Sunday, November 29, 2009

From Ancient Origins through Institutionalized Trampdom, Banditry and Espionage to the Modern Concert Stage

As researched by Ingrid Fritsch in the early 1970's:

There is no certain information about the origin of the shakuhachi. Some ethnomusicologists assume that its development can be traced back to the Egyptian sebi: this instrument, or rather a variation of it, was carried by Alexander the Great to India, and was taken further to China by Buddhist priests during the Han dynasty (202 B.C.-220 A.D.). There it was amalgamated with the sho panpipe and was called the t'ung hsiao (jap. dosho). According to the T'ang shu (jap. Tosho), a book written at the beginning of the tenth century A.D., the first man to build a set of twelve end-blown flutes, one for each of the chromatic notes of the octave, was Lu Ts'ai (jap. Ryosai), who from 627 to 649 was a member of a society dedicated to reforming the Chinese musical system of that time. The longest instrument, the ch'ih pa', had a length of one shaku and eight sun, from which the Japanese term shakuhachi (jap. hachi=eight) was probably derived. It was in about the seventh century that the shakuhachi was introduced to Japan, where it was employed in the performance of Chines T'ang music--togaku--by the Japanese court orchestra: old manuscripts in the Horyuji and Saidaiji temples in Nara bear witness to this as does the Dajokan-pu of 804 A.D. (containing records of the Heian imperial cabinet), in which a shakuhachi player is mentioned as a togaku musician. In the Shosoin in Nara, where the property of the emperor Shomu (724-749) is maintained, there are eight shakuhachi of differing lengths and material to be seen; all have six finger-holes, and none is more than 43 cm. in length. The lower end of the instrument with its present-day crown of roots is however absent. In the tenth century, the gagaku shakuhachi was removed from the court orchestra and replaced by transverse flutes with seven holes (yokobue, oteki, ryuteki). It was thereafter employed by Buddhist monks for the performance of Chinese hymns, before slowly becoming obsolete.

There are no specific documents concerning the precursor of the present-day shakuhachi; the instrument was probably imported from China a second time. Only in the early Edo period (1600-1867) do we find the beginnings of shakuhachi music as it sometimes sounds today; an important role in the development was played by mendicant Buddhist priests called Komuso (="priests of emptiness and nothingness"). Originally a loosely organised guild of begging musicians with the nominal status of Buddhist lay brothers--they were at one time possibly identical with the Komoso (="priests of rice-straw"), a group of mendicant monks, who according to conflicting theories used to play the hitiyogiri, an instrument related to the shakuhachi--they became a subsect of Rinzai Zen when their numbers rapidly increased in the early seventeenth century. Most of their new numbers were ronin, masterless samurai, who had lost their rank and priveleges through the strife which prevailed between Japanese clans in the late sixteenth century. The guild offered them the opportunity of withdrawal from worldly life; it guaranteed anonymity through the obligatory wearing of the Komuso-apparel, which consisited in part of a hat that left only the eyes free, and it included to a certain extent an aspect of institutionalized trampdom and banditry. Their transformation into a Rinzai Zen subsect ( called Fuke-shu) was probably the result not only of religious but also of political motivation, since membership in a Buddhist sect provided them with protection against the Tokugawa government (Bakufu). The Ichigetsuji in the eastern Kanto area and the Reihoji in Tokyo were chosen as mother-houses by the Fuke-shu, although the Myoanjo in Kyoto also gained the semblance of a main temple somewhat later. In an attempt to justify their existence, they laid claim to a long tradition reaching back to China by forging a series of documents; the Kyotaku Denki Kokujikai, which exerted a strong influence on the entire Japanese and Western understanding of Fukeshu history, even until recent times, is the most prominent of these. This "chronicle" attributes the founding of the sect to a Chinese monk named Chen-chou P'u-k'o (jap. Fuke), who lived during the T'ang period (618-907), and whose follower Chang Po (jap. Chohaku) used to imitate his religious bell-ringing by playing a melody called Kyotaku (empty or false bell) on his flute. The Fukeshu is then supposed to have been introduced to Japan by the Buddhist monk Kakushin in 1254.

Another document which was probably also forged is the Charter of 1614, in which the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu, is said to have granted special priveleges to the Komuso; according to this edict, they possessed the exclusive rights to the playing of the shakuhachi, were exempt from taxes, and were allowed to carry weapons highly unusual for Buddhist monks. In addition, only samurai were eligible for membership. This document was granted recognition by the Tokugawa government around 1680: in return, the Komuso pledged their services to the Bakufu for occasional cases of espionage.

The shakuhachi was used by the Komuso primarily not as a musical instrument, but as a tool of religious meditaion (hoki). This connection between the flute and Zen was of especial importance in Myoanji in Kyoto. Although it was forbidden under pain of severe penalties to compose or play worldly melodies, a certain degree of secularization did however set in as time went on. In 1847, the government revoked the Charter of 1614, and as a result of this, the Fukeshu lost their special priveleges as well as their exclusiveness of class (samurai membership). This period was marked by an intensification of the use of the shakuhachi outside the sect, especially after it was temporarily prohibited in 1871 as a result of the collapse of the shogun state. The instrument now officially acquired secular character.

