David Sawyer’s note: much of the information contained in this short essay comes from the biographical essays about Jin Nyodō in the book "Koten Honkyoku no Shutaisei-sha Jin Nyod no shakuhachi" Ed. Kamisang Yk 1980. Pertinent Japanese words have been romanized with a degree of casualness as to correct vowel length and pronunciation etc. Some of the koten honkyoku names are not self-evident to a non-scholarly translator and may be translated differently (and correctly) to what is written here. I have left romanized Japanese words in regular type to make it easier on the eyes. This essay assumes a basic prior knowledge of the history of shakuhachi. It is not my intention to add to, interpret or ascribe value to any particular Japanese source material that I used. This essay is for other shakuhachi enthusiasts to enjoy as an historical story about a great player.


Early Years in Aomori

Jin Nyodō was born on May 10, Meiji 24 (1892) in Aomori prefecture, in the Tsugaru region of Northern Japan. Hirosaki City was an old castle town where young boys would have heard shakuhachi sound coming from the old samurai quarters. Jin started playing shakuhachi at about age 14.

His father was a samurai of the Tsugaru fief. Tsugaru was the home of the Nezasaha fuke-shu koten honkyoku, introduced to the region about 300 years before. This shakuhachi genre and its study, was treated as one of the important training regimes of samurai. The local Lord himself blew shakuhachi and recommended all his subordinates to do the same. Training was strict and many good players came out of this tradition.

In Meiji 35 (1903), there were many accomplished master players in Nezasaha. Jin’s first teacher was Sasamori Tatetoshi. Teaching shakuhachi wasn’t a profession in those days. The master players were old samurai. No scores were used. Training was often done during the cold nights, a common practice back then. There were 10 pieces in all, each played in five different keys on the same flute: hon-choshi, akebono choshi, kumoi-choshi, yugure-choshi, taikyoku choshi. The repertoire was usually played on a 2.0 flute, but sometimes other lengths too.

The move to Tokyo

As a young man Jin heard that in Tokyo, shakuhachi players were playing with koto and shamisen, a revelation to him. He started playing gaikyoku (ensemble music) and by the time he left high school he had played and memorized 60-70 gaikyoku pieces, from Kurokami to Yaegoromo.

He finished school in Meiji 43 (1911) and went to Tokyo, visiting various famous sensei. It was humbling for him to play with the beautifully developed voices of the Tokyo string masters. He realized that he really should better understand koto and shamisen as instruments, and he started koto and shamisen study himself. He asked Shima sensei (husband and wife) to come live with him, and he studied with them for three years. Among the genres he studied were nagauta and hauta shamisen as well as the classical ensemble repertoire.

By Meiji 45 (1913) at age 22, Jin was teaching shakuhachi in place of Kawase Junsuke, who was writing notation at that time, and not teaching much. He taught for a year in this position. Subsequently he visited many of the famous string masters around Japan, gaining confidence as an ensemble player. He also wrote down the notation for 280 gaikyoku pieces during this time, all of which were lost in a fire during the Kanto earthquake of Taisho 12 (1924). Up to Taisho 1, the printing of shakuhachi notation was not well developed, so it was important that shakuhachi players be able to notate string pieces from listening, to add to their repertoire and become good teachers. When he taught with the Kawase Chikuyusha scores, he often annotated them heavily, particularly the kaede parts, and more so for his advanced students. As a performer, his gaikyoku renditions varied considerably, depending on who he played with, and also perhaps because he played from memory.

The relationship with Miura Kindo

In Tokyo he was exposed to more honkyoku, and took note of the styles of Miura Kindo, Araki Kodo, Kawase Junsuke. Ultimately he decided to study Kinko-ry honkyoku with Miura Kindo. Twice a week for 12 years he studied the 36 Kinko honkyoku, amongst other pieces. Miura Kindo made it clear to him that Kinko honkyoku had changed in essence, because it had been influenced by gaikyoku, and had lost the ‘taste of Zen’. Jin was encouraged to bring back Zen to Kinko honkyoku. The name ‘Nyodō’, a revered Kinko name, was given to him by Kindo-sensei, but with different characters to his later name ‘Nyodō’.

Miura Kindo’s Kinko honkyoku notation (Showa 3, 4, 1929-30) was a research collaboration between Kindo and Jin Nyodō. Valued by Miura Kindo, he appeared in Miura Kindo’s Kindo-kai concerts almost every time and the Kindo-kai’s publications often mention Jin Nyodō as a performer. Back then his performances were mostly Gaikyoku. From Showa 3-4, he started playing more koten honkyoku in performance. He started using Nyodō as a name. From that time onwards he made it clear his focus was on the transmission of honkyoku, though he continued to teach gaikyoku as well.

