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Season 3: Ep. 12-13: Sounding passages of flow, silence, hospitality, and connection: Japanese Shakuhachi with Kiku Day


This two episode series with ethnomusicologist and Shakuhachi performer Kiku Day explores legacies of shakuhachi performance and how this tradition is practiced in modern times. We explore shakuhachi histories, flow, aesthetics of silence and absence (ma), meri and keri, and approaches to teaching shakuhachi. Conversations on Tamuke, speak to the problems of cultural translation with a central piece of Honkyoku repertoire. Finally, centering peacebuilding we end with a discussion of a Robuki wave, approaches to non-action, action, and a desire to sound that “we are all here” in a universe of sound.

Key words: Flow, shakuhachi, ma, meri keri, Japanese culture, Japanese music, Fuke sect, Komuso, Robuki, peacebuilding

Kiku Day Playing Shakuhachi
Kiku Day with Shakuhachi

Kiku Day is a shakuhachi player and ethnomusicologist. She is a founding member of the European Shakuhachi Society (ESS) for which she served as a chairperson from 2009-2019. Together with Michael Soumei Coxall, she initiated the European Shakuhachi Summer School and Festival in 2006 and was the chair of the World Shakuhachi Festival in 2018.
Kiku Day studied shakuhachi with Okuda Atsuya – one of the foremost performers of jinashi shakuhachi. She studied performance at Mills College and earned PhD in ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London, where she completed research on  jinashi shakuhachi construction and collaborated with five composers in order to create a new repertoire for the instrument.
Several composers have composed works for her, including: Roxanna Panufnik; Takahashi Yuji; Frank Denyer; Marisol Jimenez; Marty Regan; Vytautas Germanavičius.
Kiku Day lives at the Meditation Centre Vækstcenteret in the Western part of Demark. She teaches Zensabo style honkyoku, improvisation and new music in Nørre Snede and Copenhagen, Denmark; Hamburg, Germany and London, UK.

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Discussion Questions

  1. How did the shakuhachi develop and change across time?

  2. Kiku Day is an individual who crosses thresholds of cultural understanding. How do you sense yourself crossing cultural thresholds and engaging acts of cultural translation?
    How is the shakuhachi taught within traditional approaches?


  3. What role does the notion of “flow” play within values, aesthetics, and approaches to teaching? How might flow inform approaches to teaching and peacebuilding that embrace a balance of action and non-action?

  4. Shakuhachi balances a strongly held tradition with individual musical voices that are as unique as the length of an individual breath. How do your cultural practices balance tradition and individuality?

  5. Ma is a notion of silence or meaningful absence that is found within Japanese artistic traditions. How are notions of absence, silence and the implicit meaningful in a world of busyness and noise?

  6. What does it mean for each note to contain the “whole universe”? How is the totality of our being sometimes communicated in our smallest acts of resonance?

  7. Tamuke was problematically recast by Euro-centric languages as a requiem.   How should we pay attention to language as we translate cultural and artistic practices? How have you experienced problems of cultural translation?

  8. In some sense the Robuki Wave is a sounding that “we are all still here.” What is the value of sounding our presence and humanness in moments of trauma and stress?

Episode 12
0:53 Bio
2:19 Thresholds of Identity
4:24 Shakuhachi History
7:04 Samurai in Peace
9:55 Shakuhachi Teaching
15:24 Flow
16:37 Sinubi 1
18:09 Flow Part 2
22:31 Individuality of Breath
23:24 Night Flying Winter Cranes
25:01 Ma, Silence, and Absence
28:17 Meri and Keri
30:55 Sinubi 2
32:16 Closure

Episode 13
1:33 Meditation
5:58 Meditation and Flow
9:40 Universe in Sound
13:90 Cultural Translation
14:20 Tamuke 1
15:59 Acts of Cultural Translation
20:45 Tamuke 2
22:00 Place, Locality, and Ryu
27:04 Robuki Wave
32:41 Robuki Recording
34:57 Komuso Hospitality
38:37 Closure



Day, K. (2022). Mindful playing: A practice research investigation into shakuhachi playing and meditation. Ethnomusicology Forum, 31(1), 143-159. doi: 10.1080/17411912.2021.2025121

Day, K. (2020). Learning music aesthetics through imperfection: The transmission of shakuhachi music. In A. Hamilton & L. Pearson (Eds.), The aesthetics of imperfection in music and the arts: Spontaneity, flaws, and the unfinished (pp. 92-102). Bloomsburg Publishing.

Day, K. (2020). Place and locality in Fuke style shakuhachi: The case of Nezasa-ha Kinpū Ryū. In K. Howard and C. Ingram (Ed.), Presence through sound: Music and place in east Asia (pp. 192-205). Routledge.

Day, K. (2015). “Tamuke”: A shakuhachi requiem . In R. Harris and R. Pease (Ed.), Pieces of the musical world: Sounds and cultures (pp. 139-153). Routledge.

Fung, V. (2018). A way of music education: Classic chinese wisdoms. Oxford University Press.

