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#1 2008-04-25 11:38:32

Kiku Day
Shakuhachi player, teacher and ethnomusicologist
From: London, UK & Nψrre Snede, DK
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 922

Jinashi shakuhachi, ecology, nature and spirituality

Dear fellow shakuhachi lovers.

I will here post an email correspondence between two of my friends regarding what jinashi shakuhachi is to them and what they feel playing them, and on the subject of shakuhachi and its connection with nature, use in healing, and related subjects. The opinions expressed here are not my personal opinions, but I think they touch upon interesting subjects, and my thought is that we could perhaps elaborate, comment or add to them. This text was published in a past edition of the ESS Newsletter. The two friends having this email conversation are too busy to participate in the discussions here on the forum, so please do not contact them regarding this conversation. I just personally thought this text raises many interesting points - some very new thoughts to myself. Let me hear how you feel.


- - - - - - - - - - - -

Below are some edited highlights from the correspondence:

Shakuhachi and Ecology
- A discussion between Koji and Stephanie.

From Koji:
I am looking for shakuhachi players (they don't have to be professional, any level is fine) who embody spiritual ecology.

I think that the shakuhachi, especially hocchiku, is an instrument which enables the player to experience music close to nature.   Each hocchiku instrument has different musical qualities that depend on the nature of the bamboo.

I am looking for people who make instruments by themselves, play the shakuhachi outdoors, or perform close to nature. Let me know if you know of anyone.

I am also curious about what you think of the organic side of the shakuhachi (besides its spiritual side).

I know I am in the minority, even in Japan.


Dear Koji:
I received your email regarding your interest in the shakuhachi and nature.  This is a very interesting area, though I admit I don't know very much about it.  I can only speak from my own personal experience.

I don't make my own instruments, but I do play jinashi - mainly a 2.6 by Kodama.  I also work as a healer/therapist so am used to working with/connecting with energy.

When I play shakuhachi I feel a very strong connection to the earth energy, especially because of the root-end of the bamboo - I feel that the bamboo is still energetically deep in the earth.  As I play, I feel the earth energy is being drawn up through the bamboo and sent out through the vibrations of the sound.  In this way, I use my shakuhachi for sending healing to those who need it.

I feel that the natural sound of the jinashi shakuhachi emulates the sounds of nature far better than any other musical instrument.  I am sure this is because it is made by removing only the smallest amount of bamboo necessary.  In this way, the bamboo remains in as natural a state as possible, but has gained the added dimension of being transformed into a musical instrument.

I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this fascinating subject.

Dear Stephanie,
The idea of connecting with earth energy through the shakuhachi is very strong and convincing.  I deeply resonate with your remark on the bamboo as energetically rooted in the earth. I do feel that the energy flows in and out of my body through the shakuhachi: As I practice the shakuhachi for a certain amount of time, I sometimes reach the point in which I feel that the earth energy is circulating within me, and breathing becomes so natural.

Do you think this kind of experience may be available only through the jinashi shakuhachi? Personally, I don't know. I also play the shinobue and ryuteki, but I am not good enough to explore the ecology of experience. But I do feel that the longer the bamboo is, the deeper I can feel the energy. Is this part of the reason why you use 2.6?

Your practice of healing through the shakuhachi is fascinating! How do you use the body? Also, would your patients gain healing from the felt sense of being rooted in or feeling close to the earth? The process seems like becoming 'organic' from 'inorganic through the sound.

Is it appropriate to relate your healing practice to Tai-ch'i or Aikido?

Your description of the energy field reminds me of the drum tradition in ancient Japan. Drum was a medium for connecting the earth and the heaven. It symbolized 'turtle' and 'dragon' (if I am not mistaken): Ancient drums had a figure of a turtle on the base and a dragon on the top. By hitting the drum, people experienced a sense of universe, according to the book I read.

Dear Koji,
I definitely feel that, for me, the jinashi provides a stronger connection to the earth energy than jiari.  However, I do feel that intention is a very strong factor in this work so, from that point of view, any instrument could be used as a medium for healing and/or connection with nature, so long as you had a pure and strong intention.