He didn’t publish any notation in his lifetime because he valued direct transmission from teacher to student. According to contemporary accounts, he was giving hand-written scores to his students. After the war he started using copies, but he rarely gave out score copies to those who were not his students.

There was a monthly hogaku publication called ‘Sankyoku’. From Showa 1 onwards, Jin Nyodō was often to be seen in this publication, advertising his prolific concertizing. He would be on tour for as long as two months at a time, all over Japan, holding concerts and workshops and visiting or performing at shrines and temples. He also volunteered as a caregiver or performer to those in need, including prisons and hospitals. He wanted to offer consolation with his shakuhachi sound.

The beginning of honkyoku research

Jin Nyodō’s studies revealed the stylistic differences between honkyoku from different lineages and regions, and he became interested in the musicology of koten honkyoku. Finding that historical sources were weak and suspect, he decided to do his own research.

He understood that much of the honkyoku in circulation in this period had moved away from the dharma, and had been tweaked and manipulated over time by various authors and teachers. He wanted to study honkyoku at the root of each lineage, with knowledgeable masters. At age 24, he was yearning for a broader education as a shakuhachi player.

The magnitude of the task was huge, as the older Fuke honkyoku players were passing way quickly. These older players had played only honkyoku all their lives, and were therefore not influenced (tainted) by gaikyoku or Western playing styles.

He was still single, and his parents helped support this research. This was a formidable undertaking. Ensemble music influence was at its peak. The older honkyoku players were also suspicious of ‘foreign’ shakuhachi players who came from a different province. None of the old players used scores, so each piece had to be memorized before writing it down. Jin Nyodō apparently was extremely adept at learning pieces and writing them down quickly.

Collecting and teaching

Jin Nyodō wasn’t the first shakuhachi player to be a collector: Kurosasawa Kinko (35 pieces) and Higuchi Taizan (33 pieces) were early collectors too. However, they absorbed other lineages on a smaller scale and Jin Nyodō’s collection (more than 150 pieces) was unusual in its size and fidelity to the original temple sources. Takahashi Kouzan may have collected more but they are not apparently notated. Other collectors tended to codify and modify the pieces...Jin tried not to do that. He wanted to transmit each piece as closely as he had been taught. His son, Nyosei, says his father did not change the pieces in his own way. He even tried to respect the blowing technique of each temple piece. He wanted to avoid the unification of different styles under one style umbrella. Of course, oral transmission will result in some changes along the way and Jin’s way with shakuhachi entered into the picture. Jin Nyodō did not share a common belief that honkyoku comes from honnin (the individual personality). However, he felt that the emergence of personality in honkyoku should be positively accepted, depending on the degree and method, and assuming the player has the requisite deep and correct training.

Jin Nyodō understood that honkyoku is dharma. However, all human experience has art interwoven into it. The artistic components of honkyoku playing cannot be dissected out, leaving an artless experience. So, one has to decide wether to play honkyoku as ‘low’ art or as ‘high’ art. He believed in bringing the highest manifestation of art to the koten honkyoku.

When studying Takiochi, Jin went to Asahi taki waterfall in Izu, where the piece was composed. For Kok he went to Asama mountain and Kok temple. For Tsuru no sugomori he went to Kagoshima and Hokkaido to study the life of the crane. For shika no tone he stayed at Mount Kasuga in Nara. For Kyorei he went to China, where it was supposedly composed 1200 years ago.

Jin’s travels took him all over China, Mongolia, Taiwan, to concert halls, temples, shrines and Confucian temples

He composed new pieces in the style of koten honkyoku. For many years from the beginning of the Meiji period, koten honkyoku was preserved by a small number of dedicated enthusiasts/players, but new pieces were not being composed. It was thought that the value was in the preservation of the old pieces and the essence of Fuke-shu suizen. It was unthinkable to compose new pieces. The Fuke sect stated that suizen (blowing meditation) and suiden (blowing transmission) were more important than temple buildings, buddhist images or dogma, and there was a certain musical boundary beyond which players should not go.

Jin Nyodō created Mujushin kyoku and Daiwagaku. Unaccompanied shakuhachi pieces were mostly composed under the influence of Western music. These pieces by Jin Nyodō were based on koten honkyoku modalities. He used the word seikyoku (born pieces) rather than sakkyoku (composed pieces), to maintain the religious spirit of his own honkyoku.

