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      'Shugyō Shakuhachi' rekishi-teki shōko no kenkyū hōmupēji -

The "Ascetic Shakuhachi" Historical Evidence Research Web Pages

Introduction & Guide to the Documentation & Critical Study of Ascetic, Non-Dualistic Shakuhachi Culture, East & West:
Historical Chronology, Philology, Etymology, Vocabulary, Terminology, Concepts, Ideology, Iconology & Practices

By Torsten Mukuteki Olafsson • トーステン 無穴笛 オーラフソンデンマーク • Denmark


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A Critical Look at the European Shakuhachi Society's
     Official Online "History And Origins" and "Glossary" Web Pages

By Torsten Olafsson as of February 8, 2020 - updated on May 8, 2021

Edited and expanded, and illustrations added as of February 10-11 & 22-23; April 5, 2020.

The information presented on two of the European Shakuhachi Society's
web pages has been investigated, namely:




You also find the "Glossary" information copied at length on this Chinese shakuhachi website visited on February 10, 2020:


Here you have detailed comments and critical, yet objective objections as well as positive supplements to the information presented


"Scholars now widely agree that the shakuhachi was introduced into Japan from China via the Korean peninsula during the Nara period (710–794) as one of the instruments in the gagaku (court) ensemble (Tsukitani, Seyama, Shimura 1994: 105) – although other renditions exist."

TO: "The" 'shakuhachi'? The shakuhachi is not one single kind of a wind instrument that you can generalize about, the way in which it is taking place here, and over all.
The term 'shakuhachi' ought to be precisely defined and described here, in the opening paragraph.

We know close to nothing about the origin and eventual import of the so called "Chinese shakuhachi" to Japan, only probably by way of Korea:
To be accurate, the above mentioned 1994 article does not specifically refer to Korea as a possible channel of 'shakuhachi' import to Japan, by the way.

"The earliest extant examples of the shakuhachi are found at the Shōsōin, a repository built in 756 in Nara, which contains eight shakuhachi used in the ceremony performed for the consecration of the Great Buddha of Tōdaiji temple in 752 (Tsukitani 2008). These shakuhachi have five finger holes in the front plus a thumbhole and produce a heptatonic (seven note) scale as probably used contemporaneously in China. Out of the eight shakuhachii in the Shōsōin repository, three were made from ivory, stone and jade. The remaining five were made from a smaller type of Chinese bamboo."

TO: Yes, those 8 Shōsōin 'shakuhachi' do have 6 finger holes and they certainly do produce a tonal scale that was and still is "alien" to native Japanese music, for all that we should presume and respect.

However, do note that the National Museum in Tōkyō houses a 'shakuhachi' that actually belongs to the Hōryū-ji temple in Nara, the precise dating of which is however so far unclear.

Houryu-ji shakuhachi

5+1 hole "Gagaku shakuhachi" owned by the Hōryū Temple in Nara
in The Gallery of Hōryū-ji Treasures, Tokyo National Museum. Precise date unclear.
Photo from the Tumblr gallery "Sally Away From Home".


It has 5 holes on the front, 1 on the back.
Furthermore, a small sculpture of a figure playing some kind of 'shakuhachi' was discovered during a restoration at the Hōryū-ji in 2009.

"When the gagaku ensemble was reorganized in the mid-tenth century, the shakuhachi fell into desuetude and no references to the instrument appear in surviving historical documents until the 13th century, " - - -

TO: Well, we have no positive knowledge about whether the 'gagaku shakuhachi', 雅楽尺八, was ever really in any continuous and serious use in the Japanese court orchestras.
Pictures and sculptures are few, and textual references, too – if any contemporary such at all.
The most renowned and thorough Western gagaku reseacher, Robert Garfias, hardly mentions the 'gagaku shakuhachi' at all.

However: The 'Genji Monogatari' by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu, dated a. 1010 or so, does certainly tell us that some type of 'shakuhachi' was played as a pastime in the Imperial palace quarters.

Besides, it should be pointed out: Anecdotes about Prince Shōtoku (574-622) having played a 'shakuhachi' as a Buddhist practice, the Tendal monk Ennin (9th century) using a 'shakuhachi' as a tuning pipe, and the mysterious "Zen" monk Kakua (late 12th century) blowing a single note on a flute - NB: not a 'shakuhachi' - before leaving the Imperial court assembly, all these stories were written and printed centuries later and cannot be corroborated by any other sources dating from the Nara and Heian Periods. Forget about them, useless as they are as direct evidence of anything.