Higgins, L. (2007). Acts of hospitality: The community in community music. Music Education Research, 9(2), 281-292. doi:10.1080/14613800701384441

Wade, B. (2004). Music in Japan. Oxford University Press.


Kudariha - Shakuhachi Performance

Écayari - Japanese Shakuhachi with Kiku Day

Robuki Wave in a Time of COVID-19

Honte No Shirabe - Kiku Day


Transcript - Episode 12

Shakuhachi1 - 10:29:22, 1.50 PM

Sat, Oct 29, 2022 1:57PM • 33:42


monks, thresholds, kiku, flow, playing, peacebuilding, music, silence, piece, japanese, note, breath, ways, writes, teacher, denmark, de, absence, performer, reintegrate


Kiku Day, Kevin Shorner-Johnson


Kiku Day  00:00

Playing shakuhachi I found that the flow the special flow that each piece has was something that was quite difficult to understand to internalize and to embody. So if I played a piece, and I played the next piece, it somehow very often sounded like the previous piece. Couldn't kind of had to kind of really like imagine the new piece and then play it. And then I could successfully change the flow in some ways.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  00:35

You are listening to season three of the music and peacebuilding podcast, a professional development network at music Exploring intersections of peacebuilding, sacredness, community, creativity and imagination through research and story. Kiku day is a shakuhachi player in ethnomusicologist. She is a founding member of the European shakuhachi society, for which she served as a chairperson from 2009 to 2019. Together with Michael Soumei Coxall, she initiated the European shakuhachi summer school and Festival in 2006 and was the chair of the world shakuhachi Festival in 2018. Kiku Day studied shakuhachi with Okuda Atsuya, one of the foremost performers of jinashi shakuhachi. She studied performance at Mills College, and earned a PhD in ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London, where she completed research on jinashi shakuhachi construction, and collaborated with five composers to create new shakuhachi repertoire. Several composers have composed works for her including Roxanna panufnik, Takahashi Yuji, Frank Denyer, Marisol Jimenez, Marty Regan, and Vytautas Germanavičius. Kiku Day lives at the meditation center Vækstcenteret in the western part of Denmark. She teaches Zensabo style Honkyoku, improvisation and new music and Nørre Snede in Copenhagen, Denmark, Hamburg, Germany, and London, UK.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  02:19

So my I think my opening question is about you as a bridge builder. If I see a theme across your work, it's that that you cross thresholds. And I think the book chapter on Tamuke is also an example of that. That cross cultural translation, and you're helping us to see the ways in which things get reframed as they move across cultures through shakuhachi. But also named some other areas where you you straddle thresholds between your American and Japanese identities, you straddle thresholds between your residence in Denmark, you straddle thresholds of being a practitioner and being an ethnomusicologist, or an academic. And also, my sense is that from the place where you live, which is a center for meditation, there's that that threshold between the outside and the inside. So if you were to narrate a biography of threshold crossing and how that influences your work, how would you start that?


Kiku Day  03:18

Oh, that's a difficult one, actually. Because I think it's just a condition for me to be at these kinds of thresholds. You know, you already mentioned my fundamental threshold in national cultural identities. I actually grew up in Denmark. So the Danish identity is the strongest, although the Japanese and American comes into play as well. So in a way, I think, this kind of crossing thresholds is kind of part of my life. And then it seems like a place where I can play a role as well, maybe I'm thrown into it, and I can't escape it anyway. So I might as well make the most of it in some ways.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  04:14

Yes, most will claim that space.


Kiku Day  04:17

Yes, but it did take quite some battle. to kind of get to that point.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  04:24

Kiku days heritage of threshold crossings, accompanies a history of shakuhachi crossings. The shakuhachi moved from Korean to Japanese cultures in the eighth century, and carries a story of passages between sacred and secular. The shakuhachi also crosses thresholds of a solo instrument and one that has a heritage within the Gagaku ensemble. This instrument became an important activity among a group of wandering Buddhist monks, who formed under the identity of Komuso monks within the Fuke sect. Coming from more than 77 Komuso temples, this loose organization of monks were granted special privileges as samurai to cross community thresholds in seeking arms while playing under the protective cover of woven baskets.


Kiku Day  05:19

Suddenly, the shakuhachi was played by these Komuso monks, Komuso means monks of nothingness. And they had these Komuso temples scattered around the whole of Japan. They had special privileges of playing the shakuhachi, for example, they had monopoly on that. And they supposedly play shakuhachi as their Buddhist practice. It was a strange sect, because there are no layperson. in that sect, it was all monks and the monks had to be from samurai caste or level of society, you couldn't be a peasant who wants to wanted to be a monk, for example. So they wandered around Japan, and they had this privilege that they also could cross into wherever they wanted to go. You couldn't stop a Komuso monk. So they played for alms. And it's that repertoire that we call honkyoku. So, hon can be translated as original or base or, you know, the fundamental pieces. And I think we today know about 250 pieces. Not at all that many are known very well today. But that's the heritage from the Edo period till now the honkyoku pieces that these monks played.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  07:04

I'm just curious about something and maybe totally off. But one of the things that we talk about in peacebuilding a lot is that after there's been a period of violence, one of the biggest struggles is reintegrating combatants into society, such that they can reintegrate, and I'm always curious about was the shakuhachi a tool for a warrior class to be reintegrated during a time of peace? Or is that an erroneous guess? Or conclusion?


