Choosing a shakuhachi

The standard size of shakuhachi is one shaku and eight sun in length which is roughly equivalent to 1.8 feet or 54.5 cms. The name shakuhachi derives from its length; shaku is the old Japanese measurement for foot and hachi is the Japanese for eight. The 1.8 size or hassun is pitched in D and is the best size for beginners. Shakuhachi are made in a variety of other sizes from the tiny 1.3 to the long chokan. Check out current shakuhachi for sale.

There are two contrasting styles of making shakuhachi and many variations between these extremes. The first involves using a style similar to the Zen Buddhist monks from the past. This is a shakuhachi without filler, sometimes called hocchiku (法竹) or ji nashi (地なし). If you look down the bore of a ji nashi shakuhachi you can see some nodes of the bamboo protruding.

The second style uses a filler made up of a secret mixture of ingredients, possibly including lacquer or urushi (漆), a powder called tonoko and water. This is finished to create a polished surface and is called ji ari shakuhachi. I make shakuhachi in both styles and sometimes use a mixture of both-i.e. I keep the protruding nodes but add some filler to improve tuning and response.

Shakuhachi can be made in one piece called nobekan or in two pieces with a middle joint called nakatsuki. There is no difference in quality between both types, only the two piece is easier to transport and usually contains filler.

The top of the shakuhachi is called utaguchi (歌口), literally 'song mouth'. This can contain an insert made of various materials such as ivory, buffolo horn or plastic. The shape of the utaguchi is based on the preference of different schools. See a comparison below:

picture of Kinko school utaguchi

Kinko-ryuu utaguchi

picture of Tozan school utaguchi

Tozan-ryuu utaguchi

Shakuhachi can be bound to help prevent cracking in two ways. The first is surface binding with fishing line. The second uses rattan inlaid into the bamboo with strong binding underneath.

picture of rattan binding

Inlaid rattan binding

picture of black surface binding

Surface binding

The shakuhachi contains four holes on the front and one on the back. These can be drilled in line but also can be offset in longer shakuhachi to ease fingering. Traditionally, shakuhachi are made with seven nodes but six and eight are also common.

picture of inline hole shakuhachi

1.9 Shakuhachi with seven nodes and in-line holes.

picture of offset hole long shakuhachi

Longer 2.4 Shakuhachi with eight nodes and offset holes.