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I attended another great Shakuhachi Society of BC annual hocchiku-making workshop. Hosted by shakuhachi master Alcvin Takegawa Ramos and his wife Sandra at Bamboo-In. Instruction by master craftsman Yamaguchi Shugetsu. Accomodations and meditation at Sunshine Zen Centre. 2008-09-05 to 2008-09-07 in Madiera Park on the Sunshine Coast of BC.

Shakuhachi making workshop set

Kozue Matsumoto, a koto player and our translator, also blogged about the weekend here.  She has some great photos here and here.

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I made this “Zen” clothing as a bit of a joke for myself to wear. But then a few other people also bought them from my storefront. Weirdos.

The holes are spaced, sized, and offset very precisely, matching the construction of my favorite 2.45 Japanese hocchiku.

In Zen practice, you are the flute. Might as well dress like it.

Disclosure: I make $2 from every purchase. After two years, I’m up to $14 !

new_year_tea_2008
Shakuhachi students were invited to play and have tea hosted by a local master of the tea ceremony.  Several of us played, including Kozue, a koto player, who kindly took this photo of me playing a piece of bamboo I harvested in 2005 in Nagano, Japan and made into a 3.25 hocchiku.

Had the computer out, in a coffee shop today. I thought it would be interesting to write a program to arrange lists of words into those “word find” puzzles. The algorithm, in Python, turned out very simple and I think it does a passable job of squeezing words into the smallest grid possible.

As the very first test, I fed it a quick list of 42 words related to shakuhachi and it spat out a 17×17 puzzle.

shakuhachi_wordfind_2008-02-11

And another, comprised of titles from the Chikuho Ryu repertoire.

chikuho_wordfind_2008-02-11

Again, just returned from Japan for a month.  Motive and mindset similar to previous trip, 2 years ago.

Just brilliant.  Photos to follow.

Not in the slightest way am I an expert on honkyoku. But I’m an enthusiastic practitioner of the tradition and I feel like writing an introduction to it. I’ve had a hand in the Wikipedia article also, but here’s what I have to say about it personally. Please note that this is just from my perspective, coming from a monkey-minded Canadian practitioner who has simply had fortunate access to some of the greatest living masters of the tradition, both in North American and Japan.

Honkyoku (本曲, “original pieces”) are shakuhachi songs played by wandering Japanese Zen monks called komusō (虚無僧, “emptiness monks”) who played for enlightenment and alms. These are the dudes playing bamboo flutes with straw baskets covering their heads and faces you might see in woodblock prints or other Japanese art. This practice began with the Fuke sect in Japan approximately 700 years ago, inspired by a crazy bell-ringing Chan monk named Pǔhuà (普化, pronounced “Fuke” in Japanese) approximately 1,100 years ago in China. For a variety of reasons, this practice was outlawed by the end of the 1800s. But transmission of the pieces was primarily verbal, changing slightly from temple to temple and student to teacher, and many honkyoku survive today. With several modern lineages of teachers and their students, honkyoku have been undergoing a bit of a resurgence in recent decades. I think this is partly fuelled by its discovery by westerners and its very organic and personal approach to music and meditation.

It’s worth noting that honkyoku, like any music played on shakuhachi, is ridiculously difficult to play. I mean it’s physically difficult to make a consistent sound with the shakuhachi, let alone to play in pitch and with good expression. After diligent practice for many years, one may still feel like and sound like a beginner. But this isn’t a results-oriented activity — the process and presence in the moment is the practice. Meditation.

Honkyoku, true to its original intent, is never “performed” as music, per se. It’s meditation. A vehicle or form to be mindful within. Meditation generally isn’t much fun to watch or listen to, but honkyoku is, to some ears, beautiful and interesting and a great experience for a mindful listener. So check out a CD or two of honkyoku to see if it resonates with you. There’s a wide spectrum of schools and approaches. This isn’t the sort of CD you’ll find sold at most local or even large online stores. I suggest browsing places like shakuhachi.com or shakuhachiforum.com or komuso.com for more ideas from enthusiasts and experts. A few good MP3 samples of honkyoku are at bamboo-in.

Keep in mind that honkyoku is not the normal type of music played on shakuhachi today. When you hear shakuhachi (at a concert or a movie soundtrack, say), you’re much more likely to hear minyo (folk) or shakuhachi accompanied by koto or contemporary Japanese and Western compositions for shakuhachi. Or new age or fusion projects involving shakuhachi. And that’s good stuff too. But it’s not honkyoku because it’s being blown from a different place.

collection of bamboo
Another great weekend. Shakuhachi Society of BC’s annual hocchiku-making workshop. Hosted by shakuhachi master Alcvin Takegawa Ramos and his wife Sandra at Bamboo-In. Accomodations and meditation at Sunshine Zen Centre. June 2006, in Madiera Park on the Sunshine Coast of BC.

I created a True Type Font for very simple shakuhachi notation. Details and instructions are here.

As a student of shakuhachi (harvesting, crafting, and playing) and of Zen… going to Japan is a necessity. I just returned from a month there. Most of the travel was with a small group of similarly-oriented students. We were showered with invitations and hospitality beyond belief. I don’t think I can say or write anything to do the experience justice, but please click through to a large collection of images…