He was a prolific teacher, and taught all over Japan. His determination to transmit a variety of honkyoku from many different sources was unusual at that time, and very welcome to those who studied with him. His freedom to teach so widely is probably related to the fact that he started his shakuhachi life with the small number of nezasaha pieces, and was also a part of the Kinko-ry. If he had belonged to one of the societies preserving Fuke zen, he wouldn’t have been able to be so active and diverse. He was also blessed by his family’s financial support. He didn’t have to teach or perform for income. He loved traveling and had good health to support his activities. He also had the support of many high ranking, cultivated and and wealthy friends. In the era in which he was active, there was little if any crossover of players from one genre to another. Jin Nyodō was extremely unusual in being so active, visible and accomplished in most of the major genres of shakuhachi at that time.

7- and 9-hole shakuhachi

Jin Nyodō also researched and experimented with multiple hole shakuhachi. He used 7-hole shakuhachi and performed ensemble music with it in concert. He also published his experiences with 7-hole and 9-hole flutes in ‘Sankyoku’ magazine, including new fingering methods. He determined that for honkyoku, 5 hole was preferred, but for sankyoku and new pieces composed in the Western style, he preferred 7- or 9 nine-holed flutes.

The Temple collections

Jin Nyodō listed 153 honkyoku. Depending on how they are classified, it could be as many as 200 pieces. It is more appropriate to refer to pieces by their temple’s name rather than the lineage name, in order to classify correctly the traditional playing techniques.

Following is a summary of the temple koten honkyoku collected by Jin Nyod. A distinction is made between the proper lineage of transmitted pieces and the peripheral lineage...pieces transmitted from outside the temple.

Nezasaha also called kinpo-ry. Hirosaki city, Aomori prefecture.
Proper lineage: Shirabe, Sagariha, Matsukaze, Sanya sugagaki, Shishi, Nagashi reibo, Torii, Kadotsuke, Hachigaeshi, Kok
Keys: komoi choshi, yugure choshi, taikyoku choshi, akebono choshi, hon choshi
From outside: Tsuru no sugomori, Reibo, Yugure, Shika no tone, Hifumi cho, Takiochi, Kyushu reibo

Futai-ken Miyagi-ken prefecture, Masuda cho city
Proper lineage: Reibo (aka Sendai reibo, miyagi reibo, Mutsu reibo), Sanya (aka San-an, Akebono reibo)
Outside: Tsuru no sugomori

Shgan-ken (Sh-an ken) Hanamaki in Oshu...northern country. Aomori prefecture
Proper lineage: Reibo (aka Oshu reibo, Mutsu reibo, Kitaguni reibo)
Outside tradition: Tsuru no sugomori

Renpo-ken Fukushima prefecture, Kisen-ken Soma (Aomori)
Proper: Tsuru no sugomori, Jinbo Sanya

Myan-ji Echijo Shimoda, Niigata prefecture
Proper: Sanya, Reibo
Outside: Akita Sanya

Koktai-ji in Etchu
Proper: Horai, Sanya, Reibo

Ikkan-ry, Tokyo
Proper: Rokudan plus others

36 pieces plus tsuki no kyoku

Fudaiji Hamamatsu (called Myan-ry after Meiji)
Proper: Choshi, Shizu, Takiochi, Sanya, Reibo, Koto sugagaki, Akita, Tsuru no sugomori, Mukaiji, Kok, Kyorei. These 11 pieces were called the Seien-ry in Nagoya. Higuchi Taizan transmitted these pieces to Kyoto where they were called Myan-ry. Separately from this, Taizan also transmitted the following 24 secondary pieces to Kyoto:
Hifumi cho, Hachigaeshi, Kyushu Reibo, Zenya, Oshu-ry, Shin-ya no kyoku, Kyotaku
Shika no tone, Sagariha, Ginry Kok, Dako no kyoku, Hokkyo Kok, Monbiraki, Htaku,
Reibo ry, Korobi sugagaki, Chikushi reibo, Aji no kyoku, Akebono shirabe, sugomori, Kumoi no kyoku, Azuma jishi, Sakae jishi, Mutsu reibo