My Sound Healing work is on a one-to-one basis.  Clients lie on a treatment couch (the same as a massage couch) and I work using shakuhachi and other instruments, both around and on the body to balance the client's energy and clear blockages.  I often use a 2.2, with the end resting on the lower back - the client can feel the vibration as I play.  I usually play my 2.6 towards the end of the session, using a very simple melody like Kyorei to produce a very calm atmosphere.

You asked if I could relate my work to Tai Chi or Aikido.  Certainly, I do practice Chi Gong - I would say it is the same, in the way that you maintain an awareness of the flow of energy through the body and work to keep the energy pathways clear - my healing work aims to do the same.  I also work as a Reiki practitioner and this also works to balance and clear energy in a similar way.

One more thing that I wanted to tell you is that, each week, I play in a local shop that sells crystals.  The owner is so delighted that I do this as she feels the vibration of the sound cleanses the crystals and purifies their energy after all the customers have come through and handled them.  I thought you may like to hear this different aspect of connecting with nature, whilst nevertheless playing indoors.


Dear Stephanie,
What's interesting to me is that the jinashi tradition is kind of
'disappearing' in Japan, but its popularity is growing outside of Japan with its reference to a more authentic yet individualized form of spiritual practice (?). I met quite a lot of shakuhachi lovers and players in Japan, but none of them (except my teacher) was a jinashi player [as of spring 2007]. Even komuso-minded people often use jiari instruments. In contrast, the existence of jinashi players somehow stands out in other countries. There will be a jinashi-making workshop in Vancouver soon. This fascinates me, especially if the jinashi finds its position outside of Japan. [Just a small note: Since this summer, Koji has met many jinashi practitioners in Japan]

You mentioned that any instrument can be as a medium for healing. I have a background as a piano student, and I have felt, at one point, that my piano practice was in line with what I would be seeking through the shakuhachi. So I truly understand that it has to do with one's intention.

I have also been asking myself the same question: why the jinashi gives me a deeper connection to the environment. There may be many factors: One of them may be the depth of breathing. Another element may be its natural sound which resolves into the environment. And of course, the instrument itself is made out of nature. So when playing the jinashi, I often feel as if I am one with nature, as if the energy circulates in and out of my body, as if the sound of the jinashi corroborates with nature... I often use the word, 'self-integration,' as opposed to self-expression because I do feel that I am part of the cosmos through the shakuhachi.

Your description of the healing using the shakuhachi is very interesting! I may try a similar thing with people and see how they feel. The idea of sending the vibration directly to the body is something I have never thought about!

[Ref using the sound of the Shakuhachi to cleanse crystals in the shop] Yes, this is also very interesting! As you pointed out in your article, sound has a purifying power. In Japan, native Shinto practices have traditionally put emphasis on the power of sound. I wrote a little bit about it somewhere, and I got some criticism, saying that people no longer maintain such sensitivity. I am glad to come across an example that captures the use of the purification power of sound. Thanks very much for sharing!


Dear Koji:
You asked to hear more about my feeling that the jinashi provides a strong connection to the earth energy.  My understanding is that this happens for several reasons:

Firstly, the wider bore means that I can breathe/sigh into the instrument to produce a sound, without feeling that my breath is restricted, or squeezed along its length as with narrow bore flutes.

Secondly, I feel that the softer sound emanating from the jinashi integrates with nature’s sounds, rather than cutting across them.

Thirdly, the longer jinashi allows me to rest the root-end on the earth as I play.  I feel then that, as I produce a sound, the energy comes up from deep in the earth, travels through the instrument and then vibrates out through the sound into the surroundings.  This feeling is so much stronger when I play outdoors that I feel certain this must be what is happening.  My sense is that, because the jinashi is so un-tampered with, energetically it is still linked to the earth.  Therefore, when you rest the root-end on the earth the bamboo is still energetically growing from that soil on which it rests.  I can extend that too - when I play, I send the sound deep into the earth and, from there, it can extend across the whole planet to encourage balance, harmony and healing.

