Music From Japan: Teruhisa Fukuda, shakuhachi, and Shihou Kineya, shamisen

Tradition and innovation meet in this concert for two of Japan’s iconic musical instruments: the shakuhachi, a bamboo flute with roots in Zen Buddhism, and the shamisen, a lute with deep links to secular entertainments, from geisha houses to kabuki theater. Teruhisa Fukuda, shakuhachi, has performed widely with traditional ensembles and the likes of the NHK Symphony, the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, and the Hong Kong New Symphony Orchestra. He is joined by the shamisen virtuoso, Shihou Kineya. This concert was recorded at the Freer Gallery as part of the Music From Japan Festival 1999.


Azuma no Kyoku for shakuhachi

Shin Kyorei, for shakuhachi 5:24–13:10

Makoto Mori
Chikurai Go-Sho (Five Pieces for Shakuhachi, 1964) 13:25–24:10

Seiho Kineya
Meikyo (The Pure Mirror, 1975), for shakuhachi and shamisen 24:19–35:35

Atsuki Sumi
Fish on Horizon (1997), for shakuhachi and shamisen 35:58–50:05

Choji Kaneta
Shiki-soku-ze-kû III (1996), for solo shakuhachi 50:29–1:06:50

This performance was recorded live in concert on February 20, 1999, at the Meyer Auditorium of the Freer Gallery of Art as part of Music From Japan Festival 1999.


(All notes provided by Music From Japan.)

Azuma no Kyoku


In the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, Japanese monks such as Eisai (1141–1215) and Dogen (1200–1253) traveled to China to bring back the new teachings of the Ch’an, or Zen, sect of Buddhism. Legend attributes the introduction of the Zen practice of shakuhachi (end-blown bamboo flute) to Hoto Kokushi (d. 1298), who in 1249 also undertook the difficult journey to China in search of enlightenment through Zen teaching. He received the important piece Kyorei , the second piece in this program (notes below), from the sixteenth direct successor of its composer. This work, along with several others including Azuma no Kyoku, came to form the mainstream of Japanese traditional shakuhachi music known as honkyoku. As befits their free, meditative nature, these shakuhachi pieces are generally characterized by a very elastic meter. Azuma no Kyoku represents an exception, however, as its exploration of strong human feeling provides the work with a governing force, expressed through a somewhat regular meter. During the Edo period (1615–1868) the monks of the Fuke Temple, where traditional Zen shakuhachi was taught as a meditative practice, were primarily samurai who had renounced their warrior status. Covering their heads with inverted basket-shaped straw hats, these anonymous mendicant monks known as komuso traveled throughout the countryside pursuing their musical and spiritual practices and, in some cases, spying for the Tokugawa government. The impressive sight and haunting sound of these shakuhachi priests was a quite familiar one throughout Japan until comparatively recent times.

Shin Kyorei


Since the introduction of the shakuhachi to Japan from China, three types of the instrument have evolved, each characteristic of a distinct historical period. The first, the gagaku shakuhachi, developed during the Nara period (710–794) along with Chinese gagaku, or courtly style of music, and is still considered a Chinese instrument. The hitoyogiri shakuhachi, a shorter flute, developed during the Muromachi period (1333–1573). But the shakuhachi we are most familiar with today is the fuke shakuhachi, which gained wide favor in the Edo period.

The fuke shakuhachi takes its name from the Fuke branch of Zen Buddhism. In Fuke Zen, the act of playing the shakuhachi constitutes a spiritual practice. As legend has it, the tenth­century monk Pa Hua (in Japanese, Fuke) was wandering through the Chinese countryside ringing a bell in hope of stimulating in its hearers some understanding of the fundamental truths of Zen. The sound of the “bell of emptiness” (kyotaku or kyorei) inspired a spiritual awakening in one young disciple who responded with a melody on his flute. Thus, Kyorei was born. The piece was brought to Japan by the monk Kakushin in the thirteenth century. The version handed down in the Kinko school of shakuhachi playing is called the Shin or True Kyorei. Koreyi is considered the source of all honkyoku (original music), solo shakuhachi pieces derived from the Fuke tradition which are at once breathing meditations and works of art.