Rygenji in Izu
Proper: Takiochi

Myanji Kyoto (also called shinpo-ry or Myan-ry)
Proper: Kyorei, Kok, Mukaiji, Choshi, Tehodoki reibo, Reibo kyoku,Kitaguni reibo, Sagariha, Sankara sugagaki, Hachigaeshi, Shishi, Yoshino reibo, Rembo-ry, Azuma no kyoku, Zangebun, Shokbun, Ginry Kok, Sanya rinzetsu, Kaiko geon ritzu?, Sagari-on ritzu, Nidan sugagaki, Sakae jishi, Oborozukiyo, Godan rembo-ry, Sandan sugagaki, Konome matsuri, Hime matsuri, Takiochi, Yume mush sugagaki, Rokudan jishi, Sugadani (sugagaki, kanya?) reibo, Ch no kyoku, Kumoi netori, S Mukaiji, S Kok, S Kyorei, Iyo rembo, Toppiki, Kusunokiko, Koakare no kyoku? (lord Kusunoki farewelll to his son), Murasaki reibo, (38 pieces)

Itchokken (also called Meian-ry) in Hakata, Kyushu
Proper: Sashi, Ajikan, Kyushu reibo, Kok reibo, Banshiki, Kumoi jishi, Azuma no kyoku,

Kurume Sashi

Kok reibo

The Naming of honkyoku lineages

Jin Nyodō followed the practice of using temple names to describe an art-style or lineage. Take Myan-ry or Myan honkyoku for example. One theory proposes that ’Myan’ means all the classical honkyoku other than Kinko-ry. Another theory says Myan-ry means those people who blow the Kyoto Myanji pieces. Yet a third theory says Myan-ry means the Myan-ha (lineage) referring to Myan Kyokai. A fourth theory: only the Higuchi Taizan lineage is Myan-ry. Kyushu’s classical honkyoku can also be called Myan-ry.

Shakuhachi koten honkyoku can be called in toto: Myan-ry, with many sub categories. Up until the middle of the Tokugawa period, the shakuhachi world didn’t have any lineage names. During Edo, Kurasawa Kinko increased the number of his students and Miachi Ikkan who was touted as a better player than Kinko, had students who started calling themselves Ikkan-ry to distinguish themselves from Kinko. Naturally Kinko students started calling themselves Kinko-ry. Most likely this is the beginning of lineage names in the shakuhachi world.

As the Kinko-ry increased their influence (due partly to their location in the capital, Edo), their footprint extended out to the provinces. Other groups started to describe themselves by different lineage names too. Some players in Kyoto started calling themselves Myan-ry to differentiate themselves from Kinko people. So Myan-ry came to refer to all the other honkyoku other than Kinko.

Whenever small collections of pieces were transmitted or moved geographically by an individual teacher, they sometimes changed lineage names, or were absorbed into other lineages, or were re-arranged, obscuring their original temple connections. Jin Nyodō wanted to respect the origin of the koten pieces and thus found it most useful to refer to the temple of origin of each piece, in order to preserve the provenance.The Fuke temples have magnificent traditions and art styles and yet they are not named as lineages; Shgan-ken, Futai-ken, Moyoan-ji, Koktai-ji, Kisen-ken, Renpo-ken, Iccho-ken, are some examples. Historical accounts vary, but it seems that there used to be more than 60 Fuke temples across Japan before the end of the Edo period, and perhaps as many as 90.

Jin Nyodō’s musical view, loosely translated from his own writings

Geifu is an art style or blowing technique. When we categorize these many koten honkyoku in terms of geifu, there are 3 kinds: Stillness (sei), Motion (Dō), empty blowing (Kyosui).

We can further categorize the way of blowing into subgroups: kyosui, kusabibuki, komibuki, sasabuki, susumibuki, sokoyuri, koteyuri (small hand swing), karadayuri (whole body yuri), kankyū yuri (slow and fast yuri), kyūkan yuri (rapid and slow), sh dai yuri (small and large yuri), dai sh yuri (large and small yuri), kyō jaku yuri (strong and soft yuri), jakky yuri (soft and strong yuri). Yuri-age (yuri and raise), kari-age, yuri-sage, suri-age, suri-sage, fuki-kiri (blow and cut), fuki-nuke (blow and slip), tobi-kiri (jump and cut), meri-komi, otshi (dropping), meri-otoshi, atari, oshiiro (pushing sound), sugi-iro (succeeding sound), tsutsune (cylinder sound), tamane, tabane, koro ne, kara oto or kara ne, gion (simulating a sound, more than 35 kinds), muraiki. (DS note: I’m not attempting to give any kind of a lucid description of these blowing techniques here! )

Is it rewarding to study all these techniques? Even one technique of one lineage or piece can be a lifetime’s work. If we study so many lineages and pieces, some may say it’s an impossible or unnecessary effort. This is an uninformed point of view. These honkyoku are heaven-sent blessings...why can’t we enjoy them freely? Humans (as distinct from animals) can create art. For instance we all eat cooked food but being trained in cooking elevates our experience of eating.