" ... by which time it had undergone a Japanisation process and become a five-holed flute " - - -

TO: Oh, can one imagine how "it", a flute with six finger holes would undergo a magical metamorphosis right in front of one's eyes and thus come out in 1233 as "Japanized" flute with only 5 (?) finger holes in all and featuring basically very different tonal characteristics?
There is no such "process" at play here, I am completely confident. Something different happened:

The 'gagaku shakuhachi' was a high-class court music instrument and was most probably never neither known to nor used by the common people.
Whereas the "new" 'shakuhachi first mentioned by Koma no Chikazane in 1233 would have been invented among and by Japanese low-class commoners for their own specific needs and purposes.

Still, again: It remains an unanswered question whether the "new" 13th century 'shakuhachi' had 5 or 6 fingerholes in all ...

" ... made of Madake (Phyllostachys bambusoides) – the most common bamboo in Japan."

TO: That is definitely not recorded anywhere in any of the preserved textual sources from the period, and in actual fact that rather thick type of bamboo first appeared in the shape of a newly invented 'konjiku shakuhachi', 根竹尺八, version only as late as towards the end of the 17th century in a picture book dated 1690!

Two komusō in Jinrin kinmō zu-i, 1690

Two 'komusō' playing long, thick root-end shakuhachi flutes
In: 'Jinrin kinmō zu-i', 1690 - Maki/Vol. 2
By Makieshi Genzaburō & Atsuo Masamune
The Library of Kyōto University
Link to Kyōto University's online presentation of this volume

Also, whether Madake may really be the most common bamboo in Japan today is both uncertain and quite irrelevant in this particular context, anyway.

Btw., I once noticed a piece of information somewhere that 'madake', 真竹, "true" or "beloved" bamboo, may actually have been imported from China and then spread in Japan at some time, but I so far have not yet found proper substantiating and conclusive info in this regard ...

Yet, here is a first information trail to follow: Wikipedia referring to the British horticulturist Christopher Brickell, editor-in-chief, and "The Royal Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants," 2008, like this - see link* at this web page bottom:

"Phyllostachys bambusoides, commonly called madake, giant timber bamboo, or Japanese timber bamboo, is a species of flowering plant in the bamboo subfamily of the grass family Poaceae, native to China, and possibly also to Japan." NB: My italics, T.O.

Also, in David Farrell's "The Book of Bamboo", 1984, on page 165, it reads, "Phyllostachys. - - - Of 750 bamboo plant introductions into the United States by 1957, 200 were of this genus, whose center of distribution is in China where nearly all known species are native. Some were introduced to Japan long centuries ago, where only four species of Phyllostachys and their variants grow in general cultivation, but these make up the biggest part of Japan's bamboo harvest."

"The first mention of the instrument after this hiatus appeared in 1233 in the Kyōkunshō, a ten-volume treatise on gagaku written by Koma Chikazane: 'the short flute is called shakuhachi. It is now played by mekurahōshi [blind monks] and performers of sarugaku [early nō]."

TO: "Blind monks"? Oh, yes, literally so when just translated directly.
But, "monks" could not be blind, could they, their jobs being to study and recite the Buddhist texts and the like? Being authorized to perform funerary rites and so on?
Rather, what may even quite more probably be the case here is that Koma no Chikazane referred to the 'biwa-hōshi', 琵琶法師, poor wandering, more or less visually impaired musician storytellers who recited the warrior tale Heike Monogatari as their way to survive.
Similarly as for the actors of 'sarugaku' who were also low class performers during the 1200s and into the 1300s.

By the way, it should also be mentioned that the Kyōkunshō text also tells us that the 'shakuhachi' had the length of a monkey's elbow bone measuring 1 shaku and 8 inches! That is in fact a reference to an ancient Chinese legend one can read in some detail in the 'Taigenshō' court music treatise of 1512 [1510-1512 acc. to Garfias, 1975, note 57].