Kiku Day  07:33

It's I've never seen it described like that. But most of the time, when you look at, like also Japanese documents, talking about the role of the Fuke sect as such of the Komuso monks, it says that, since it was a peaceful time, and a lot of these samurais did actually become unemployed in the sense that they're, you know, their Lords didn't need them anymore. And since the Japanese society was very hierarchical, they couldn't just become a merchant or that would be a very terrible downgrade in frank, in some ways in at that time. But becoming a monk was something that was regarded not so bad, that was an acceptable transition to another role. Yeah, so yes, you could say that the Komuso or the Fuke sect or Komuso monks did have that role. They took in and, and gave, samurais, who otherwise didn't have any, anything to do a purpose in life, but that also gave a lot of trouble. And we do have historical documents of the two main Komuso temples, ??? and the other one slips my mind, but the two main ones, they made a decree that Komuso monks shouldn't drink or shouldn't get into fights or these kinds of things. So for sure, though, there was a lot of trouble with those people. And the Japanese, the older generation as well have a quite a negative image of Komuso monks. Yeah, it's so it's not so romantic as as many might want to think. It's certainly very complex, I would say.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  09:55

Okay, so if we turn the conversation to how the shakuhachi is taught, learned and lived. I wanted to, to move into your recent article in which you were talking about your shakuhachi teacher. And you said that Okuda, if I'm saying that right, often said, play your shakuhachi, so that one sound contains the whole universe and that playing shakuhachi is the union of opposites. So could you paint a picture of what it was like to study with Okuda and how one sounds the universe and brings together opposites through shakuhachi study and playing?


Kiku Day  10:32

Yes, it was really a cultural surprise or new thing for me to study with Okuda. Since I grew up in Denmark, I, you know, I went to Japan to study shakuhachi. And I made the decision to make the shakuhachi come to me. So I actually waited until the shakuhachi came to me. And then I was introduced to Okuda. Today, I'm really happy that that was how it happened. And so what is very often talked about when shakuhachi scholars, several of us, write about the teaching method, is this tacit knowledge that is handed over, I would say, Okuda actually started with teaching me quite a difficult piece. I can't imagine starting students off with that piece. But so we stayed with this piece for more than a year. And slowly, slowly, I was kind of able to, but I was a flautist. So I wasn't the slowest, I could blow I knew how to use my breathing and how to move my fingers and things like that. So, but still, I mean, I remember friends, you know, saying are you still only playing on that, that one piece? What piece was that? That was actually Tamuke. Okay. So a lot of people, teachers today will teach little children's melodies or folk music pieces that are easier, these kinds of things. But Okuda went straight in and taught honkyoku.


Kiku Day  12:27

So these pieces from the Komuso monks, and that was also what I was interested in. So I was really grateful for that. Because if I had gone to one of the teachers who would take me through a lot of other repertoire, first, I think I would have lost my patience, and gone back to playing the flute. But I kind of kept with it. And the way he taught was, of course, in the beginning, he will teach me, you know, phrase by phrase, he will show, I will imitate, and we will go through the piece. And from then on, we just played it together. And I could of course, stop him. But it was kind of implicit that you didn't. So if there were places that I wanted to make sure I heard I could hear him play, I, you know, I try really to play softly and hear how he would play and just follow. But a lot of the time for me, I just tried to follow up, sometimes it was actually really hard. He didn't slow down anything like that. And if I got lost, he would just play on and then I had to find the place to, a place of hidden. So that piece like Tamuke, which was first time, I will estimate that I have played with him 100 times together. And this was actually a very, very interesting way. I mean, it's a lot of time, written and describe that you you know, the teacher often is very silent. So you silently pass over and it's the student's responsibility to "steal the art" as the Japanese have a concept of "stealing the art." And so the art is openly there, you know, he'll play with you, you can see the fingers you can see how we blow through and can hear how it sounds live. And then it's up to you to learn from it. And it's very interesting how a piece opens up in the beginning you just concentrated on on moving your fingers then you can also add in the beginning at least when you are a more experienced player that comes at the same time but then you add changing the head positions and then all the aesthetical you know the ornamentation on all this that's not written in the score. And that comes along afterward. Slowly, slowly, you're able to take another level in.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  15:24

Drawing upon scholarship from Victor Fung. I note that many Confucian, Daoist and dharma traditions center flow and the softness of water as a model of ethics and beauty flow offers gentle patient persistent change, and a model of kindness that is as natural as the flow of water. Flow is an action of motion and a non action of stillness. Bonnie Wade's text on Japanese music describes Koto music as a kind of "flowing ongoingness." Kiku Day writes that flow is found in the practices of shakuhachi teaching. As students learn by playing alongside the teacher, Day remembers, "my teacher spoke often about flow. He even said it in English many times to be sure I understood him." in teaching and peacebuilding flow may be an ongoing balance between action and non action, movement and stillness that opens generative possibilities. Listen here to a recording of Kiku de playing Sinubi [music].