Teachers need to be versed in many and various pieces, but if you are playing shakuhachi as a hobby you don’t have to play so many pieces. When you are satisfied with one piece, that is fine, play one piece only. If you can enjoy three pieces, just play three pieces. When you enjoy a yin piece just play that yin piece, The same for a yang piece too. If you love kyosui pieces just play those. Suit yourself. Yet even for these few pieces, you need to have a good teacher.

Kōbō (The rule of rise and fall)

All these koten honkyoku have an inherent refinement. If a piece is not good, it won’t be transmitted over the long term. Music in that sense is always alive. Good classical pieces are old, but always new too. Pay attention to maintenance and daily renewal and grow your koten honkyoku. If you omit this maintenance, by the rule of rise and fall, the pieces will change their quality and become diminished.

Human life is short, Art is long. Art gets renewed on a daily basis. If you play untrained, just to copy, then it’s not creation. There are even people who play honkyoku totally out of tune, calling it ‘zen’, and ‘non-artistic’. They are not ashamed of it. Yes, I agree honkyoku is part of zen, but even zen cannot be free from this universe and the human world. The universe and this human world are one big piece of art, What is more, Shmy chant and other living modalities used in the zen sect, together with their associated implements, are all very artistic. I don’t think it can be allowed to be said, that suizen, amongst all zen modalities, should be non-artistic. I understand though, that it is good to avoid falling into the various traps of secular art. One enters into the art of honkyoku, and yet one transcends it too.

Jibun piece (my piece)

These days I hear of honkyoku as ‘my piece’...a piece for myself. Music for myself. This idea has become prevalent, to the point where accomplished players play pieces just as they want, But that is very selfish playing by people who do not understand the universe, the world and the way of art. It is ignorant, selfish blowing. I regret this turn of events. Art has self-expression, but sometimes players will erroneously follow this path without having much of a training for their art. So it is important to study a lot with a good teacher, and to train yourself under instruction. Then you receive some valuable technical skills. Avoid being self-referential, lazy or conceited. Follow the code of uninterrupted discipline. This way of art is very creative and eternal.

Geido (the Way of Art)

The secret of the way of art is in wabi and sabi. Like seeing all of life in a single stem of a flower, as a player you put all of life’s force into the sound of one note, and this transcends life and death. This is true of any Eastern philosophy and art. Sometimes its called kyo or mu. With the tangible you participate in the intangible. With the visible, you go into the invisible. These are deep and high truths, and hard to understand by lay people. Shakuhachi koten honkyoku is an extreme example of this. So when you live in the rarified world of koten honkyoku where nothing is there, that is where you live limitlessly. Like Bashō, Riky, Saigy, you live in Jakubaku (aloneness).

“Autumn evening, This path, no-one is walking
At the foot of the mountain in Winter,
is there anyone else who is enduring this loneliness?”

Unlike Western culture which analytically tries to express the height of the human spirit (extrovert), Eastern culture looks for the heavenly world in this invisible, hidden arena of wabi and sabi. “Willow is green, flowers are red” That is the essence of creation. “Duck’s feet are short, crane’s feet are long”. We want to cultivate the goodness of Eastern culture and learn the benefits of Western culture. Everything goes back to one-ness.

Dream piece (written aged 61)

Now, I learned great techniques at various places and accumulated experience in suizen and chibuki (childish playing) and kyōsō (competitive playing). I experienced the transient nature of the world and the cares of the nation but upon reflection I feel incompletion.

“I know the world is just an evanescent dream
But I don’t get surprised by that in my mind
Creation must be this incomplete dream
I want to live quietly and lonely in this incomplete dream world
nurtured by mother Earth
People seem to be busy
but I think my honkyoku
is nothing but a lonely dream”

Final years

In his later years (Showa 37, 1963) Jin Nyodō visited the USA for 3 months.

In Showa 39 (1965) he had what appears to be a stroke. He recovered somewhat but was again afflicted in Showa 40 and became bedridden. He didn’t leave Ichijo-an again, but taught his students from his bedside. In Showa 41 (1966) there was a severe winter. Jin contracted pneumonia and died on January 18, aged 76. He is buried in Arakawa, Tokyo, in the Jizō-ji temple graveyard.

The life and work of
New shakuhachi for sale