Although Koma no Chikazane did not clarify the number of shakuhachi fingerholes, my however still somehow cautious theory he
re is that the 'biwa-hōshi' invented a new, possibly 5-holed, Japanese style 'shakuhachi' type to use it as a reference pitch pipe when tuning their four 'biwa' lute strings.
Of course centuries later, in the famous poetry contest picture scroll of 1501, the 'Shichijūichiban shokunin utaawase emaki', one of the illustrations there clearly shows a performing biwa player with eyes closed and both a small pan flute and a quite short 5-holed, single-node 'hitoyogiri'-type 'shakuhachi' lying by his right side.
His string tuning devices … wouldn't you think so ... ?

Biwa-hōshi in Shichijūichi-ban shokunin utaawase emaki

Biwa-hōshi with a short single-node shakuhachi and a panflute by his side
in 'Shichijūichi-ban shokunin utaawase emaki'
Date of original: 1501. Tōkyō National Museum

"The first known illustration of a shakuhachi, here called hitoyogiri, or 'one node shakuhachi', is found in the Taigenshō (1512), which is dated to the late fourteenth century (Tsukitani 2008: 147). "

TO: First, here is the illustration that the honourable late Prof. Tsukitani Tsuneko was referring to in her 2008 article in "The Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music," on pages 147-148:

Shakuhachi depicted in Taigenshō, 1512 - Tsukitani 2008, p. 148

Taigenshō, 1512, illustration shown in Tsukitani Tsuneko's 2008 article, p. 148

Yes: Tsukitani Tsuneko certainly told us in her 2008 article, on page 147, page bottom, that the Taigenshō dated the above shown 'shakuhachi' illustration to the late 14th century, quote,

"The Taigenshō (1512) shows the first illustration of a one-segment, five-hole shakuhachi (Figure 7.2) and dates it to the late fourteenth century."

Knowing the 'Taigenshō' treatise quite well myself already, however, I just skimmed through the full shakuhachi chapter there once again - the same reprint version as Tsukitani is referring to (Masamune, 1933) - to see if that information is really solid and indisputable.
Which would be important, indeed: To have a documented picture there of that age and historical significance.

However, strange indeed: I do not find any kind of possible, neither direct nor indirect, mention of "the fourteenth century" in the Taigenshō chapter about the shakuhachi.

Until that will have happened, at least and so far, so good:
I have already checked my two reproductions of the Taigenshō 'Shakuhachi' chapter and can here, also in full agreement with Tsukitani, Seyama & Simura, 1994, confirm that the very term 'hitoyogiri', 一節切, is definitely not appearing there anywhere at all.

Finally, for the record: The earliest known "official" mention of the term 'hitoyogiri' is dated very late in the 16th century or very early Edo Period:


Poem in the 'Ryūtatsu bushi' (Ryūtatsu ko-uta):

1592-1615 - Bunroku & Keichō periods


"The tones of the 'hitoyogiri' shakuhachi
     may satisfy for one night,
But sleeping with you just one night
     is not enough."

     Trsl. by Blasdel/Kamisangō, 1988/2008.
     This is the earliest known written source in which
     the term 'hitoyogiri' appears in Japanese literature.
     Text in Japanese from Nakatsuka, 1979, p. 67.

"The hitoyogiri has five finger holes and an outwardly oblique mouthpiece similar to that of the gagaku shakuhachi. The hitoyogiri and the miyogiri (a three-node shakuhachi) are regarded as the links between the gagaku shakuhachi and the Fuke shakuhachi we know today (Weisgarber 1968: 313). "

TO: Ah, again: "regarded as the links between"?
That is not how such "matters" work out in real time, I am sure.
And there were apparently also 4-node 'shakuhachi' in use as early as in 1494 – do check the 'komosō' picture in the 'Sanjūniban shokunin utawase emaki':

Komosō in Sanjūni-ban shokunin utaawase emaki

'Komosō' "mat monk" in 'Sanjūni-ban shokunin uta-awase emaki'
Date of original: 1494. Kōsetsu-bon edition, detail.
Suntory Museum of Art, Tokyo.
Source: Wikipedia, Japan

As well as various alternative types of 'shakuhachi' flutes mentioned in the dance kyōgen play 'Rakuami', dating from the same period: "big" 'shakuhachi' and "small" 'shakuhachi' – and the maybe contemporary (?) painting of the more or less legendary hermit 'Rōan' who is seen to be carrying a really long and thick vertical flute – not a short 'hitoyogiri'-type flute, at all.

