Shakuhachi Bamboo Flutes

Toji-san’s Shakuhachi Bamboo Flutes

Japanese Shakuhachi Bamboo Flutes,
Handmade from Bamboo Grown in the Japanese Alps

Shakuhachi Bamboo Flutes from Japan

The shakuhachi came to Japan from China in the 12th century AD. Although it has long since disappeared from China, the instrument has rooted itself in over eight centuries of Japanese tradition, today playing a vital role in Japanese culture. A shaku is an old form of Japanese measurement of length. Therefore, shakuhachi is the equivalent of 1.8 shaku or about 55 centimeters, which gives the flute and its five holes the five basic sounds of C, D, F, G, and A, with seven sharps and flats. The basic European scale contains seven basic notes with five sharps and flats. Although the European and Asian scales were developed independently, they are each based on these 12 sounds.

Mr. Toji refers to this astonishing parallel as a miracle and joyfully concludes that this is just still more evidence that music is a universal language which must be learned by all. Mr. Toji has been playing the shakuhachi since 1975, initially apprenticing with a master in Kyoto, his home city, for three years. In 1993, seeking to avoid the hustle and bustle of busy Kyoto, he moved to a remote part of Gifu Prefecture in the Japan Alps. He lives in a 180-year old house, whose source of water is a mountain stream. 500-year old ruins are still clustered in the cedar and bamboo groves just behind his home.

In 1995, Mr. Toji began to make his own flutes from the local bamboo. Modern shakuhachi are split into two pieces, but Mr. Toji prefers to make his flutes in the ancient, one-piece style. After selecting and cutting the bamboo, Mr. Toji allows it to dry for two years, after which he devotes a month to boring and sanding the flute to perfection. He then lacquers the flute’s inside in traditional red. He explains that the amount of curvature in each flute reflects the weight of the winter snow borne by the bamboo. Mr. Toji has toured widely throughout Japan, played the background music for numerous plays, and created a movie soundtrack. In spite of his obvious success, Mr. Toji, in typically modest Japanese fashion, says that he is not a master. But, of course only another master would be able to confirm or deny such a claim.

Click here to see Toji-san’s craft.


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