Everything you never knew you wanted to know about the shakuhachi and its terminology
Ai-no-te (合の手) – Music performed between vocal sections
Atari (当り) – To strike a finger hole
Ato-Uta (後歌) – Ending vocal section
Benkyōkai (勉強会) – Study group meeting. In the context of traditional Japanese music, this refers to a day on which students gather to perform the pieces they have been working on for each other.
Biwa (琵琶) – Japanese necked bowl lute with four or five strings played with a large plectrum.
Bokoboko (ボコボコ) – Shakuhachi tremolo technique.
Boroboro (ボロボロ) – Beggar-monks or ascetics preceding komusō monks of the Fuke sect. They are mentioned in the book Tsurezuregusa from circa 1300.
Chikuzen inchinyō (竹禅一如) – The bamboo and Zen are as one
Chirashi – Climax of section
Dai shihan (大師範) – Often translated as grand master, but the meaning is rather grand teacher, instructor or model.
Danmono (段物) – A piece scored in Dans (sections) without vocals
Dōjikyoku (童子曲) – Children’s song. Most often called “dōkyoku”
Dōjō (道場) – Hall used for martial arts training or a place of Buddhist practice or meditation. Used also in the sense of a place where shakuhachi is being taught.
Dōkyoku (童曲) – Children’s song
Fuke-shū (普化宗) – The Fuke sect of Rinzai Zen. The sect in which the shakuhachi playing komusō monks belonged. The founder is considered as being Pǔhuà (普化, Jap. Fuke) (c.800–66) from China, but no writings remains about the sect in China. It is written in Kyotaku Denki Kokujikai that the Japanese branch of the Fuke sect was founded by Shinchi Kakushin (心地覺心)(1207–98), who brought it from China. The use of shakuhachi as a tool for religious practice was implemented.
Fumen 譜面 – Music score
Furi 振り – A rapid meri/kari head dip.
Furi otoshi 振落 – Ending a phrase with a quick dip into meri
Gagaku (雅楽) – Court music played at the imperial court and Shinto temples. The music was introduced to Japan from China via Korea in the 7th century.
Gaikyoku (外曲) – Lit: outside pieces. Pieces that are not honkyoku, thus therefore outside the repertoire of the komusō monks. This includes sankyoku, min’yō and shinkyoku. Today it refers mostly to sankyoku.
Gakki (楽器) – Musical instrument.
Gakufu (楽譜) – Musical notation
Gendai hōgaku (現代邦楽) – Contemporary Japanese music. In 1947 NHK radio broadcasting began using the term gendai hōgaku for music influenced by avant-garde music in the Western classical tradition.
Gendai nihon ongaku (現代日本音楽) – Contemporary Japanese music. See also gendai hōgaku
Hachigaeshi (鉢返し) Returning the bowl.
Ha (派) – Faction. Used for example in Myōan Taizan-ha. Thus the Taizan Faction of the Myōan group of shakuhachi.
Hate – A light kind of honkyoku. Played in the afternoon when free from strict discipline of religion.
Hitoyogiri (一節切) – An one node shakuhachi considered the missing link between the gagaku shakuhachi and Fuke shakuhachi. It became popular between 14th and 18th century. The length varies but most often around 1 shaku 1 sun (circa 33.3 cm).
Hōgaku (邦楽) – A term used today for all traditional Japanese musical. The term came to existence during the late Meiji era to differentiate between on one hand, Western music and on the other hand, Japanese music. The term was coined in 1907 by the creation of Hōgaku Inquiry Department (邦楽調査掛) at Tokyo Institute of Music (東京音楽学校).
Hōki (法器) – Sacred tool. The shakuhachi was regarded a hōki and not gakki (musical instrument) before secularisation in 1871. It was considered a tool for spiritual training for the komusō monks.
Honkyoku (本曲) – The traditional pieces in the repertoire of the komusō monks of the Fuke sect; lit., original pieces.
Honte (本手) – The main body of a piece. A melodic development in higher register.