Portrait of Rōan - hanging scroll attributed to Shōkei, late 15th century   Rōan - detail of hanging scroll attributed to Shōkei, late 15th century

While, by the way, the flute that the famous Zen monk Ikkyū Sōjun, 1394-1481, is recorded by Tōyō Eichō, 1428-1504, to have played in the main hall of the Rinzai Zen temple Daitoku-ji in Kyōto when he was inaugurated there as abbot in 1474 after the destructions during the Ōnin war, is called a 'shakuhachi', not a 'hitoyogiri', in Tōyō Eichō's personal account of the event.

"During the late 15th to early 16th century, monks known as komosō (straw mat monks), who begged for alms by playing the hitoyogiri, appeared. The hitoyogiri flourished, reaching its peak in popularity during the late 17th century. Thereafter, this instrument declined rapidly, reaching near extinction by the early 19th century."

TO: Oh, there you see in the light of what I just explained in the above: The ever haunting myth that the 'komosō', 薦僧, (only) played the 'hitoyogiri'? At least one contemporary illustration, the very one in the above, point in quite another direction.

And, when entering the 17th century: Why not also mention one particular 'shakuhachi'-type that was also used by mid-1600s' 'komosō'/'komusō' and shown in popular art illustrations of the time: The probably new Chinese import named the 'dōshō', 洞簫, the Chinese: 't'ung-hsiao'?;

Picture of a Komosō in a Kyōto street

Picture of an early 'komusō'? in a Kyōto street.
Detail of a yet not fully recognized and identified version
of a 'Raku-chū raku-gai zu byōbu'.
Possibly dating from the 1630s.
Source: Izumi Takeo, 2013, pp. 82-83.

"During the early 17th century, shakuhachi-playing monks organized themselves within an institutional setting under the Fukeshū or Fuke sect, a subsect of Rinzai Zen."

TO: Now: To put it shortly and with heavy emphasis:
There is no evidence in existence of any of that – no textual evidence to prove those claims.
First of all:
Certainly, nothing like that has been recorded in preserved writings to have happened during the early 17th century!

The oldest surviving document appearing to "feature" the wording 'Fuke zen-shū' is dated as late as 1687, 6th month, but those three kanji appear at the very end of the document, not in the text proper, and it is only reprinted in Nakatsuka, 1979, not shown as a reproduction of any original text scroll.
Falsifications of komusō textual materials just as this potential example represent more the rule than the exception.

And, furthermore: "a sub sect of Rinzai Zen"?
No: That is totally made up – a completely unsubstantiated myth. A plain fabrication.
No written proof, no documentary evidence exists, at all.
One should simply check all the available texts, oneself – and one will find no proof of any "Fuke Sect sub sect connection" with the Edo Period Rinzai Zen institution, whatsoever.

During Edo times there existed only two 100% genuine "Zen Buddhist sects" in Japan:
Rinzai-shū, 臨済宗, and Sōtō-shū, 曹洞宗.

Even the 17th century import from China, the Ōbaku Zen Sect, was only recognized as a true and independent "Zen sect" in its own right in the early Meiji Period, namely in 1876.

Until then, Ōbaku and the Manpuku Temple in Uji ranked merely as a sub branch, a 'ha', , subordinated to and within the Kyōto Rinzai Zen Buddhist hierarchy.

Still, we must certainly acknowledge and respect that the Kyōto Myōan-ji did in fact, between 1703 and 1705, somehow in a seeming capacity as "sub temple", connect with the Rinzai-shū Zen temple Kōkoku-ji [Nakatsuka, 1979: 254-260] near the small coastal town of Yura on the Western coast of central Wakayama Prefecture, formerly the Kii Province, south of Kyōto, Uji and Nara - and not so far from the important Shingon Buddhist center at Mount Kōya.

However here it is absolutely essential to stress the fact that the Myōan-ji did not during that process present itself in any was as a so called "Fuke Sect temple", nor ever after so during all the remaining decades of the 18th century, at least!

In other words: Kyōto Myōan-ji was not at all a member of the Edo controlled net work of so called "Fuke temples" which, furthermore, never acquired any official status nor priviliges as any kind of genuine Rinzai-shū Zen sub temples, at all.

"The monks of the Fuke sect were termed komusō or "priests of nothingness.""