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  18:09

I've read in a number of your articles or books about how this practice of playing along with the teacher is something that really centers flow and it centers, this idea that everybody has their own breath, and their own length of breath, if I'm understanding that, right?


Kiku Day  18:24

that the flow of the piece Yes, and that's one thing that's very, very difficult on shakuhachi because the tempo changes all the time. And it can change within one phrase and slow down within the same phrase and, and it's alive all the time. So it's something that will be very difficult to write down. And even if you wrote it down, it will be too complicated. But when you're playing along this way, you kind of learn it intuitively. So the this kind of mimicking practice is certainly a very efficient way of teaching this complicated flow of a piece. You know how and where are the silences where are the, you know breaks in between and, and things like that. If you're a very good student, I've heard that you're just a fraction of a second behind your teacher so you just have that momentary listen of what he's or she's doing. So yes, and also flow of a piece. I think I've never thought about this, playing piano or traverse flute or anything like that. But playing shakuhachi I found that the flow, the special flow that each piece has was something that was quite difficult to understand to internalize and to embody. And so if I played a piece, and I played the next piece, it somehow very often sounded like the previous piece. Couldn't kind of had to kind of really like, imagine the new piece, and then play it. And then I could, you know, successfully change the flow in some ways. And this is interesting, because I don't have this problem anymore. But I don't know when that changed. I certainly remember that was one of the very difficult things to go from a piece to the next. And make sure that you knew from the beginning, what piece you're playing, what kind of feeling it has, and what flow it has.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  21:05

Yeah. That's, that's a word that I have seen come up and Bonnie Wade's writing as well, as she writes about the koto and other incidences that word Flow is used a lot in English descriptions of practices of Japanese music. So it's interesting.


Kiku Day  21:24

Yeah, I think also, because that's the thing. Now, the honkyoku is a solo repertoire. So I have mostly done in traditional Japanese music, only solo music. And, but of course, solo is not the only thing that exists and, and in ensemble music, you have very much a concept where you are supposed to breathe together. So as long as your breath is, you know, in accordance to each other, then you can kind of, you know, speed up or slow down. That that's very interesting, and an extremely difficult thing to catch. I think I haven't tried it very many times, so I'm not very experienced in it. But it's similar to how the flow is when you play solo music, just that you then have to make sure that you're doing it in accordance with the other person. The other person's


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  22:31

Shakuhachi instruction unwinds a search for the individuality of breath, and the particular nature of a composition. Of breath, Day writes, quote, "as all players have different durations of breath, length and speed are thereby determined by the performers own breathing. Okuda often told me in lessons that the only rhythm and honkyoku is the rhythm of your breath, not mine, not anybody else's, but your own. The following recording of Night flying winter cranes for shakuhachi and electronics is performed by Kiku Day and composed by Mogens Christensen. This recording is provided with generous permission of the performer, composer and record label [music].


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  25:01

So let's open up that word of Ma or that idea of silence or emptiness. And I was really interested in your recent article on meditation that there was a moment in which you really started paying attention to Ma as a part of your meditation practice. So could you introduce my listeners to Ma and why it's so important in shakuhachi, it's not an afterthought, but it's something that you lean into, in some ways.


Kiku Day  25:28

Yes, Ma is hard to define, it's very often described as silence in case of music, the empty part of a painting, like, if you have a brush painting, then there are parts of it, where the brush haven't been, that's the Ma, or if it's speech, it's the silence, but ma at the same time also affects the length of the notes itself. So Ma is in some way, also the flow, I would say. But very often, because Ma itself, the character is in between. So it is very often considered as what's in between the silence. But it's, it affects also the non silent part. Yeah, so in a way, maybe Ma is even flow, I would say, but there's in shakuhachi, music, the the part where you play and the part that is silent, it's, in some ways, equally important. Some would even say the silence is important. And some times it really depends on the teacher and the style. The thing is, the shakuhachi has so many different guilds, or groups. And each of those have quite different aesthetic values, that it's hard to talk about, you know, making meta theory on it. So I can really only speak about the the styles that I have learned and, and played but as a scholar, I've gotten into playing more styles. If I was only a performer, I will be very happy with Okuda's ???. But as a scholar, yes, I needed to go into more into the different styles


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  27:42

found in the negative space of a painting, and the silence between notes. Ma is meaningful absence that carries unsounded intentions. Not only the absence itself, but the entrance and departure of absence. In our rush to dominate voids with streams of activity, we may benefit from an imagination of how we enter absence, offering the gentleness of meaningful silence.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  28:17

And there's a relationship with Meri and Keri, and I think that you talked about how the Meri head position leads into the silence. Is that correct? Or


