Thursday, October 29, 2009

The State of the Shakuhachi in the Meiji Period

According to a publication of the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce entitled "The Use of Wood Products in Industrial Crafts," which dates from 1912, at the time there were 8 families manufacturing the shakuhachi in Tokyo, which employed 20 artisans and produced at most 25,000 instruments a year. Also, it stated that most of these instruments had a range of two octaves. This document suggests at the time the manufacture of the shakuhachi required 2-3 people and was a relatively simple procedure that could produce a large number of instruments. It has also been stated that in this period the effectiveness of lacquering the interior of the instrument, and of the procedure of nakatsugi were designed.
However, it required a long time for these two methods, jinuri (lacquering the interior) and nakatsugi (fusing the parts of the instrument), to be studied and achieve standardized results. One could interpret the statement that most instruments of this time had a range of two octaves at most as suggesting that the effectiveness of jinuri was not fully realized. And moreover, that nakatsugi was not utilized is demonstrated by the fact that most shakuhachi produced at this time were not produced using this procedure.

At the time the lowest price for a shakuhachi was 10 sen, that is 1/10 of a yen. The ordinary type of a shakuhachi cost 70-80 sen wholesale and had a retail cost of 1 yen 50 sen. It is written that in one year only 100 instruments that would sell for 20-30 yen could be produced. It is surprising that the price of the best quality shakuhachi is 200-300 times that of an ordinary one. Presently, the cost of the former is about 20 times greater than the latter.

The following prices, which are from around 1900, are simply for reference. Consider whether the shakuhachi was expensive or not.

Annual salary of Prime Minister--12,000 yen
White rice(10 kilograms)--1 yen 50 sen
One karat diamond (good quality)--450 yen
Tobacco (Golden Bat)--5 sen
Berr (1 large bottle)--19 sen
Coffee(1 cup)--3 sen
Curry rice--5-7 sen
Grilled eel with rice--30 sen

(From Nedan no Meiji-Tasho-Showa Fuzokushi; Asahi Shimbunsha, 1981)
provided by the Kitahara family