TO: First, and again: The so called 'komusō', 虚無僧, were not professional and fully ordained Buddhist monks.
The proper description, in Japanese, is that of 'han-zō han-zoku', 半僧半俗, "half monk, half commoner". They wore their hair long – did not take the tonsure.
In that kind of "Buddhist lay monk capacity", komusō had no 'danka', 壇家, i.e. patron households connected to their "temples".
They had no training, no authorization to perform funerary rites and commemorial rituals for the deceased as did fully ordained Buddhist monks.
Likewise, because of that, komusō played no role in the annual monitoring, questioning, registering and spying on the population in search of potential secret Christian believers to be exposed, punished and at the worst: to be killed by the authorities.

Because of this: their utter uselessness to the government and society, the entire "komusō operation" was easily forbidden and put to an immediate stop by the new Meiji Government on Thursday November 30th, 1871 – with a single stroke of a writing brush.

Besides, I certainly do prefer and warmly recommend to translate, interpret and appreciate the term 'komusō' like this, to bring out explicitly what is actually the underlying philosophical semantics contained in the vocabulary in question and the entire context involved: "Pseudo-monk of the Non-Dual and None-ness".

"The komusō monks was [were!] granted special privileges by the Tokugawa government (the de facto rulers of Japan during the Edo period) in the 17th century, which included monopoly rights over the use of the shakuhachi and travel passes that allowed them to travel to any part of Japan."

TO: To be further researched and duely commented ... No existing document that was with any doubt at all issued by the Tokugawa government can be referred to as indisputable proof of such a statement. Whatever document may be presented of this nature would have been fabricated by the komusō themselves! That happened much later in times, namely probably only after the middle of the 18th century.

"According to the rules of the sect the shakuhachi was to be used exclusively as hōki, or sacred tool, for the purpose of spiritual training and for takuhatsu (religious mendicancy). "

TO: I have not found the term 'hōki', 法器, in any shakuhachi-related document dating from the 17th century, at all.
Only dated in 1735, the term first appears in a central document authored and issued by the Kyōto Myōan-ji. 'Takuhatsu', 托鉢, "entrust with a bowl" is a relatively central term mentioned here and there in Edo Period komusō literature but only since the late 1600s. 'Shakuhachi takuhatsu', begging for alms while playing the shakuhachi, is the only documented use of that flute all over according to the surviving document material.

As for "Spiritual training" with the shakuhachi as a "tool"? Or: "Meditation"? Not found in the documents whatsoever – what would be the printed Japanese term in Japanese characters in case so? Something that did not exist nor take place would not have a name, would it?

In particular, do note this: You do definitely not find the term and special idea of 'suizen', 吹禅, "blowing Zen" (?) in any Edo Period text at all. Neither in Meiji, nor Taishō times. 'Suizen', 吹禅, was introduced as a new term as late in the very early 1950s by the Zen monk Yasuda Tenzan, 1909-1994, of Tōfuku-ji in Kyōto, then the first truly ordained Buddhist head monk of the modern Myōan-ji who later rose to the seat of chief abbot of the entire Tōfuku-ji temple complex.

By the way, do the authors mean 'shugyō', 修行 – if so we would know better. 1909-1994 However, 'shugyō' should rather be understood as "ascetic training", or "mental training", in general. No matter what kind or method of such non-dualistic practice.

"This served as the legal basis for the establishment of the Fuke sect, which only admitted men of the samurai (military nobility) class and rōnin (samurai with no master to serve) as members of the order (Takahashi, 1990)."

TO: No, not correct: There was never established nor granted any official, governmentally instituted "legal basis for the establishment of the Fuke sect".

"In all, Nakatsuka Chikuzen lists 77 Fuke temples scattered around Japan during the Edo period. "

TO: Well, can temples be "scattered" all over a country, or an area? Or, rather: "distributed"?
Apart from Itchōken in Hakata on Kyūshū, all the other so called "Fuke temples" were located from the central Kansai/Kyōto area towards the East and the North, including the Tōhoku region.
Yes: Nakatsuka Chikuzen's 600-page source collection (1979) which I have studied in very much detail all the way through the book since the summer of 1983, certainly also reprints an old Edo Period registry counting 77 so called komusō "temples".
We should be very very skeptical here, however. Some claim that once there were even 120 such "temples".
Besides, let us not forget that the "Fuke temples" were not really genuine "Buddhist temples" at all.

"Three of the most important were Myōanji in Kyōto and Ichigetsuji and Reihōji in the Kantō region, the area around Edo or present day Tōkyō."