Kiku Day  28:27

both Keri and Meri, Yeah, Keri, is the head position where you play kind of normal notes, when you just open the holes and Meri is you lower the note by actually, you know, you change the relationship between the mouthpiece and and your lips, and you actually close more of the big open hole and at the top. And you know what the note but the quality of sound changes and you also have to blow softer because the hole will get smaller. So the timbre is very different, much softer. A little bit darker maybe. And so, both Keri and Meri notes can lead into Ma or silence. But they have a, I would say this interpretation obviously. And maybe not everyone will agree on this. But I would say that if you end on a Meri note, then there is this tension in the Ma that comes after or the the silence that come after that has this I have this feeling that something must come. It's like you there is, it feels a little bit like magnetism in some ways. You know that there's something that's drawn to it and very often When you end on a Meri note, then you pick up with a Merk note And then you kind of release it with a brighter, stronger Keri note. So, the quality of Ma ending on a Meri note the quality of Ma or silence, if we talked about, if we use it like that after Keri note is very different, because on a Keri note you would usually really, really fade out. And it could be an ending, you know, it doesn't have to be but it can be much more than that. Of course, it's much more complex than that, but I would really say that a Meri note, a silence after Meri or Keri note has this very different feel to it.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  30:55

We conclude with a return to the recording of Sinubi provided with generous permission by Kiku Dau the composer Takahashi Yuji [music].


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  32:16

Our time within absences may be a needed rest for the sonic and spatial dominations of our time. May we open silent space to explore cross thresholds and find voice that is as unique as the length of our own breath. In the next episode, we continue this conversation with an examination of performances that contain an entire universe in a single sound. Special thanks to Kiku Day, Takahashi Yuji, Mogens Christiansen, and the record label for permission to use recordings in this podcast. Kiku Day's CD titled "wild ways" can be found on streaming services everywhere. Her website is that WWW dot Kiku


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  33:08

This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson. At Elizabethtown College, we host a master of music education with an emphasis in peacebuilding. thinking deeply we reclaim space for connection and care. Join us at music


Transcript - Episode 13

Shakuhachi2 - 10:29:22, 1.49 PM

Sat, Oct 29, 2022 1:58PM • 40:18


meditation, play, kiku, sound, people, players, peacebuilding, piece, day, wave, mu k, passage, universe, peace, community, world, requiem, question, japan, record


Kiku Day, Kevin Shorner-Johnson


Kiku Day  00:00

There's something interesting I find with this kind of instrument that has managed to kind of speak to so many people in so many parts of the world. And if we all then think about world peace or community, the time where we do this together, you know I'm hoping that will create a little bit more of empathy maybe


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  00:29

you are listening to season three of the music and peacebuilding podcast, a professional development network at music, exploring intersections of peacebuilding, sacredness, community, creativity and imagination. Through research and story. We return to the second part of our conversation with Kiku Day where we continue conversations of shakuhachi performance, meditation and moments where the whole universe might be contained in a single sound. Kiko Day is a shakuhachi player and ethnomusicologist. She studied shakuhachi with Akudo Otsuya, one of the foremost performers of jinashi shakuhachi. Day studied performance at Mills College and earned a PhD in ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London, where she completed research on jinashi shakuhachi construction, and collaborated with five composers to create new repertoire for the instrument.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  01:30

And if we pivot to your recent article on meditation, first I was, I was really astounded by the length of that study of that of that auto ethnography, I think you started in 2004, is what you said in the article or something like that. Oh 2014 Sorry, I took that too far back, but 2014. And, you know, by asking yourself questions afterwards, what I think you came to understand is that there is a place where you reached where you were able to really balance between being, being able to hear the sound and then being aware of what's happening internally, within yourself. I was wondering if you might talk about that journey a little bit. And what you learned from asking questions of yourself, as you're playing shakuhachi as a meditation practice.


Kiku Day  02:25

I mean, the reason for I embarked on this was that many people, actually, you know, come to shakuhachi, through the meditation practice, especially if it's Zen Buddhism, then they kind of encounter the shakuhachi. And I encounter many people, but especially outside Japan, I have to say, that play shakuhachi as a meditation, and I was just wondering, how do you actually play and meditate? You know, what does it actually mean? And there's a lot of things in in the story of shakuhachi, Zen Buddhism and meditation, that is a bit of a mystery, to me at least. And so if it was a meditation practice, with the aim ???, so one sound become a Buddha. So meaning that you break through into enlightenment through this one sound that should you know, be a representative of the sound of the universe. I didn't answer that question. So, I was just wondering, you know, for example, why aren't there any stories of enlightened shakuhachi people, shakuhachi players. I mean, in various, Zen, Buddhist if we stick with that, documentation and description, you have these great masters. So I was wondering about all this, about the shakuhachi and meditation. So why don't we have like people who were great masters in, in shakuhachi and meditation, for example.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  04:05

Day finds meditation as, quote, the ability to be present in a given moment, while being non judgmental, and attentionally aware of the moment. Returning to our earlier language of thresholds, Day notes that a goal of meditation is to blur the boundaries between self and surroundings. Shakuhachi players assume a bodily form that affects one's mind and enters states of flow upon repeated practice. Kiku Day asks about differences between the non judgmental awareness of meditation and the immersive loss of self awareness in flow states. As she explored meditation in her playing, Day writes, quote, I began to work with breathing to transmit the quality of stillness, while experimenting on playing and meditating, I worked with the visualization of a flow entering me from above my head, down into my body, and out through the heart, and through the shakuhachi. This felt like the first step towards meditation and playing, and the visualization of the breath, fitted well with the playing of the shakuhachi.


