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The Shakuhachi between Two Schools -
A Mean of Meditation for Zen Priests or A Musical Instrument

The Meian School

The Shakuhachi was used by a Zen priests' school, as a means for Meditation. Early in the Edo period (17th century), a sect of Zen priests, named Fuke-Shu, who played the bamboo flute appeared. They called themselves "Komuso" - "Priests of Emptiness and Nothingness", as the Chinese characters say.

In 1642 their parent temple, Meian-Ji, was established in Kyoto. The school was named after it - Meian School

Myoan-Ryu performances

Sou Mukaiji (Justin Senryu)

The Kinko School

Several Secular Shakuhachi schools have developed from the original priestly Meian School. The pioneer one called Kinko after its founder, Kurosawa Kinko (1710-1771), was developed during the eighteenth century. Kinko School adopted the religious music, Honkyoku, and adapted it to be a musical repertoire.

Kinko-Ryu Performances

Kumo Jishi (Armin Lohbeck)

Shika no Tone (Teruhisa Fukuda)

A master class given by YOKOTA REIHO, my teacher for Kinko school (Russia, October 2011).

Hi Fu Mi Hachi Gaeshi

The differences between the two schools, as studied from the interviews and the music analysis can be divided into four general categories:

  • The purpose of the music
    Teachers and Players from the two schools say that the fundamental difference between the schools is the music's purpose. Meian School uses the Shakuhachi for religious purposes while Kinko School uses the Shakuhachi for music and entertainment purposes. "Meian players Blow the Shakuhachi, while Kinko players Play it, as a regular Music instrument", said a teacher in Meian School.
    This basic difference conceptually influences other points.

  • Student-Teacher relationships and study methods
    Shimamura, a teacher from Meian School, conducted the interviews in a conservative Zen way: interviewing him I had to listen to his "lecture". I did not have chance to ask him any questions. With Yokota, a teacher from Kinko school I could conduct a dialogue of questions and answers.

    In Meian school, I have studied together with a group of players, as a group of priests studying from a master in a Zen monastery. Weekly meetings were held in Shimamura's house. In Kinko school I was given private lessons, (Western style).

  • Differences between the instruments
    Although the instrument of both schools is made of Bamboo and has 5 holes, there are many differences between the Shakuhachi of Meian School and that of Kinko's. Meian's Shakuhachi was not considered a music instrument, but a religious zen instrument (Hoki, Zenki or Sengu) made of natural bamboo. Kinko's instrument is a musical instrument.

    Meian's players make their own instrument by themselves. Therefor, each instrument in Meian School is tuned differently. The fact that there is no perfect tuning when they play together in the temple is not important for Meian players, because they play for religious purposes. Kinko's buy theirs from professional Shakuhachi-makers. They play for the audience in the concert hall.

    Therefor it is important that all the instruments are tuned the same.

    Meian school uses the natural bamboo for the Shakuhachi: Meian's instrument is built of one part. Kinko's is made of two parts. Kinko's instrument is covered with lacquer in its interior, while Meian's instrument is not. The shape of Utaguchi (the place were the air is blown to) is different.
    Kinko's players arrange the sound of the instrument, claim Meian players, and change the natural bamboo sound. The artificial changes affects the tone color and the pitch and the Shakuhachi's natural sound.

  • Differences between performances techniques and in music.
    Meian's Repertoire is based only on old the meditation music, the Honkyoku. Kinko's repertoire includes the old Honkyoku, as well as modern repertoire (Gaikyoku, "Outside Music" and Shinkyoku, "New Music") that were written after the Meiji Restoration (1868) up to the 20th Century.

    Kinko players sometimes use half or quarter covered holes in order to produce flat and sharp notes, (due to the fact that the Shakuhachi has only five holes and produces easily a five tones pentatonic scale). The technique called the "Meri-Kari", (in Japanese higher and lower).

    In order to produce different notes, Meian players use only open or fully covered holes.. They never use half or partly covered holes. Instead, they move their heads up or down in order to produce the requested flat and sharp notes. Kinko’s technique is considered to be unnatural.

    Kinko School, as a school of professional players, developed some complicated performances techniques, (special glissando and embellishments), aimed to get a higher level of performance and to enrich the melody.

    The Meri-Kari technique implies the Yin-Yang principle. As this technique is used in a different way in the two schools, conceptually, the implication of the Yin-Yen idea in the music is different. The implication of this principle was checked by spectrum analysis.