The shakuhachi is certainly
Japan's most well-known woodwind instrument. A vertically-held bamboo
flute, it is made from the very bottom of a bamboo tree. Bamboo is hollow
except for the nodes which are spaced at intervals along the pipe. These
nodes are knocked out to form the complete hollow length of the pipe. Four
finger holes are put on the front of the instrument and a thumbhole on the
back. The mouthpiece is the open top of the pipe itself with the front
side cut at a slight and angle to facilitate blowing the instrument.
Although the placement of holes and tuning of the instrument is a very delicate process, the instrument itself is of a basically simple construction. It is this very fact, however, which allows for very complex techniques in playing the instrument such as the use of the breath with changes in the blowing angle for great or minute changes in sound quality, or partial-holding of finger holes to make delicate pitch changes.
The instrument takes its name from its standard length of one foot (shaku) and eight (hachi) parts of a foot, approximately 54cm. There are other lengths of the instrument as well, all with the general name of shakuhachi.
The shakuhachi has served as a unique bridge between the cultures of Japan and the West. The classical honkyoku are one of the very few areas in which individualis can find acceptable expression in the rigid society of Japan, while in the West this same music offers deep insight into Zen Buddhism and all that it implies.