Hotchiku (法竹) – A term used by Watazumi Dōso Rōshi (海童道祖老師) to describe his unlined shakuhachi. Watazumi was highly conscious about the difference in philosophy between these two types of shakuhachi and used therefore another term to describe his instruments.
Ichigetsuji (一月寺) – Ichigetsu temple temple was one of the main Fuke sect temples in the Kanto region together with Reihō temple.
Ichi Ji Ichi Ritsu (一時一律) – One temple, one piece (tune?)
Ichion Jobutsu 一音成仏 – One sound reaching enlightenment
Iemoto (家元) – Family foundation. Term used to refer to the founder or current head master of a certain school of traditional Japanese art, including music. The iemoto system is characterized by a hierarchical structure and often the iemoto has supreme authority.
Iki-nayashi (息ナヤシ) – Short glissandi as an ornament before or in the middle of a note produced by change the direction of the breath.
Ikuta-ryū (生田) – Ikuta-ryū style of koto and shamisen was founded by IKUTA Kengyo (1656-1715) who was a pupil of YATSUHASHI Kengyo, a pioneer of early koto music in the Kansai region, and for the first time combined the koto with the jiuta shamisen which placed a strong emphasis on the instrumental ‘tegoto’ sections of pieces rather than on the song. With the addition of the kokyu, which was later superseded by the shakuhachi, this style formed the basis of the sankyoku (music of the three instruments) ensemble and led to the koto being played even more widely than before.
Ji (地) – A paste made of urushi, stone powder and water, which is used to build up the bore of the modern jinuri/jiari shakuhachi.
Jimori shakuhachi (地盛り尺八) – Shakuhachi where the tuning methods has been using ji in strategic places in the bore and not all over the bore as in jinuri shakuhachi. Jimori shakuhachi is also sometimes called spot-tuned shakuhachi.
Jinashi shakuhachi (地なし尺八) – Shakuhachi tuned without the use of ji, where only the natural bamboo remains. This was the traditional method of making shakuhachi during the Edo period.
Jiari shakuhachi (地有り尺八) – See jinuri shakuhachi.
Jinuri shakuhachi (地塗り尺八) – A shakuhachi with a mid-joint where the bore is built up with ji. This method of tuning and instrument making became the mainstream after the Fuke sect was abolished.
Jiuta (地歌) – Music originally composed for shamisen
Jiuta sōkyoku (地歌箏曲) – Music composed for shamisen and koto
Jun shihan (準師範) – Often translated as teacher’s license.
Karakara (カラカラ) – Shakuhachi playing technique where a percussive effect is achieved by hitting hole 1 (bottom finger hole).
Kaede (替手) – Secondary arrangement of a piece
Kan (甲) – Upper register
Keiko (稽古) – Practice, study.
Keikoba 稽古場 – Space in which one practice. This may be the room where one receives lessons.
Ki (気) – Spirit or mood. In this thesis as with martial arts and Japanese arts in general ki refers to a spiritual energy.
Kari (カリ) – One of the two main head positions in shakuhachi playing with raised chin. To be played on the open holed ro tsu re chi ri etc.
Kokyū (胡弓) – Three-string bowed spike fiddle. The only bowed fiddle in Japan.
Komi Buki (コミ吹き) – Big breath. Vibrato created by diaphragm. Representative for the repertoire of the Nezasaha.
Komusō (虚無僧) – Shakuhachi playing monks of the Fuke sect of Rinzai Zen. The komusō monks were wandering mendicant monks playing the shakuhachi for alms.
Korokoro (コロコロ) – Shakuhachi playing technique. A tremolo is created by alternatively opening and closing holes one and two.
Kota (枯淡) – Refined simplicity.
Koto (箏) – Japanese 13-string zither.
Kumiuta (組歌) – Pieces for koto license
Kyotaku (虚鐸) – Lit., hollow bell or bell without substance (often translated as empty bell). Name for shakuhachi used in the historical document Kyotaku Denki Kokujikai from 1795. Today a group of players formerly led by Nishimura Kokū (1915–2002) calls their instruments for kyotaku.