Although the Komuso are no longer extant, they have been succeeded by the Myoan Kyokai, a society of traditionalistic character, which maintains the historic repetoire. The Kinko school, founded around 1770 by Kinko Kurosawa, has in addition preserved thirty-six old compositions, which have however been somewhat adapted and artistically refined. The recognition of the shakuhachi as a secular instrument led at the end of the nineteenth century to a basic change in its function, and thus its repetoire; this provided the base for its further development into a concert instrument.

Komuso--The Priests Who Played the Shakuhachi

The monks of the Fuke sect are called komuso. The Fuke sect is one form of Zen Buddhism, and instead of chanting the sutras, the monks played the shakuhachi. Presently, komuso refers to these people who have preserved the customs of the Fuke sect after its dissolution. The komuso used the shakuhachi as a "ritual instrument" [hoki], that is, a tool used within a religious context. In a similar way, a religious persecution is called honan, religious rites are called hoji, members of the same religious group are called horui, and the clothing that is worn during a religious rite is termed hoe.

The komuso wore black clothing known as kesa, a type of glove termed tekko which was made of cloth or leather, and a kind of leggings called kyahan, made of cloth that were easy to walk in. They covered their heads with a deep straw hat known as a tengai. The shakuhachi, kesa, and tengai were known as the "three tools" [sangu], and the komuso permit [honsoku], an identification card [ein], and travel permit were known as the "three seals" [san-in]. It was common for the komuso to travel carrying these things.

In the Edo period when one could not travel freely around the country, the komuso were granted the great priveledge of the travel permit, which allowed them to move about freely. When they wore the tengai hat, they could see the outside world, but other people could not discern the faces of those who wore the tengai. The tengai creates a small cosmos and the space beneath it is a different world. The original principle of the Fuke sect was to achieve enlightenment [satori] by playing the shakuhachi, but many unbelievers whose motives were not religious became komuso and abused the privilege of wearing the tengai that hid their faces. Using the shakuhachi as a weapon, rather than a ritual instrument, they carried out acts of violence. In the final years of the Edo period, it was decided to control these unbelievers.

The original komuso begged for donations of rice and money as they travelled about on pilgrimage. After the dissolution of the sect in Meiji 4, the komuso were neither monks nor professional musicians, but a group of comrades devoted to preserving the traditional music and manners of the Fuke shakuhachi.

For example, in the early 1970's, the principal of a certain high school who was an expert at the shakuhachi of the Meian school, walked along a street playing the shakuhachi, dressed as a komuso. Then as he stood outside a liquor shop and begged for a donation of money and rice, the shopowner suddenly threw a bucketful of dirty water at him. The komuso/principal bowed and left the scene. The shopowner usually treated the principal, who liked to drink and was a patron of the shop, with great courtesy. Inside and outside the tengai are different worlds.

Previously, there was an American komuso in the Yamashina district of Kyoto, but he has not been heard from for quite awhile. Nowadays, we rarely see even Japanese komuso on the streets. The customs of jugglers and troubadours continue to dissappear.

It is said that in the past the komuso used force to obtain food and money, and often were involved in quarrels. Here are three episodes related to this which are contained in Nihon densetsumeii (Nihon Hoso Kyokai, 1950), compiled under the supervision of Yanagita Kunio. (The anecdotes are unedited.)

1. Komuso-matsu [the komuso pine]

Near the Kawai Bridge, there is a great pine tree. When the wind blows it makes a sound that resembles that of a shakuhachi. Long ago, a komuso had a fist fight with one of the villagers and was killed here. He was buried here and a pine was planted.

[Ama-gun, kanie-cho, Aichi Prefecture]

2. Komuso-matsu II [the komuso pine II]

Long ago, a komuso from the northern part of Japan passed by here. The villagers were trimming the branches of a pine tree, but the monk tried to pass through by force just as a large branch was about to fall. The branch fell and killed the monk at this spot.

[Hazu-gun, Nishio-cho, Aichi Prefecture]

3. Komuso-sakura [the komuso cherry tree]

This is the residence of the "I" family in Ita. In the time of his ancestor of six generations ago, there was a gathering for Sano Tsunehiro who was about to depart for the battle front. A komuso monk came to the gate begging for a donation. When Sano's retainers refused saying they were very busy, the monk played a song about the end of the family. Tsunehiro was angered and killed the komuso, who was buried under the cherry tree in the front garden. Afterwards, those who cut the cherry tree would always become ill, so no one dared to touch it.

[Shida-gun, Onaga-mura, Shizuoka Prefecture, now known as Shimada City]


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Komuso-Altering Odyssey

The Shakuhachi is the intrument of the Dharma and there are numerous meanings to be found in it. Taken as a whole, the shakuhachi is the profound wellspring of all phenomenal things. If a man plays a shakuahchi, all things will come to him. His mind and the realm of light and dark will come to him.

More Photos of Myoan-Ji