You mentioned that Shinto practices recognise the power of sound.  This is something I know nothing about.  Can you tell me more - I would love to know if/how they used sound.    Sadly, it doesn't surprise me that some people are no longer sensitive enough.  My understanding is that many (most?) people now have 'blocked' this sensitivity or 'forgotten' how to use it. Society has taught us only to believe or trust in things we can see with our own eyes, or things that can be scientifically proven.  However, this does not stop the sound from having an effect on people's energetic body, or their spiritual body.  Also, recently, there has been an upsurge in people who are open to learning about the more spiritual side of life; an increase in interest in healing and similar practices.  I live in hope :-)

Can I ask you a few questions?:

• Do you make all the instruments that you play?
• Do you only play outdoors?
• Do you play pieces from a particular repertoire/shakuhachi school, or improvise or both?
• What length shakuhachi do you play, as a rule?


Dear Stephanie,
You described three points regarding jinashi experiences - I do feel the same. The first thing I notice when switching to a jiari instrument is its narrow bore and restriction as an instrument. To exaggerate, it is like breathing through a straw. That type of instrument may be suited for the execution of embellished melodies. But for meditation I feel that is a constraint because I cannot take enough air freely in and out of the body.

As you pointed out, the softer sound is also an important aspect to me. The 'U' tone of my jinashi instrument has a very distinctive character, and it is hard to produce the tone. The transition from 'Tsu' to 'U' is so hard because each requires suitable breath pressure and mouth form. This is because the instrument is 'untampered' and unconditioned as you pointed out. As a result, each tone provides a distinctive color, challenge, and intensified moment. Playing just one piece is already like going for a hike, climbing up and down, while observing a variety of scenery.

It seems many people also like the softer sound of the jinashi. It has been said in our tradition, according to my teacher, that the jiari sound reaches people in front of you, and the jinashi sound reaches people far away. In the situation of asking for alms at a house, the jiari appeals to the gate keeper or butler, and the jinashi, to the master. Surprisingly, my friend has heard my shakuhachi sounds, when I was playing in the apartment, from a far distanced place outside, and he could not believe that I was playing inside the apartment. So, the sound of the jinashi vibrates well in nature, whereas that of the jiari may sound better in a concert hall, it seems.

Your third point: the feeling that the jinashi is rooted and linked to the earth, is so real and captivating. I would like to develop this idea more and experience it deeply by myself. Thank you very much for sharing all of these.

[Ref comment that many (most?) people now have 'blocked' this sensitivity or 'forgotten' how to use it] I can relate to these points. Science may be important. But it does not warrant the holistic way of life. It often splits body and mind, thinking and acting, and the material from the spiritual. I would not be surprised to see more people getting interested in and in search of spirituality in life. I see the same problem in education. The starting point of education is already separation of important aspects of life for the sake of efficiency and productivity. One of my PhD theses is that we can maintain and reinforce this holistic (traditional, indigenous, or whatever the term is) sensitivity in modern life. I want to illustrate some examples. Your activities are very interesting and very important in light of this aspect.

In answer to your questions:

Do you make all the instruments that you play?
I don't make all of my instruments.... I brought to the US (1) two jinashi instruments that Myochin Munetoshi made, (2) two jiari instruments (both of them are now gone..), and (3) one jinashi instrument that I made by myself. For my study, I normally use the jinashi from Myochin-sensei because that is the one I used when I learned the myoan repertoire from my teacher. Since my learning is imbedded in the instrument, I try to be cautious about changing the instrument for my basic practices because I want to maintain what I have learned through the same instrument. I often use the jinashi that I made by myself. Changing takes some getting used to because it has very different quality (tone color, pitch, etc.) compared to the ones made by Myochin Munetoshi. (It is almost like 'I' need to be different for the instrument, rather than I change the instrument). But I try to go back to Myochin instrument(s) not to lose my embodied memory of the lessons with my teacher.

Do you only play outdoors?
I wish I could play outdoors all the time. But I am not strong enough. I am a child of the 20th century, and I often hesitate going out when the weather is too harsh. (Winter here is awful). I tend to practice outdoors in summer. I don't mind feeling hot. Luckily, there is a Japan house at the University of Illinois which has some small gardens. It's part of a huge botanic garden. So I often go there and sing together with birds, frogs, and airplanes. (We have an airport nearby and a school of aviation).

Do you play pieces from a particular repertoire/shakuhachi school, or  improvise or both?
I learned only the repertoire of Myoan-taizan school. Unlike others, I did not start with Tozan or Kinko. My teacher happened to be into Myoan. It is the one that Higuchi Taizan, who used to be the Master at Myoan temple, established by collecting pieces from Komuso temples at his time. I have had only one teacher in my life who is a jinashi practitioner in Myoan (or Meian).