Kyotaku Denki Kokujikai – [The legend of the empty bell translated to Japanese] from 1795 written by Yamamoto Morihide (山本守秀). It is claimed to be an annotation in Japanese of a 13th century Chinese book entitled Kyotaku Denki (虚鐸伝記). Nakatsuka Chikusen (1887–1944) was the first person to question its authenticity. The legend remains, however, the single most important work in the literature defining the identity of many shakuhachi honkyoku players.
Ma (間) – Lit., in between, space or interval. In musical terms it describes the silence between sound events. This is often described as vacuum plenum, and is an important part of Japanese musical aesthetics.
Madake (真竹) – A common type of bamboo in Japan, from which the shakuhachi is made. Latin: phyllostachys bambusoides
Mae-Uta (前歌) – Opening vocal section
Mekura hôshi (目闇法師) – blind monks.
Meri (メリ) – Blow by putting the chin down, to lower the tone. Shakuhachi playing technique describing the head positioning. In meri, the head is lowered and the lips are closer to the mouthpiece (utaguchi). This technique produces a sound, which has less volume and is considered having a ‘darker’ character.
Min’yō (民謡) – Folk song. The shakuhachi is widely used as accompaniment to min’yō.
Miyogiri (三節切) – A three-node shakuhachi. Considered being the link between the gagaku shakuhachi and Fuke shakuhachi alongside the hitoyogiri.
Muraiki (ムライキ) – Lit., uneven breath. Shakuhachi playing technique producing a characteristic breathy sound.
Modes – Most Japanese traditional music use one of 3 pentatonic scale types:
Ritsu (律) is common in gagaku music and some min’yō.
Descending: D – e – G + A – b – D
When ascending it may change to: D – f – G + A – c – D
In (陰) (from Chinese yin of yin-yang) or miyakobushi 都節 (urban melody/mode) is common in music from the Edo period including shakuhachi music.
Descending: D – eb – G + A – bb – D
Ascending (some times): D – f – G + A – c – D
Yô (陽) (yang of yin-yang) or inaka-bushi 田舎節 (countryside mode or folk song mode) is most common in minyō (folk song).
Descending: C – eb – F + G – bb – C
Ascending: D – f – G + A – c – D
Another mode in Japan is the Ryūkyū mode from the Okinawa islands (south of mainland Japan).
Ryūkyū (琉球) C – e – F + G – b – C
Muraiki (ムライキ 斑息) – Lit., uneven breath. Shakuhachi playing technique producing a characteristic breathy sound.
Musubi (結) – Tying up, concluding. Final section of a piece.
Myōanji (明暗寺) – Myōan temple, established within the compound of the Tōfukuji temple in Kyoto. Myōanji was founded by Kyochiku Zenji and was throughout the Edo period a prominent and influential centre of shakuhachi musicianship especially in the Kansai region. Myōanji remained the centre for the Fuke style shakuhachi playing in which spirituality continued to have great importance in shakuhachi playing.
Nagashi (流し) – Playing in the street
Naka-uta (中唄) – Middle vocal section
Nara period (奈良時代) – 710–94.
Nakatsugi (中継ぎ) – The attachable mid-joint on jinuri shakuhachi.
Nayashi (ナヤシ) – To begin pitch meri and rise to standard pitch. Shakuhachi playing technique. A short bend in the beginning of a note, middle of a note most frequently produced by head movements. This can vary depending on the school.
Neaji (音味) – Lit: Taste of sound describing tone colour.
Neiro (音色) – Tone colour.
Nobekan (延べ管) – Shakuhachi made in one piece rather than in two attachable pieces, as is the norm today. There is thus no mid-joint.
Okitegaki Jūkikajō (掟書十基箇条) – Edict on the ten basic articles. Decree supposedly enacted by Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Otsu (乙) – the low register on the shakuhachi
Ryū (流) – Refers to an artistic lineage and its accompanying style in an art form. In the case of shakuhachi, Kinko Ryū is the Kinko style of shakuhachi playing.
Ryūha (流派) – Refers to a school within a ryū.
