸の使い方のことをジキと申します。それからキリ、
The same piece can be performed differently, depending on one's feeling, through breathing control. The normal breathing is the "jiki." Then, the "kiri."


[03:56] こういう音を今度変化させます。
And adding changes to these notes.


[04:00} また、こういうのはまぁジキというのですが、こういう使い方を。それからアイというのはですね.
This is the jiki. This way of using. And the "ai."


[04:16] こういうのはアイ。それからキリ。
This is the ai. THen, the "kiri."


[04:27] こいうのはアイ。このきり方。それからチュウ。
This is the ai (sic). This way of cutting. Then, the "chu."


[04:43] こういうのをチュウというわけです。それからカイ。カイ。
This is the chu. THen, the "kai."


[05:03] これはカイ。それからコクといいまして、息が切れた瞬間にいれる呼吸の微妙な音をコクというわけで、
This is the kai. Then, this the the "koku." It is a subtle tone of your breath that emerges when you blow just after the previous tone ended.


[05:34] こういうのをコクですね。それからカイとアイを組み合わせた音をマタイキをいうんですが。つまりこの音とこの音を組み合わせると。
This is the koku. Then, the combination of the kai and the ai is the "mataiki." That is, if you combine this [demonstration] and this [demonstration] it becomes,


[05:56] つまりこういう組み合わせによって同一の曲をつねに変化させることができるわけで、また後で吹定してみますが。
With these combinations you can add a variety to the same piece. I will demonstrate them later.

Track 2

Now, I am going to play shingetsu and demonstrate the way it changes to my feeling.

Track 3

The next piece is a bit lively. It's tamuke. There is nothing particular to talk about this piece.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Japanaese music 101

Fuji TV program on music called "ongaku no shotai" featuring modern Japanese music (more on scale).

National Congress Library Digital Archives

Old recordings with no copyright involved are available here:

Shakuhachi recordings:

"Haru no umi" by Miyagi Michio (koto) and Yoshida Seifu (shakuhachi):

Beef, onion, sprite, ramen good for shakuhachi

What would you eat (or avoid eating) before an important performance?

Japanese people often eat pork, especially deep fried pork called “katsu” before life-changing events, such as university entrance exams, because pork is believed to energize one’s body. My senpai musicians often took me to a tonkatsu restaurant before a performance exam. Why pork? Well, that’s because katsu in Japanese also means “win.” To me, this tradition is in part a superstition.

However, some people seem to eat certain food before a concert. For example, Yokoyama Katsuya was known for eating yakiniku (meat) to energize himself. Aoki Reibo seems to eat raw onion before a concert. Yamaguchi Goro preferred to drink “mitsuya cider” (it’s soda like Sprite). Another living national treasure seems to have said that ramen noodle is the best. Oily food generally keeps the moist in the mouth and prevents the mouth from drying up.

This person thinks that sushi is bad because vinegar takes water out. No sushi should be served for shakuhachi players before a concert (shamisen and koto players would be happy with sushi). Wadatsumi Fumon did not drink tea before a public performance. He thought strong tea would desiccate his mouth.

In my experience, honey water works well. Sugar water, hot chocolate didn’t work.

Share your experiences here!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Japanese Pedagogy of Art

According to scholars of Japanese arts:

‘The teacher seldom identifies the error, but waits until the phrase is played correctly and then expresses approval’ (repetition of practice), and its ‘goal is to perform the piece exactly as the teacher has presented it’ (Trimillos 1989).

Throughout the process, verbal instruction and conceptual understanding are intentionally avoided as they may distract a whole-body grasp of artistry (Hare, 1998).

There is no artistic content for the performer to ‘grasp’ cognitively, but instead a surface aesthetic that ‘grasps’ or transforms the performer, shaping the artist into the form of the art itself’ (Keister 2004).

Yamaguchi Goro's students have written about his teaching style (see for details the edited book dedicated to Yamaguchi: ISBN-10: 4882933381). It was basically "teaching by non teaching." Here, I translate Mizuno Komei's memory of studying with Yamaguchi, which he posted on his website.

I have studied shakuhachi for 31 years since 1968 without any break. What's most gratifying to me was that I could study with Yamaguchi Goro sensei during this period of time.

During the 31 years, I had just one time in which Gamaguchi sensei made a complimentary remark on my progress, and two times he critiqued my playing. Otherwise, he normally said, "That's fine, that's all about it today." There was no feedback, whether my playing was good or bad, let alone any advice to my playing.

His mother told me these things: "Long time ago, the master teacher (Yamaguchi Shiro) got a student who was very serious about shakuhachi study. He memorized the music. The sheet music was put on the table for the teacher, not for him, and during the lesson, he kept starring at the teacher. He copied everything even when the teacher moved his eyebrow." Another time, she said, "One student complained that the teacher (Shiro) didn't teach anything while receiving the lesson fee. Artistry is not something you are taught to master but you steal from your teacher."