Chikurai Go-Sho (Five Pieces for Shakuhachi)

Makoto Moroi (1930–2013)

From the composer’s notes: “In spring of 1964, in Osaka, I had the . . . opportunity to meet the shakuhachi master Chikuho Sakai and to hear him play a number of major traditional shakuhachi pieces at his home. I was deeply impressed by the modernity of the sound and decided the same night to write some compositions for shakuhachi. I took advantage of a job that brought me to Osaka once every month and began to write one piece at each meeting, working intensely with both Mr. Sakai and his son. The very first night we worked in one of the inner rooms of Funda-in at Sesshu-ji Temple in Kyoto. My creative spirit was stimulated by the fantastic harmony of shakuhachi sounds and the gray quietude of the temple garden lit by the full moon. After that night, I sometimes stayed at the Sakai home, at a local inn on the shore of the Japan Sea, or at another picturesque site. As I did not consciously write for the instrument in its classical musical setting, my compositions require a virtuosity unprecedented in traditional performance methods.

“The title Chikurai refers to the sounds of bamboo being blown in the wind, an alias for the shakuhachi. Thus, the title of this composition might be rendered as ‘Five-Movements for Flute.’ The opening movement, ‘Funda,’ shows the strongest influence of traditional shakuhachi works, both spiritually and in form . . . . The second movement, ‘Sochiku’ or ‘Refreshing Sounds of Bamboo,’ is an intermezzo in two-part form marked by the distinctive shakuhachi tremolo sounds. The third is called ‘Kyorai’ or ‘Empty Bamboo,’ a title reminiscent of the famous traditional ‘Kyorei’ or ‘Sound of the Empty Bell,’ [which] is not empty in the sense of hollow or meaningless, but as a spirit that is untrammeled, clear, and free . . . The fourth movement, ‘Hachiku’ or ‘Breaking the Bamboo,’ is marked by a staccato method not found in traditional shakuhachi playing . . . . The fifth [movement], ‘Mei-an,’ is a reference to Kyoto’s Myoan-ji Temple, which was a cradle for shakuhachi music. This movement [contrasts] the bright and dark sounds of the instrument. All the major motives of the preceding four movements recur in this longest, rondolike final movement.”

Composer Makoto Moroi graduated in 1952 from Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music where he studied composition with Tomojiro Ikenouchi. Makoto Mori held posts at Osaka University of Arts, Shobi Conservatory of Music, and Meiji Galcuin University. After assuming the directorship of Sainokuni Saitama Prefectural Association for Promotion of the Arts in 1994, he worked simultaneously in music, theater, dance, and film.

Meikyo (The Pure Mirror), for shakuhachi and shamisen

Seiho Kineya (1914–1996)

From the composer’s notes: “In the classic trio combination with koto and shamisen, known as sankyoku, the shakuhachi has long been a common replacement for the kyoku (a bowed stringed instrument), and the compatibility of the shakuhachi and koto has led to extensive pairing of these two instruments in concert. At the same time, many of the phrasing and breathing techniques heard in the meditative solo shakuhachi pieces (known as honkyoku and characteristic of the Kinko school of shakuhachi performance) bear a strong resemblance to shamisen music, including the nagauta genre connected to kabuki theater. These similarities provided the inspiration for Meikyo. The work begins with a slow-paced dialogue between shamisen and shakuhachi. It shifts to a passage of lighter, swifter movement that develops into an exchange of more extended phrases [and] becomes even more rapid, [concluding] with a return to a slow section, dissimilar to the introductory one.”

Composer Setho Kineya (1914–1996) performed shamisen for many years for a wide range of performing arts, including classical dance and Kabuki. He wrote more than one thousand pieces for Japanese instruments alone and in combination with Western instruments. He was President of the Composers Association for New Japanese Music, taught at Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music, and for forty years was a lecturer at the NHK Ikuseikai School (for traditional music).

Fish on Horizon, for shakuhachi and shamisen

Atsuki Sumi (b. 1948)

This work was created for Teruhisa Fukuda and Shihou Kineya for their 1997 touring program. The work is divided into three sections, largely in a pentatonic scale but with a good deal of freedom in the organization of sounds. It begins gently with the distinctive shakuhachi sound know as sora-ne (sky or emptiness sound) and the characteristic shamisen koki-zume (glissando made with fingernails). Each instrument has a solo passage and the shamisen player sings a short song. It ends quietly with the shamisen uchinuki (soft patting on the string).

