Copyright 2001 - 2014 Mi Marketing Pty Ltd. ACN 098 375 145 trading as GoJapanGo.com and Go Japan Go. All Trademarks belong to their respective owners.

 

SHAKUHACHI HISTORY

The bamboo flute first came to Japan from China via Korea. The shakuhachi proper, however, is quite distinct from its continental ancestors, the result of centuries of isolated evolution in Japan.

During the medieval period, shakuhachi were most notable for their role in the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhist monks, known as komuso, who used the shakuhachi as a spiritual tool. Their songs (called "honkyoku") were paced according to the players' breathing and were considered meditation as much as music.

Travel around Japan was restricted by the shogunate at this time, but the Fuke sect managed to wrangle an exemption from the Shogun, since their spiritual practice required them to move from place to place playing the shakuhachi and begging for alms. They persuaded the Shogun to give them "exclusive rights" to play the instrument! In return, some were required to spy for the shogunate, and the Shogun sent several of his own spies out in the guise of Fuke monks as well. (This was made easier by the baskets that the Fuke wore over their heads, a symbol of their detachment from the world.)

In response to these developments, several particularly difficult honkyoku pieces became well-known as "tests": if you could play them, you were a real Fuke. If you couldn't, you were probably a spy and might very well be killed if you were in unfriendly territory. This no doubt helped drive the Fuke sect to the technical excellence they were renowned for.

In any case, when the Meiji Restoration occurred in 1868, the shogunate was abolished and so was the Fuke sect, in order to help identify and eliminate the shogun's holdouts. The very playing of the shakuhachi was officially forbidden for a few years. Non-Fuke folk traditions did not suffer greatly from this, since the tunes could be played just as easily on another pentatonic instrument. However, the honkyoku repertoire was known exclusively to the Fuke sect and transmitted by repetition and practice, and much of it was lost, along with many important documents.

When the Meiji government did permit the playing of shakuhachi again, it was only as an accompanying instrument to the koto, shamisen, etc. It was not until later that honkyoku were allowed to be played publicly again as solo pieces.

(Article based on Wikipedia article and used under the GNU Free Documentation License)

Related Topics  

Japanese posters & prints