TO: Oh, we should not forget f.i. Itchōken, Fudai-ji &: Myōanji in present-day Niigata Prefecture, I think …

"Each temple developed its own corpus of music which, when taken together, comprise the repertoire of approximately 150 honkyoku from the Edo period known today."

TO: First of all: Do temples really "develop music", really? Well, we actually know close to nothing in any detail based on existing written testimonies how this took place - the earliest mention of the term 'honkyoku', 本曲, is dated 1694, appearing in a quite significant Kyōto Myōanji document. The earliest known reliable list of shakuhachi solo pieces is dated 1732, printed in the 'Shakuhachi denraiki', 尺八伝来記, and the only pieces mentioned there the titles of which seem to have been transmitted till today are: 'Kyorei', 虚霊, 'Kokū', 虚空, 'Mukaiji', 霧海箎, and perhaps 'Sugomori', 巣籠.

If the 'Kyotaku denki' was really constructed sometime before 1732, the three "classics" 'Kyorei', 'Kokū' and 'Mukaiji' must be dating from after 1664, partly because they are not mentioned by Nakamura Sōsan in his 'Shichiku shoshinshū' treatise of that year. There the 'komusō' are being described including mention of some of the music pieces that they were known for at that time and those shakuhachi pieces are obscure and have long since become extinct.

In fact, the very titles of those "3 Classical Pieces", 'San-koten honkyoku', 三古典本曲, may quite possibly have been made up for the very purpose of the Kyotaku denki legend and only "put into real music" afterwards ... ?

Myōanji, by the way, is the only komusō "temple" about which we have sources that indicate that there was some kind of a "link" to, or "affiliation with", the Rinzai Zen establishment – but, alas!:
The term "Fuke-shū', 普化宗, is not to be seen in any Kyōto Myōanji document whatsoever including as late as the Kyotaku denki and Kyotaku denki kokujikai, published in Kyōto in 1795. So ... the Kyōto Myōanji could not have considered itself to be a "Fuke Sect temple", could it?

"Interaction among the temples, including musical exchange, took place by means of komusō monks who wandered from temple to temple (Shimura, 2002). Music other than honkyoku was referred to as gaikyoku (outer pieces) or rankyoku (disorderly pieces)."

TO: Well, how actually do we know that? We have no specific records of such interactions between wandering komusō, whatsoever, visiting one another's komusō "temples" in order to study and learn their local solo shakuhachi pieces, do we?
Perhaps apart from Kurosawa Kinkō, 1710-1771, Edo, who have later been broadly reported to travelling around and collecting shakuhachi material from other areas of Japan during his lifetime.
We can, still, mostly only speculate about what ever really happened back then – and how ...

"The Edo government was overthrown in 1868 and replaced by the new Meiji government (1868–1912). The new Meiji government's persecution of Buddhism, abolishment of the komusō monk order in 1871, and then prohibition of begging from 1872 till 1881 had a strong impact on shakuhachi music."

TO: First of all, again: The komusō were not "monks" and their only very loosely "organized" ex-samurai rōnin employment project was definitely not a "monk order" in any way!

Further, would it not have been reasonable and well justified to mention the 'Myōan kyōkai',
明暗協会, here, for instance – and the Myōan Taizan-ha, 明暗対山派, tradition of orthodox ascetic shakuhachi playing? And creator and introducer of the term and concept 'Suizen', 吹禅, not to forget?

As well as the 'Tani-ha', 谷派, the 'Kinpū-ryū, 錦風流, Nishimura Kokū's 'Kyotaku', 虚鐸, etc. etc.

"Many shakuhachi players began to perform in sankyoku ensembles in order to survive although it was known that komusō monks performed secular music prior to the Meiji restoration in 1867 (Takahashi 1990: 122). [The sankyoku ensemble originally consisted of the koto (13-string zither), the shamisen (three-stringed long-necked lute) and the kokyū (three-string bowed spike fiddle)."

TO: First, having checked page 122 (and 123) in Takahashi Tōne's 1990 thesis, it remains clear that it is certainly not stated there explicitly that "komusō monks performed secular music prior to the Meiji restoration in 1867" - only that shakuhachi players were said to have performed with other instruments in Edo times.
Whether those musicians might actually have been "secret" komusō playing secularly - despite that was allegedly prohibited - is unknown.
Takahashi Tōne does no provide any actual written evidence regarding this matter of concern.
It should be noted here that the 'shakuhachi' - or was it rather a 'hitoyogiri'-like flute, or a 'miyogiri'? - was shown to having been played in a 'jiuta', 地唄, trio ensemble performance pictured already in 1782.