Surely, there is not much we can explain about music through language, as music expresses subtlety of human emotion. I believe that Goro-sensei also shared the same idea with Shiro-sensei, namely, you can only "steal" artistry from your teacher. Those who cannot understand it cannot understand it any way even with words, and those who can understand it can understand it without verbal explanation. Thus, either way, verbal explanation is unnecessary. I tried to be the latter by sensitizing my ability when I was taking lessons. When playing together with Goro-sensei, I tried to restrain my volume so that I could hear what he was trying to teach me. I am not sure even now if I could ever steal any of his artistry.
[This is a Japanese way to be modest.]

Teaching by non teaching is a part of the Japanese teaching style. I've come across many teachers like Yamaguchi Goro who are not explicit in words. Playing together is the dominant format of teaching. But then, one may question, does this work outside of Japan? Many shakuhachi teachers, especially non-Japanese teachers, have reported that they needed to change their teaching styles they naturally acquired in Japan in order to accommodate to the needs of students outside of Japan. I remember local students of Kumamoto prefecture, upon meeting North American shakuhachi students, repeated several times, "You have only studied shakuhachi for 4 years, and you are already so good. I envy you because our teacher...."

I can see the values of both sides.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tips to be an out-blower

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blowing inward and blowing outward

We often talk about uchibuki (内吹き) and sotobuki (外吹き). Uchibuki (blowing inward) means more air goes into a pipe. Sotobuki (blowing outward) refers to the opposite blowing style, that is, less air goes into a pipe.

The nature of advice and tips for shakuhachi playing varies, depending on which style you are familiar with. Some of the descriptions below may be useful if you already know your blowing style.

But how do you know your blowing style.

A visual example of blowing inward here.
A visual example of blowing outward here (in Okamoto’s research)

The player in the first example is Sogawa Kinya, a very good player and maker. Okamoto plays in the second example. In these video clips, you need to pay attention to where the air goes around the utaguchi.

Two ways to know if you are blowing in or out:

1. Use a kleenex like this

2. Put a candle (or lighter) under the bottom of your shakuhachi and blow Ro. If the fire disappears, you are likely to be a blowing inward person. Alternatively, you can put a candle near the utaguchi. If the fire disappears, you are probably a sotobuki player.

Those who blow downward tend to be uchibuki players whereas those blow straight or upward tend to be sotobuki players.

If you are an uchibuki player, you better use an instrument that is catered for uchibuki players (according to Sugawara). You play with an image that the air goes into the flute (downward).

If you are a sotobuki player, one tip for better playing is to make the lower line of your air jet (like air beam or blade) hit the top side of the utaguchi edge. It is like "shaving" the utaguchi.

Ishikawa introduces a way to switch from a blowing inward style to a blowing outward style based on his personal experience. (I summarized his point here. Take a look at his website for more info). Usually, when playing kan notes (high register), you tend to blow outward. Ishikawa therefore practiced this way. By maintaining the Re in kan position, he lowered the pitch to otsu Re, while paying attention to the blowing angle (not allowing the air to go into the flute). After getting used to this Re position, he practiced Ro in otsu in the blowing out position.

Generally, sotobuki generates a softer, louder, shimmering tone quality. Uchibuki is good for hard, dark, condensed tones.

Personally, I prefer the uchibuki tone quality when it comes to meri notes. I cannot get as big meri sound in the sotobuki style as I can in the uchibuki blowing. (It's a bit like trading in the brightness of kari tones for the richness of meri notes). Note that one cannot easily switch the blowing style while playing. It's more like changing a habit, which takes time.

Examples of sotobuki players: Yokoyama Katsuya, Kakizakai Kaoru, and many.
Examples of uchibuki players: Aoki Reibo, Tanabe Ryozan, Onishi Jofu (based on others' observations. I have not confirmed with each player)

This player is also probably an uchibuki player.

Sugawara Kuniyoshi tested more than 40 professional players and identified more sotobuki players than uchibuki players -- about 2 to 1 (Hogaku Journal, 2008, no. 260). He states hat the often repeated instruction in textbooks -- dividing the air into half the inside and outside of the flute -- is incorrect. In reality, the larger the deviation is, the larger the volume is. So is the tone quality (with less noise). This is confirmed in research on the pipe organ (by Yoshikawa Shigeru). So the first thing you need to know in order to improve your playing is your blowing style.

He also found that out-blowers were able to play other players' flutes that they had never played before, but in-blowers were NOT or even if they could, the sound was not as vibrant. Thus, he recommends that in-blower students had better acquire their instruments from in-blower makers.

My encounters with shaku players in the West seem to recommend the sotobuki style only (this could be an influence of Kenshukan teachers such as Kakizakai). Players of the western flute show a bit different attitude: More seem to appreciate uchibuki over sotobuki (the French style, etc.). But this is not certain yet.

The bottom line is (1) understand your blowing style and (2) seek advice from a teacher who is aware of the different blowing styles. Preferably, your teacher’s style is the same as yours.

I’ve come across many teachers (and makers) who simply say to their students (and customers), “your playing is not good enough,” when the student’s blowing style is not the same as theirs.