Sankyoku (三曲) – lit. three pieces. Chamber music of Japan from the Edo period. The instrumentation is: koto (13-stringed zither), shamisen (three-stringed long-necked lute) and shakuhachi. The shakuhachi replaced the kokyû around the turn of the 20th century.
Sarugaku (猿楽) – Early nō theatre popular during the 11th to 14th centuries.
Shaku (尺) – Japanese measurement. 1 shaku = 30.30 cm
Shakuhachi Sanbonkai (尺八三本会) – Three Shakuhachi Group. A shakuhachi group founded in 1964 across different ryūha by top players, AOKI Reibo II (b. 1935), YAMAMOTO Hōzan (1937 – 2014) and YOKOYAMA Katsuya (1934 – 2010).
Shamisen (三味線) – Japanese three-stringed long-necked lute.
Shihan (師範) – Often translated as a master licence.
Shin hōgaku (新邦楽) – New Japanese Music. A term that arose in the late 1920s, which included genres such as MIYAGI Michio’s music for Japanese instruments influenced by Western music
Shinkyoku (新曲) – New pieces. This refers to 20th century pieces, thus neither honkyoku nor sankyoku.
Shin nihon ongaku (新日本音楽) – New Japanese Music. A term used interchangeably with shin hōgaku.
Shirabe 調 – To check the sounds and move into the proper frame of mind before performing Honkyoku. Exploring / Investigating. Can also just be a piece or the beginning of a piece.
Shō (笙) – A Japanese mouth organ. Part of the gagaku ensemble.
Shugyō (修行) – Training, self-cultivation, ascetic practice or pursuit of knowledge.
Suizen (吹禅) – Lit: Blowing Zen. The act of playing the shakuhachi as an act of meditation. Although widely used, this word is, according to Tsukitani Tsuneko (conversation, 2007), a post-Edo period creation.
Suizen-kai (吹禅会) – Lit: meeting of the Suizen [blowing Zen] group. Myōan temple gatherings where each shakuhachi player play a piece in front of the altar.
Sokyoku 箏曲 – Music originally composed for koto.
Sun (寸) – Japanese measurement. 1/10th of a shaku = 3.03 cm
Suri (スリ) – Slide. Shakuhachi playing technique. A passing note with a short portamento to an intermediate pitch.
Suriage (スリ上) – A slide upwards
Suri sage (スリ下) – A slide downwards
Takane (高音) – Section of a honkyoku piece usually played in the upper octave, often containing the climax of the piece.
Takuhatsu (托鉢) – Pieces played by komusō when begging.
Tamane (玉音) – Flutter tongue technique
Tegoto (手事) – Musical Interlude
Tegotomono (手事物) – Musical form with tegoto
Utaguchi (歌口) – The sharp blowing edge of the shakuhachi
Yamada-ryū (竹生島) – The Yamada-ryū school was established in Edo (nowadays Tokyo) about 100 years after the establishment of the Ikuta-ryū style of koto. Its founder, YAMADA Kengyo (1757 – 1817), very skilfully incorporated Katobushi and Itchubushi which were very popular genres of joruri (Bunraku puppet play narratives) at that time together with melodies of Yokyoku (Noh songs) and Heikyoku which is the narrative of Heike Monogatari accompanied by the Heike biwa and he created many famous katarimono (story telling pieces of music) and also utaimono (a genre of jiuta sokykoku in which the vocal line is more prominent than the instrumental parts). YAMADA Kengyo’s music found immediate popularity right across the Kanto region.
One of the major differences between the Yamada and Ikuta styles is the plectra which are used; the Yamada ones are triangular with round edges and are thicker than the square shaped Ikuta plectra.
Yuri (ユリ) – Vibrato created by head movements
Tateyuri (立ユリ) – vibrato created by vertical head movements
Yokoyuri (横ユリ) – vibrato created by horizontal head movements
Mawashiyuri (回ユリ) – vibrato created by circular head movements
Takeyuri (竹ユリ) – vibrato created by moving the shakuhachi towards the chin
Kaeshiyuri (返ユリ) – vibrato created by moving from mawashiyuri to yokoyuri