ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Japanese Bamboo Flute, Shakuhachi Zen Flute - History and Facts

Updated on July 2, 2011
Shakuhachi Flute
Shakuhachi Flute

What is Shakuhachi?

The Shakuhachi, or also known as Zen flute is a Japanese end blown flute. Traditionally, the flute is made from bamboo and was used by Zen Buddhist monks for meditation because of its soulful and relaxing sound. It is also the Japanese most well-known woodwind instrument. Although it may looks amazingly simple in structure but it can delivers an array of impressive tones from gentle and ethereal to rough and fierce.


The roots of the shakuhachi date back to ancient China. It came from China to Japan somewhere in the 6 – 7th century. Eventually the flute became a music instrument for those referred to as Zen and Fuke sect. Those Buddhists roamed the country wearing a braided hat called “amigasa” and playing their shakuhachi flute. During the Edo Period, some of them were said to have put their privilege to use and perform spy activities. They used the shakuhachi as a weapon if they encountered former enemies.

Ancient shakuhachis are now kept in shrines and temples such as the Horyuji and Shosouin. However, these ancient shakuhachis are different in shape and length compared to recent instrument. This Japanese bamboo flute is made from the bottom portion of a bamboo stalk (incIuding pan of the root), but versions now exist in ABS and hardwoods. The world has come to love the dynamic and mystical sound produced from this instrument and it is possible to reach a range of between 2 – 3 octaves.


Shaku is the old Japanese measurement for foot, whereas hachi is the word for eight. Therefore shakuhachi means ‘one point eight feet’ – standard length for shakuhachi. There are four holes on top of the flute and one hole underneath (for the thumb). But there are also shakuhachis which has seven tuning holes for playing folk songs. Even though shakuhachi has a standard length of 1.8 feet, but different lengths of shakuhachi can also be found which range from the tiny 1.3 to the long 3.6.

Types and Characteristics

Being one of the simplest non-percussive instruments ever conceived. Shakuhachi flute has no keys or pads like a western flute, no mechanism inside like organ or piano, no strings like a violin or guitar, and no reed like a clarinet or saxophone.

Shakuhachi can be made in one or two pieces (with a middle joint). Two of them has no difference in quality, but the two-piece shakuhachi usually contains filler and is therefore easier to transport. The mouthpiece has an oblique blowing edge that enables the player to control the pitch and sound produced by changing the angle at which the flute is blown. This, in turn, produces a unique and delicate change of intonation – a bending or swelling of notes characteristic of the traditional music.

Komuso playing shakuhachi
Komuso playing shakuhachi

How to use Shakuhachi

In order to use it, the player has to blow across the top of the instrument to get a sound. The blowing and breathing is similar to the western flute which is held horizontally. If you notice there is an insert at the top called song mouth or utaguchi. The player has to leave some holes partialy open to get the notes they want. This is accompanied by lifting and lowering the head in a technique called meri-kari. He can also use his head to create vibrato or yuri.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Bud Gallant profile image

      Bud Gallant 

      7 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

      This is very fascinating.

      Thanks Susan. I really love Japanese culture. Wonderful to learn about these flutes for the first time.

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      7 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      A very interesting Hub. The simplicity of the instrument is its beauty. Thank you for this very good information. Peter


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)