Kiku Day  05:58

So I started doing it. And that's also where flow comes into this kind of, when I'm looking into meditation and shakuhachi, because that's the flow state that Csikszentmihalyi talks about that's another flow than the musical flow, right? But the inner kind of sense of flow, where you kind of forget yourself, and you've embodied the music enough to, to play it, even though that you're not any longer maybe reading the score, or very aware of what you're doing. And it's usually very pleasant when it happens like this. But I was just wondering, you know, is this enough is this is really meditation. Because when, as you also mentioned, I do live in a meditation center. And I think meditation is a lot of hard work. It's a lot of meditation time that feels like a waste of time. To be honest, I sit there and nothing happens. And I'm thinking about what shall we have for dinner tonight and these kind of things. And so why is it so hard on your cushion? If it's not that hard on the shakuhachi? So as that kind of led me to try and to really ask these questions. So I use this micro phenomenology interview technique of


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  07:36

Self elicitation?


Kiku Day  07:37

Yeah, exactly. So it's a way to kind of get beyond, you know, your habits, your pre reflective memory kind of thing. And it was a very interesting process. And I did very, very, very small steps, I must say, there was some some part of that time where I did this diary thing. I almost gave up on it. I don't have any results, I can write about any time. But it's small, little by little, I found out little things I had, as I also described in the article, I had this ??, almost, you know, how can I actually actively play and at the same time, let go of any attachment to what's happening? You know, you know, should I not care if I was playing out of tune, if I played wrong, or if I stopped playing, How can I actually keep playing if you really should let go of everything. So it's little by little, I found out how I could still, you know, how, where is it that it was closer to the sitting meditation, where, you know, I'm sitting down and meditating. So I am actively doing something. You know, it's, it seems so banal, but it actually took me a really long time to make these kinds of parallels. And also, the activity you do in meditation, you know, you concentrate on your breathing, or you focus on a few things in order to get into the real or the right state. For meditation, it's kind of a pure state so I started being able to do that on shakuhachi too.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  09:39

As day engaged in meditation, she remembered Okuda's teachings, that quote, the aim is that one single sound corresponds to the sound of the universe. To succeed in shakuhachi playing is to realize the universe in sound that is quote, "A union of opposites" in crossing thresholds of inside-outside, a meditative approach to the shakuhachi might be this realization of a "union of opposites."


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  10:16

If we jump back to that topic that we really didn't open up, which is about how the whole universe is contained within a sound, I remember too that when I was reading a long time ago about Suzuki and about violin teaching, even, that this was the reason why Suzuki focused so much on tone, before children would move on to more advanced pieces, that this idea that the entire universe is contained within a sound and therefore, that's the reason why you wanted to develop the most resonant tone. So could you open up what you understand about the whole universe being contained within a sound?


Kiku Day  10:54

It's the complexity of the sound, one. And if we still keep with the meditation, you know, that's, this is part of meditation, where you let go of everything. But in order to do that, you have to draw into awareness, basically everything. You know, because how can you let go of it, if you're not aware of it, kind of thing. And that's also why meditation also is about, you know, where are your dark spots, your blind spots and these kinds of things. So in a way, the parallel with the sound is now I can mostly best speaking, speak from the shakuhachi, part of time, and especially what Okuda told me, but the shakuhachi tone is very complex. So he says that it, he actually today prefers to say, represents the whole universe. So there's both, you know, the very beautiful sounds and the ugly sounds and everything in one. In some ways. There's this concept that is very, very used in shakuhachi. That the aim, the type of sound that we aim for, is when the wind accidentally blows across decayed bamboo and makes a sound. Of course, it's, it's a metaphor. But for Okuda and the way he taught this, the sound of the universe was actually quite important. You know, so, in order to make you sound rich, but not all the time, so the timbre differences that you should actually be able to control was quite rich. Otherwise, you couldn't express the whole universe.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  13:19

Acts of cultural translation require humility, and new approaches to listening. In a chapter on Tamuke and cultural translation, de writes about how non local languages have recast the complex artistic expressions of passages as a requiem. The piece Tamuke described in literature as sacrifices and offerings to a traveler's guardian deity, and or the Buddha. This is layered side by side with care for the safe passage of the deceased from one life to the next. However, the piece Tamuke has been recast by Western languages as a requiem, problematically limiting the peace to Eurocentric understandings of death, grief and loss. Reclaiming the rooted complexity of Tamuke listen here to an excerpt of Tamuke a generously recorded by Kiku Day for this podcast [music]


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  15:59

Let's transition to acts of cultural translation. So if we take your book chapter on Tamuke I think that one of the things that this book chapter points to is the fact that language and practices are always grounded within an ecosystem of meaning that exists in that spot and the problematic things that happen when you suddenly re label that as a requiem. And the the associations that then come from, from being a piece about a passage to being a piece I recommend. So can you talk about this and talk about the, the, the language problems that come when you try to take a piece like that and reinscribe it as a requiem?