1982 picture of a jiuta ensemble
1982 picture of a jiuta ensemble

Picture of a 'jiuta', 地唄, trio ensemble presented in the 'Uta keizu', 歌系図, dating from 1782

"However, the shakuhachi soon took over the role of the kokyū; thus the conventional sankyoku ensemble comprises the koto, shamisen, and shakuhachi.] Inspired by other Japanese art forms, secularists began to structure the shakuhachi world into ryūha (often translated as 'schools' or 'guilds'), a process that had already begun with Kurosawa Kinko I (1710-1771), who had collected a corpus of honkyoku from several temples. This marked the beginning of Kinko-ryū (the Kinko school's style of playing)."

TO: It would have been quite appropriate to touch but a little on the special and quite different, very non-secular characteristics of the Kyōto Myōan-ji shakuhachi ideology and practices, as well as those of f.i. the Itchō-ken in Hakata on Kyūshū, a sub temple of the Kyōto Myōan-ji.

"After this secularisation of the shakuhachi, new schools such as Tozan-ryū (founded 1896), Ueda-ryū (founded 1917) and Chikuhō-ryū (also founded 1917) arose (Shimura 1996: 272).
These new schools attracted new students, who played shakuhachi as secular music. "

They were organised in a hierarchically structured manner and the shakuhachi became more and more popular, particularly with the creation of a modern repertoire largely based on Western principles such as ensemble playing, and composed using functional harmonies. Schools such as those of Tozan and Chikuhō possessed a large repertoire of music in this style.

TO: Why is there no mention and explanation of the fundamental differences between playing the 'shakuhachi' as a performance-type "musical instrument", 'ensō no shakuhachi', 演奏の尺八, and as a "tool" of ascetic breathing and flute playing body & mind training practice, 'gyō no shakuhachi', 行の尺八?


Selected entries ...

"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."

TO: Tsurezuregusa was written in 1330 to 1332 – I studied and translated a great deal of the text at university, in classical Japanese – still keep all the notes. I have never really understood why we always have to tell and hear about those 'boroboro' – yes, they "preceded" chronologically, were wandering lay monk "holy men", and so were the komosō as well, but what else is there to say ... ?

"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."

TO: Nothing there is true, nothing has any basis in the existing reliable sources, the objective documentary evidence!
No such term as a "Japanese branch of the Fuke sect" is mentioned in the Kyotaku denki at all.
There even was not ever any "Chinese branch of the Fuke sect", for that matter.
Neither do we know of any use of the shakuhachi as any some kind of a "religious tool" before much much later.

While, even so much more: That monk named P'u-k'o/Puhua in the Linchi Lu/Rinzai Roku may actually never have lived and even if he did: He could not have been a "Rinzai monk" because that branch sect of "Ch'an/Zen" did not even exist at that time, in the early 9th century.

"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."

TO: 'Kyotaku' should be read and understood as "the imitated bell', or: "the false bell", not the "empty bell", the idea being that a bamboo flute imitated the sound of a bell – simple as that.

Who is it that claims the 'Kyotaku denki' to be a 13th century Chinese book? That is impossible!
I myself am placing and dating Kyotaku denki to Kyōto in the period ca. 1665-1675, thus fitting it logically into the overall historical and chronological context, fitting in with the contents and substance of all 17th century written and pictorial sources that we know of, reproduced and printed in Japanese books and in still increasing numbers being scanned, quoted and variously presented on Japanese websites of all kinds.

The faulty dating: If you have read the Kyotaku denki fairytale, you will know that it includes a long list of (totally invented) named transmitters of some imaginary bamboo flute tradition all the way up until the mid-1600s. That is why the work must have been created at least during the mid-17th century years – if not even later, although: Then it would have been an anachronism with no contemporary purpose nor significance ...

"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."

