Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tadashi Tajima

In addition to traditional concert settings, Mr. Tajima has also experimented with playing the shakuhachi in various spatial and sonic locations including an oratory at a Shinto shrine, on the surface of a lake, and inside a cave.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chikuzen Nakatsuka 1887 - 1944

The following account is based on the incomplete research by Nakatsuka Chikuzen, as introduced by Malm in 1959.

"The ranks of the Edo -period komuso were not drawn primarily from the seeker's of Buddha's paradise; rather, they were filled with ronin, masterless samurai who had lost their original rank and privileges during the violent clan struggles that marked the late sixteenth century.  These men sought satisfaction more in earthly revenge than heavenly rewards.  It was from their ranks that many of the early Christians were drawn.  When the Christian movement was halted by the slaughter of Shimabara in 1638, many of these ronin felt their entire class was going to fall victim to the paranoid vengeance of the shogun's government.

It is believed that one group of these desperate men formed a komuso group in Kyoto called the Fukeshu.  In secret, they acquired a building associated with one of the largest Buddhist temples in the hope that the shogun would not view their activities as part of  a Christian revival.  This, their headquarters, they named the Myoan (or Meian) temple.  Despite this precaution, they were subjected to suspicion from other ancillary temples:  in addition to their dislike of the ronin's unsavory background, these other temples were probably afraid of guilt by association.

In order to secure their position, the Fukeshu faked a number of papers claiming their historical origins as coming from China; they also produced a copy of a license from the first Edo shogun, Ieyasu, giving them the exclusive right to solicit alms by means of shakuhachi playing.  Armed with these documents, they finally notified the authorities of their existence and asked for official recognition of their temple and their rights.  When the government bureaucrats received this request, they immediately demanded the original Ieyasu document.  The Fukeshu claimed that it had been burned years earlier.  It seemed certain that this group was destined to be short-lived until one of the shogun's wiser advisers suggested that their request be granted.  His reasoning was that the destruction of the group would only scatter and further embitter already vengeful men.  It would be safer to grant them their much coveted security and preferment, on condition that they act as spies for the government and keep track of the going-on of all the other ronin.  Such a proposition was made and accepted.

To facilitate the exchange of information as well as control of the organization, the komuso headquarters were moved to Edo, the seat of the shogun's government.  Their "religious" center was established in the Ichigatsuji and Reihoji temples outside the city, while their "business" center was located in the Asakusa, in the heart of the entertainment district.  From there, they could fan out along the avenues and back alleys of this famous pleasure district, playing a few soft melodies and overhearing equally intimate conversations.  Eventually, with the Meiji restoration, the organization was abolished."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wandering Priests

Gentle heralds of a greater music to come.
At present, these folk arts are still a matter of local pride, but history has shown that such arts, though important stimuli for other forms, are themselves very susceptible to influence and change.  In modern folk music, the new factor is mass communication.  It is impossible to calculate the extent to which the medium is capable of helping or damaging things.  The communication centers may take over the functions of story-telling and entertainment, while advertising may usurp education.  Nevertheless, the ordinary person's need for self-expression and a close connection with the basic forces of nature will prove, perhaps, an antibiotic for this virulent infectiuon which seems to be decimating the folk arts of the world.  It is still too early for any firm theories.  The best we can do is to learn to appreciate the wonderful Japanese folk tradition as it is, encourage it whenever possible, and hope that history will treat it kindly.--Malm, 1959

The shakuhachi and its music are designed for introspection.  With a modicum of materials, the player can reap a harvest of quiet pleasures.  In a crowded and busy world, such simple means of refined musical recreation and relaxation are to be coveted by any culture.  Perhaps this is one of the most important intrinsic appeals of the shakuhachi today.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hermit of Yedo

The shakuhachi master and hermit Omori Toku mentioned by Sir Francis Taylor Piggot in his 1909 book The Music and Musical Instruments of Japan.

Where's Komuso?

Find the komuso in this 1740's woodblock view of the crowds on the Nakanocho, the central street of Yoshiwara.

Japanese Wind Instruments

Japanese wind instruments in comparision.

Shakuhachi Woodblocks

Hero Warrior Monk

Flowers and Cuckoo.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Young Watazumi Doso Roshi

Born in 1911 as Tanaka Masaru.
Founder of Ichoken Fukko-ha, also known as Myoan Masho-ha.
Writing in photo can translate as "hochiku Watazumi religion."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010

New Invention for Precious Metal Calligraphy on Urushi

Sensei Morimasa Horiuchi and I attended a lecture by Professor Yutaro Shimode from the Kyoto Institute of Technology.  He has recently invented a paint that's available in 24 K gold or silver.  It layers well onto urushi and other finishes, drying instantly and durably.  Sensei Morimasa Horiuchi tried Professor Shimode's gold maki-e brush/pen/stylus to paint his Taizan name "Sei Sui" with the year dated 2010 on a Yuu from my knapsack.  Beautiful results!
The gold maki-e lacquer improves the sound of this Yuu by 7.53%  ;-)

Yutaro Shimode is the 3rd generation of lacquer craftsmen (Makie Shisho) born in the ancient capital of Kyoto in 1955. The Japanese lacquer (Urushi) is a natural substance obtained from the urushi tree, which is often used to coat wooden products to impart surface glossiness. Specially lacquered (Makie) products made by Shimode included fixtures and altar furniture used in various shrines and temples throughout Japan. In 1993, during the 61st renewal of the Grand Imperial Shrine in Ise, Shimode was involved in the restoration and renewal of specially lacquered sacred ornaments that were enshrined. About 60 pieces of Makie wares augment the interior decor of the Kyoto State Guest House, which was built for the purpose of welcoming guests from abroad and also as a gesture for deepening of friendship between the guests and Japan. These carefully selected wares were sprinkled with flecks of gold or silver that exemplifies the rich tradition and excellent Japanese craftsmanship. Moreover, these Makie wares have been chosen as exhibits for 24 consecutive years at the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition, which is the most popular major art exhibition in Japan. A commemorative Makie lacquer box souvenir was specially crafted by Shimode and given as a symbol of friendship to U.S. President Obama during his visit to Tokyo in November 2009.

Throughout the years, Shimode has been conducting various courses and training workshops to encourage the young generation to inherit the skills and knowledge of the traditional art of Urushi making. Shimode was appointed as an adjunct professor at the Future Applied Conventional Technology Center of Kyoto Institute of Technology since 2006 where he conducted various researches concerning the quality of Urushi products and developed methodologies to assess the transferring of traditional skills from professional to amateur craftsmen. Shimode has received numerous state awards in recognition for his excellent contributions towards the preservation of the art of Urushi.
Prof. Yutaro Shimode
Future-Applied Conventional Center
Kyoto Institute of Technology

Maki-e Lacquer Maestro Shimode-san graciously gave me a bamboo leaf pattern he painted and signed  after the lecture on a piece of urushi paper.   Domo arigato, Shimode-san!


New Release of Watazumi's Oldest Recordings

1935-1945  (beginning 24 years old through 34 years)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

4 Bells for the Fourth

(click on the following link, and turn up the volume to hear the birds in the background)

Oldest Temple Bell in Japan

Japan's oldest temple bell ringing four times for today's Yankee Independence July 4th celebration. The suspended soft wooden shuro-no-ki log gently strikes the cast bronze bell of Kanzeon Temple. The bell was first rung in 698 A.D., and after 1,312 years still tolls ... Wow.

Japanese Music

By Katsumi Sunaga; published September 1936.

What types of Foreigners learn the shakuhachi, why, and to what end?

Have a Happy Yankee Independence Day :-)