Kiku Day  16:42

So yes, Tamuke is a very interesting piece, apart from being the first piece I learned. For some reason, it wasn't a very popular piece before, there's very, very few recordings of it, like when they started recording Honkyoku. But after a certain shakuhachi player, Yoko ?? played it, especially his teacher ?? also playing it, it kind of took off because it's very melodic. And it may be this whole idea of a piece for passage that became translated as a requiem, and is written on many CD covers and things that it's a requiem when I have a big problem with that, because requiem is a very specific genre, with a very specific form and Tamuke is not a requiem. You know, you can say you can compare it if that's what you want. But I also think that if you look into the Word, Tamuke, Tamuke, was anything, you know, any kind of prayer for any kind of passage, and it was especially used for travel. So on these kind of very standard roads that people traveled or, there are little temples for Tamuke so for people to go in and pray for safe travel. They're also like, very typical boat ride harbors, there will be a little corner for a temple where you could do your Tamuke prayer. So it kind of changes very much the meaning. So, Tamuke, certainly is also, you know, the passage from living to death, because that's certainly also a passage, but it's not the only one. But now it's really become such a funeral piece. it in a way, it's the piece has now a new meaning and new or I wouldn't say it's new, it's but... maybe a narrow meaning, but used a lot. That's. So it has changed meaning. And it has also opened up for the use kind of across the globe. Because life and death exist everywhere.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  19:43

But it has changed the way that piece is performed. Like I think you know, that it's made performers play it slower because I think it's a sad Requiem, when in actuality it maybe should be played a little faster. If it's if it's truly a passage piece.


Kiku Day  19:57

It would have been, I suppose, or Yeah, but as we don't have much recording of it, in that sense, it's, it's hard to but you could speculate that that's certainly there have been some notes added so it kind of also changed the scale a bit, or modality, and, and into a modality where there are other sad songs. So yeah, it's totally become a very sad piece. I overheard Okuda say to his students don't play play too sad, it doesn't have to be that sad.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  20:47

we return to our performance of Tamuke by Kiku Day [music].


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  21:59

In an article on place and locality in Fuke style shakuhachi Day looks at a diversity of localized practice through the case of the Nezasa-ha Kinpu Ryu because Fuke sects were directly tied to localized places, this allowed different shakuhachi schools or ryu to develop the Nezasa-ha Kinpu Ryu developed as a unique style that included a packing or pumping breath known as komibuki. Day writes, quote, by connecting and embedding a particular sound with a particular use of the body to create komibuki by players native to Hirosaki a sense of authenticity is constructed that connects to the soil of the place. This quote, collective body technique is a quote, new way of knowing, understanding and relating to the world and perhaps also to oneself.


Kiku Day  23:01

The shakuhachi as I told you, already, you know has so many guilds and so many different styles of playing. But that's always their, their main groups, and the more kind of powerful groups and the ones that entered the Conservatory, the ones that produce most ethnomusicologists and these kind of things. And, but there are quite a few groups still left, that's soon gonna disappear. Because these styles are looked upon a little bit like, not interesting, it's not so professional, it's not as flashy, it's not it might they might not play like intune to Western equal scale which has become the norm in Japan. So, there is some kind of a power structure there, that I would certainly like to become like, at least a voice of some of these smaller groups, you know, make people discover them, and they they exist, maybe, you know, I can't save them from disappearing, but at least letting them have some attention than I think they deserve. So when I, for example, was the chairperson of the executive committee of the world shakuhachi Festival in 2018. Try to invite as many of these groups as possible, you know, representatives of these in some times rural, but it doesn't even have to be rural but just not the major part of the mainstream shakuhachi world. So in a way, I find that also some kind of peace work, you know, of giving some lesser known people lesser known players a voice.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  25:19

I think that that has been a theme that I've noticed I've, I've done an interview with a with a scholar on Korean samul nori, and I've done a interview with with a performer on the Koto. And one of the themes that I notice is that resonance of the Meiji rapid modernization and that, that question is still out there about what does it mean to modernize and then progress? And maybe now as we encounter climate change, is that new question about like, to what extent of progress? And to what extent is it good to modernize and how do you modernize? All those questions are there I think musically that are really important. Absolutely.


Kiku Day  26:03

And I think I mean, that Japan went through such a rapid I mean, modernization that was also partly a westernization you know, with only teaching western music in, in schools and after a few generations Western music was the most common, you know, musical language of the country. So it is a very interesting place, you know, where, where, when is it actually Japanese music and and what is the musical language of the people? What is important for them and what is it no and, and of course, yeah, the power balance between some of those


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  26:53

Yeah, who gets to decide, yes, that's, that's that really interesting question in ethnomusicology as well.