Composer Atsuki Sumi was born in 1948 in Fukuoka and studied composition at Musashino University of Music with Tohru Tamura. He graduated in 1978 and his works have been performed in concerts under the aegis of his school. The composer produces compact discs and musical programs as Chairman of the Banquet Office. His major works include To-Fu-Sho for shakuhachi and percussion, MASU for one piano four hands plus music box, and Fish from Heaven for solo shakuhachi.

Shiki-soku-ze-kû III, for solo shakuhachi

Choji Kaneta (b. 1948)

The phrase shiki-soku-ze-ku is taken from the text of one of the Prajna-paramita Sutras (Perfection of Wisdom), a genre of Mahayana Buddhist scripture, and the four characters are part of a longer phrase said to embody the heart of Buddhist teaching. Shiki denotes all that has form; ku, the absence of form, the “emptiness” which embodies that “without form.” Briefly translated, the phrase reads, “all that has form is essentially emptiness.” Choji Kaneta has written two other compositions with the same title: one for shakuhachi and violin and the other for shakuhachi and orchestra. In 1996 he combined new material with elements from the earlier compositions and produced Shiki-soku-ze-ku III for solo shakuhachi. The work is primarily based on the cadenza for shakuhachi in the version for shakuhachi and orchestra.

Composer Choji Kaneta was born in Hokkaido in 1948. After studying with Tomojiro lkenouchi and Akio Yashiro, he completed post­graduate work at Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music, where he then served on the faculty. Major compositions include Tenkei for orchestra, Ambivalence for solo bassoon, and A Round for Orchestra, which contains a part for solo shakuhachi.


Teruhisa Fukuda, shakuhachi, was born in Nagano, Japan in 1949. He has explored the possibilities of the instrument through its traditional use and in collaboration with contemporary composers who have written original compositions for him. Since he began performing publicly in 1986, he has worked with the NHK Symphony, the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, the Sendai Philharmonic, the Malaysia Royal Symphony Orchestra, the Hong Kong New Symphony Orchestra, and in Paris with the Kyoto Ensemble. Gakuon-jo, a compact disc featuring Mr. Fukuda with Shihou Kineya, shamisen, performing four of the works on this podcast, was released in 1998 by ALM Records of Japan. This compact disc, plus Shakuhachi Banquet: Teruhisa Fukuda (NPM of Oregon) and Esprits Animaux I and Esprits Animaux II (ALM of Tokyo) are distributed in the United States by NPM.

Shihou Kineya, shamisen, started performing traditional nagauta (long song) in 1967. Since 1973, she has studied contemporary shamisen with Seiho Kineya. In addition to her solo recitals, she has appeared with French oboist Maurice Bourgue and with percussionist Sumire Yoshiwara, performing recent works by Yuji Takahashi, Kenjiro Urata, Toshiyuki Ozaki, and Atsuki Sumi. She joined Teruhisa Fukuda, shakuhachi, on the 1998 compact disc, Gakuon-jo, which was released on the ALM label.


This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording and editing by Andy Finch and Suraya Mohamed. Web production by Gio Camozzi. Copy editing by Ian Fry. Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share their performance at the Freer and Sackler Galleries. The concert was a part of the Music From Japan 1999 Festival, presented in association with the Japan Federation of Composers with support from the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan through Arts Plan 21.

About Music From Japan

Founded in 1975 by current Artistic Director Naoyuki Miura, Music From Japan continues to preside as the leading presenter of Japanese contemporary and traditional music in the United States and the world. After four decades of touring throughout North and South America, Central Asia, and Japan, Music From Japan has presented about 645 works, including 106 world premieres and 94 commissions (for both Japanese and American composers). Over the course of forty-six years, 198 Japanese composers have been showcased, as well as many traditional Japanese pieces. Music From Japan was honored for its activities when the organization received the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation in July 2007. Mr. Miura was awarded the Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ Award in December 2007, the Sen Kayoko Award from the Soroptimist Japan Foundation in November 2010, and the Gen-On Special Award (given by the Japan Society of Contemporary Music) in 2012.

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