TO: First of all, the "Myōan-ji" at Tōfuku-ji in Kyōto is not the "temple" that was, allegedly, founded by the completely fabricated figure 'Kyochiku Zenji', 虚竹禅師, aka. 'Kichiku', 奇竹.
That is a complete myth, a legend first presented as late as in a Myōanji document dated 1735.
In the Kyotaku denki, Kakushin's most beloved student, acc. to the legend a native Japanese, was called 'Kichiku' – that may have been the inspiration …

The historically first Edo Period Kyōto 'Myōan-ji' was located near the former "Great Buddha" statue in the neighbourhood of the Sanjūsangendō temple building in the Higashiyama Area in SE Kyōto.
The earliest literary mention of that Myōan-ji "temple" dates from the last or second last decade of the 17th century.

The former Myōan-ji in Shirakawa, E. Kyōto

Gate of the former, late Edo Period, Myōan-ji at Kitashirakawa Shimo-Ikeda-chō
in Eastern Kyōto Photo in: Tomimori, 1979

"Okitegaki Jūkikajō ( 掟書十基箇条) – Edict on the ten basic articles.
Decree supposedly enacted by Tokugawa Ieyasu."

TO: Well, this is really strange, to say the least: No such titled document seems to have ever existed!
You can easily copy the Japanese title and Google it for yourself. And look in vain anywhere else, too.

Might this perhaps refer to some specific old Japanese document known under a more commonly known title?:

We know much too well that a completely fabricated "official" document popularly known (nicknamed) as 'Keichō no okitegaki', 慶長之掟書, the creator of which is being claimed to be the first Tokugawa shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu allegedly in 1614 (Keichō 19), should have been supposed to give very early 17th century masterless samurai, 'rōnin', 浪人, or "wave men", a number of special favours, privileges and monopolies, in a new fatal identity as begging'komusō', 虚無僧, "Pseudo-monks of the Non-Dual and None-Ness".

That is simply impossible. First of all because, exactly in 1614 there was definitely not any major 'rōnin' "problem" in Japan of any significance at all:
Most capable and fit men still acting in fierce combat as samurai fighters would have been engaged in the famous Ōsaka Castle Siege, of which there were both a Summer and a Winter Campaign - a military conflict that did not end until in the month of June, 1615. Toyotomi Hideyoshi's son Hideyori sought desperately to challenge Shōgun Ieyasu in a last desperate and challenging revolt that he and his loyal supporters lost, eventually so.

Numerous copies and quite differing editions of "the same" 'Keichō no okitegaki' "document" have been preserved and many of them have been translated and annotated by Takahashi Tōne in a thesis of his dated 1990.

Furthermore: No documentary evidence confirms that there were 'komusō', described as
虚無僧, in existence in Japan during at least the two to rather more three first decades of the 17th century - or probably so for even longer.

Finally, not least: No where in any of the known, preserved versions of the so called Keichō no okitegaki do you find the so called term 'Fuke-shū', 虚無僧, "Fuke Sect", whatsoever.

And, not least: Tokugawa Ieyasu's name does not appear in any of the many versions of Keichō no okitegaki, whatsoever 😊

So, where possibly does that strange document title, Okitegaki Jūkikajō, come from?

Well, here is the explanation, I am now pretty much certain:

In 2008, the renowned, late Prof. Tsukitani Tsuneko, 月渓恒子, Ōsaka University, contributed to a very fine publication called The Ashgate Companion to Japanese Music with an article titled 'The Shakuhachi and its Music'.
Here, Prof. Tsukitani states as follows, on page 151:

"The basis for the establishment of the social status of the Fuke sect was a decree called Okitegaki jūikkajō supposedly enacted by shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616)."

My conclusion here is therefore: A document specifically titled like that never actually existed!


As I have now researched and inspected about all extant 17th century texts the significant conclusion of mine is that the earliest 1600s' text mentioning that new term 'komusō' may be a still quite suspicious looking one dated 1628: a Tosa Province official document responding to an attack by a violent former samurai who had become a 'rōnin-komusō', 浪人虚無僧, - or: 'rōnin-komosō', 浪人薦僧, if the quoted source text could actually have been rendered misleadingly in print.

That is, rather: The term 'komusō' may more probably first have been invented following upon the Shimabara Rebellion in 1637-38, or maybe following upon the creation of the 'Shūmon aratame yaku', 宗門改役, the "All Sects Inspection Bureau", in 1640.

Torsten Olafsson, Denmark – February 8, 2020

Edited and expanded, and illustrations added as of
February 10-11 & 22-23; April 5, 2020 & February 2, 2021.


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