What length shakuhachi do you play, as a rule?
I did not bring a longer one to the US. So mostly I use 1.8. I am kind of loyal to the Myochin shakuhachi, with which I learned most of the pieces from my teacher.

[Ref a query thrown up by a third party that nature is more closely connected with a Major key (like skipping lambs), rather than the minor key, more commonly used in Honkyoku pieces]

My default way of playing is probably light and bright, if not jolly and flamboyant. It has less to do with my personality than with the way I perform the myoan pieces: I am not trained to produce tones in accordance to scales. For example, "Tsu no sho-meri" for 1.8 means to me a bit lower tone than regular Tsu, and "Tsu no meri" is definitely lower than regular Tsu. That's the way I learned the myoan pieces and how I have been playing them. As a result, they sound out of tune but also nature-like. But then, I came to notice recently, while listening to others' performances of koten honkyoku, that Tsu no sho-meri is one note flat of Tsu (like E), and Tsu no meri is two notes flat of Tsu (like D#). Realizing this, I tried to perform familiar myoan pieces. Lo and behold, they sound dark, much darker than how they sound when played in our traditional way. I am now self-learning 'Tamuke,' and it sounds very melodic and mournful to my ears. I gather the myoan or koten pieces in the Edo era actually did not sound as dark as they sound in the 21st century.

From a different angle, there have been many definitions of 'nature,' it seems, in the history of philosophy. One of them is the internal rhythm of organism. I guess the idea is that when we are truest to ourselves, we are deeply engaged in how we are: We are thus content and satisfied. It is the state of flow or naturalness. (Perhaps, we cannot achieve this state when we are trying to struggle with too deep meri sounds!). In that moment, we naturally feel more jolly than sad. Somehow, I do not feel like playing Tamuke outdoors because I cannot be natural with the scaling. (But when I am out in nature and find skipping new-born lambs, I might join them because I have never really seen them! It may be like koro-koro-koro-smile

Seriously speaking, if the shakuhachi originated in England, its music might have been like skipping lambs. The soundscape of the environment seems a very important part for the development of each music. I am fascinated by the relationship between the natural environment and music. The following description of throat singing in Tuva is a perfect example to understand such a relationship (my favorite questions!).

"Ringed by mountains, far from major trade routes and overwhelmingly rural, Tuva is like a musical Olduvai Gorge -- a living record of a protomusical world, where natural and human-made sounds blend.  Among the many ways the pastoralists interact with and represent their aural environment, one stands out for its sheer ingenuity: a remarkable singing technique in which a single vocalist produces two distinct tones simultaneously.  One tone is a low, sustained fundamental pitch, similar to the drone of a bagpipe.   The second is a series of flute like harmonics, which resonate high above the drone and may be musically stylized to represent such sounds as the whistle of a bird, the syncopated rhythms of a mountain stream or the lilt of a cantering horse . According to Tuvan animism, the spirituality of mountains and rivers is manifested not only through their physical shape and location but also through the sounds they produce or can be made to produce by human agency.  The echo of a cliff, for example, may be imbued with spiritual significance.  Animals, too, are said to express spiritual power sonically. Humans can assimilate this power by imitating their sounds" (Levin, Theodore C. and Michael E. Edgerton. "The Throat Singers of Tuva." Scientific  American, September 20, 1999).

…….This discussion is ongoing.

I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ's breath moves through
listen to this music



#2 2008-05-21 04:18:23

John Roff
From: South Africa
Registered: 2005-10-21
Posts: 50

Re: Jinashi shakuhachi, ecology, nature and spirituality

Hi Kiku and others

My connection with Shakuhachi is primarily an outdoors, make my own instruments, ecological and spiritual one. I love making an instrument from a piece of bamboo, I love coaxing sounds out of it, I love hearing birds respond to my playing. Often I play in wild places, and certain music fits in with those places, and I become part of the landscape/soundscape. And I love playing, as one person called it, 'God's music'.

Kiku, your correspondent may wish to contact me, which is fine.

A happy and cheerful day to you all.


'Concepts create idols; only wonder grasps anything.' - Gregory of Nyssa


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