A Japanese endblown flute based on Chinese models. "Shaku" means basically "one" foot (or thereabouts) and "eight" inches (or thereabouts), which describes the length of the bamboo, which is keyed to C but in the pentatonic scale.
Yes, RalfM, you are right. I had been just playing my ni-shaku which is tuned to D.

Here is a list of lengths and tunings:

  • Key G; i-shaku-san-sun; 1.3', 40 cm
  • Key F#; i-shaku-yon-sun; 1.4', 43 cm
  • Key F; i-shaku-go-sun; 1.5', 46 cm.
  • Key E; i-shaku-roku-sun; 1.6', 48.5 cm
  • Key Eb; i-shaku-nana-sun; 1.7', 52 cm
  • Key D; i-shaku-ha-sun; 1.8', 54.5 cm
  • Key C#; i-shaku-kyu-sun; 1.9', 59 cm
  • Key C; ni-shaku; 2', 62.5 cm
  • Key B; ni-shaku-i-sun; 2.1', 66 cm
  • Key Bb; ni-shaku-san-sun; 2.2-2.3', 70 cm
  • Key A; ni-shaku-yon-sun; 2.4', 75 cm
Shakuhachi is also one of a few Japanese euphemisms for fellatio. Kind of along the lines of "playing the skin flute" in the English language.

These type of phrases make you realize that people, regardless of language or ethnicity, are all thinking the same dirty thoughts.

Varying in length between 1 and 3 feet, the Shakuhachi is an end blown bamboo flute. It’s name comes from the standard length of one foot (shaku) and eight (hachi) yet all variations of length share the same name. This flute is believed to have come from ancient Egypt, migrating through India and China before finding it’s cultural home in Japan. The earliest incarnation of this instrument in Japan was made of thin walled bamboo and sported six finger holes. It was used primarily in court music (gagaku) between the 7th and 17th centuries until a growing number of mendicant monks who called themselves komosô (straw mat monks) formed an order. The Fuke sect (named after an eccentric 9th century Chinese Zen monk ) became officially established as a branch of Rinzai Zen and gained the sole right to solicit alms using the shakuhachi. Many of these monks (now known as komusô, or "monks of empty nothingness") were rônin who were uprooted due to Japan’s civil wars of the 15th and 16th centuries. They began fashioning the shakuhachi from the bottom most sections of bamboo which improved the acoustic properties of the instrument and also made it a formidable weapon to replace the loss of their swords. The sturdy new flute now had only four finger holes and a thumb hole and maintained the name shakuhachi, while it’s flimsy ancestor was renamed hitoyogiri.

The komusô regarded the shakuhachi more a meditative tool than an instrument. The shakuhachi was used to develop their spiritual breath (kisoku) to attain a state of absolute sound (tettei on). The resulting music was more akin to sutra chanting and was referred to as "original music" (honkyoku). This music was centered around individual breath sounds and was unconcerned with commonplace musical elements. The goal was to attain enlightenment through this practice of blowing zen (sui zen) so as to “Become a Buddha in one sound” (Ichion Jobutsu).


I recently purchased a shakuhachi from a flute builder at Portland’s Saturday Market. I explained to him that I had been studying eskrima for about six months now and desired a weapon that had another use so as to excuse my traveling with it. The builder was excited to make a flute with martial application and recommended the shakuhachi. I returned in two weeks to see what he had come up with. The flute was fashioned from the root sections of sturdy Korean bamboo and he told me he broke a drill bit while hollowing it out. I have no experience playing flutes of any kind, and have been told that it is exceedingly difficult to get a sound out of a shakuhachi, let alone play it. After having it for a month, I can now (when no one is looking) get sound from it and am still amazed at the skill displayed by the vendor when he played a haunting tune for me before taking my money.

I am eager to learn this instrument so that when someone asks me to play for them, I don’t have to say
“Sorry, I only know how to beat the hell out of you with it.”



Sources:

http://www.shakuhachi.com/
http://www.j-music.com/aki/bamboo.html
http://www.emptybell.org/shakhist.html

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