I am a government supported artist
through the National Endowment for the arts, Japan-US Friendship
Commission, New York State Council for the Arts and International House
of Tokyo. I received these grants to help spread the shakuhachi
outside of Japan. I encourage you to do a little research if you are
thinking about a purchase. A little education on this esoteric
instrument can go a long way since it is shrouded in "ancient" folklore.
First, consider your needs as there are different ways to enjoy and benefit from this wonderful instrument. You can think of your purchase as if you were going to buy an automobile. You should ask yourself, what do I use this car for? Would it be a Mercedes for classy evening rides to the Ballet? Perhaps a Porches for those hairy turns on fast highways. Or, maybe just an old dented clunker to get you to the market and back on Sunday mornings? Any of these have their counter parts in the shakuhachi world and priced accordingly.
A fine shakuhachi flute is one that is well made made according to one of the traditional styles of the shakuhachi in Japan. There are many not so well made flutes out there that will not work in accordance to traditional shakuhachi music. The tuning may be off or the notes week. Traditional shakuhachi are made with fine tuning and shaping of the bore so that specific cross-fingerings will work to produce specific shakuhachi notes. These differ according to particular schools so the maker needs to understand the kind of flute he or she is making. If you come into possession of a questionable instrument, I'll be glad to evaluate it for free. Sometimes it's just a simple repair and can be up and running relatively easily.
There are two main styles of instruments, the modern JIARI Bore flute (fine-tuned bore) for Japanese classical or folk concert music, or the older JINASHI style flute for Honkyoku - original music of the Komuso Monks of the Fuke Sect of zen Buddhism. The Jiari flute is the standard style world-wide. Jinashi translates as "there is Ji" in Japanese. Ji is a plaster like paste that dries hard as stone and is used as a filler inside the flute to fully
manipulate the bore profile for the proper modern tuning of pitch,
timbre and response. Jiari shakuhachi are the most common kind of shakuhachi used in Japan. Jinashi translates as "there is no Ji". This style of shakuhachi utilizes the natural bore profile but usually has a coat of urushi lacquer inside to prevent mold from forming. Jinashi flutes are now becoming more popular outside of Japan due to the ease of crafting. Please be aware that these are not used for teaching or concert playing
by traditional teachers or professional players.
Shakuhachi are classified by length in Japan. The standard length and style used for teaching and study is the JIARI 1.8 - one point eight Japanese Shaku (feet), 54mm, 21 1/2". Another popular length is the 1.6 because these two lengths play well with the Koto stringed instrument. These come in lengths from 1.3 - 2.8 G# - G Western pitch.
The JINASHI can also be used by professional players for the more natural earthy bamboo flute sound but is usually relegated to the temples of Komuso Monks or other Zen Buddhist players of the Fuke Sect. Or, anyone interested in a natural bore flute for meditative, relaxing playing. However, the famous Komuso Monk WATAZUMI pushed these flutes to the limits and reinterpreted the Honkyoku music into his style called Dokyoku. Dokyoku must be played on well made Jinashi flutes as all the advanced fingerings required of the complex Honkyoku music need to work. Jinashi flutes come in many lengths but long Jinashi flutes called CHOUKAN are generally preferred by experienced players as they are deeper with wider vibrations. It should be noted that WATAZUMI brought the shakuhachi back to it's origins by using completely natural shakuhachi he named HOCCHIKU or HOCHIKU These are all-natural with no lacquer or inlays. Only a piece of bamboo pulled from the ground, hollowed out and with holes drilled into it.
can be a simple flute or a very complex one and still be considered a
real shakuhachi. If you are considering an important purchase, you should ask these basic questions:
1) Is it an authentic Japanese Shakuhachi and does it matter?
This is important for collectors. If the instrument is produced in Japan, or by a maker trained in Japan, it is
authentic. If it is made by a player who has knowledge of shakuhachi music through a teacher and adheres to traditional Japanese materials such as Japanese bamboo, urushi lacquer, Water Buffalo horn etc... it is authentic.
2) Is this shakuhachi made to play shakuhachi music? A
lot of flutes are made by hobbyists or monks and do not make great
music instruments. But, they can be fine or even perfect for simple meditative playing.
A shakuhachi made for traditional lessons or concert performances of
shakuhachi music should react in predictable ways according to standard
playing abilities of professionals players. This is in accordance to
style of music. Therefore, each school usually have makers specializing
in the flutes that produce instruments that behave accordingly.
3) Is this flute in tune? Well made shakuhachi flutes can usually play up to the middle of the third octave in tune with itself.
4) Is there a guarantee? If you
are purchasing an expensive shakuhachi, you should ask if the flute can
be evaluated by a professional. Most legitimate dealers in the USA will
let you take the flute to a teacher. I offer evaluation services for
If you are having trouble deciding what kind of shakuhachi you will need, visit the ESS Shakuhachi Forum where there are teachers. professionals and amateur players who will offer their honest opinions to help you find the right flute for your needs. As many of you well know, eBay can be a great place to find a great product at a super price, but the better educated you are, the better your chances of getting a good instrument.
Please feel free to email me or visit my store for more info.
Thanks and enjoy your time moment to moment, Perry