Kiku Day  26:59

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  27:03

This podcast and our earlier podcast on Korean samul nori live into modern traditions that are held across vast distances of virtual space. In today's practice of shakuhachi performance, the majority of shakuhachi players reside outside of Japan. As Kiku Day experienced the disconnect of isolations of the start of the COVID pandemic, Day connected shakuhachi players across the world to perform a Robuki wave as a sign that we are all still here, connected, and compassionate.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  27:41

Okay, I think I want to finish with some of the work that I see you doing on YouTube. You do you do wonderful interviews, by the way. And I really enjoyed watching some of your interviews and some of your pieces on YouTube. Thank you. Yeah. But I think our peacebuilding audience would be really interested in the Robuki wave, if I'm saying that right? Yes, yes. And this is a wave that you did at the beginning of the pandemic, when everything felt like chaos. And then it's a wave that you did just recently in the wake of the, of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So could you talk about this wave and, and what it does and how it creates participation and how you've used zoom, then to take it to the next level as far as the wave?


Kiku Day  28:32

Yes. In the shakuhachi community, and it's especially the international shakuhachi community, I have to say, it's hard to be very equal with the Japanese kind of community, it's a language barrier and things, but it's opening up, but... there have being certain occasions where there have been suggested that everybody plays something like Tamuke at one specific time. For example, at the funeral of ??, she was a professor at Osaka, University of Fine Arts and the first professional shakuhachi researcher. And at her funeral, that was the suggestion so there have been occasions like that, where, you know, people suggested let's play, and what happened, then, will in the beginning of the pandemic was that it felt like we needed something that held us or that could make us feel the community and we are still here, but if we decide on time, there will always be some people who for whom it's disadvantage, because the earth is round. And, and in a way, it also felt very much like the condition we've lived with, I mean, some people are always in disadvantage. So it's actually a colleague of my ??, who said, we need to do a wave. And the moment she said wave, I was like, "Yes, we suggest everybody plays at their own 12 o'clock or something like that." And then it's a wave around the world. And we did, we did this. Can't remember, if we did it every day for quite a long time. And so everybody posted on social media and and there wasn't at that time, there wasn't any particular you know, how long is time you should do it, though. How many times how many minutes or anything but just to  participate. And then we started collecting videos. And we made this video of people playing Robuki. Robuki is just one note, the lowest note on the shakuhachi you can play, it's part of the practice, you could say, to play long notes of the lowest note. So in a way it was already inherent in the, in the culture and practice. And also, it's so simple that beginners could join. It wasn't anything complicated. And, and even if you were the best shakuhachi player in the world, it's still a basic training that is good to do. So it was a very good practice to do and, and it did actually do something for the sense of community. The sense of "we all still here" even though we have this very scary unknown thing as especially in the beginning. So it was great. So we yeah, we did kind of the same thing, the beginning of the war in Ukraine, but I prefer to call it for world peace, Robuki for world peace. So what's not only that so that we could also have in our mind so there are lots of other places of war and social unrest and, and discrimination and all these kinds of thing.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  32:46

Hello, I am Pierot from France. And I'm Kiku Day from Denmark we were some shakuhachi players wondering how we could play shakuhachi together you know us players around the world in this difficult time of COVID-19. So I made a decision to create a wave of sound only by playing one note what is our tradition? And I immediately thought yes! that's it we create a wave if all of us played around 12 o'clock noon, then this "Ro" sound will go around the world you know as long as we want to. This is a video showing some of the people who participated in that wave


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  33:33



Kevin Shorner-Johnson  33:58



Kevin Shorner-Johnson  34:19

North America


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  34:39



Kevin Shorner-Johnson  34:57

A Robuki for world peace appears to live into distant calls of hospitality and offering that come from the best parts of Komuso traditions of shakuhachi performance Drawing Derrida and a community-centered Samba band, Lee Higgins notes, hospitality is the crossing of thresholds. When we release the tight boundaries of us to make space for hospitality, quote, "community becomes a preparation for the incoming of the other, generating a porous, permeable, open ended affirmation." Day speaks of traditions of consolation, and the connection between hospitality and grief, to connect an empathetic universe and sound.


Kiku Day  35:48

You know, one of the roles that the Comiso had was, of course, to play for people who needed consult consultants or


Kiku Day  36:01

consolation. And I have an acquaintance who, who have actually been a Komuso the past decades in Japan, and he told me that people who are going through very hard times, would at times also invite the Komuso in, give him food and make him play and then it kind of created a space where this person could cry, and, and kind of at the same time, be kind to this Komuso so there was some some kind of relief feeling, I think. So perhaps, that this is, of course, a modern kind of situation, but perhaps similar situations have been going on in the past as well. So it's not that the shakuhachi tradition comes directly into world peace kind of thing alone. It has no direct connection. But I think, with the simplicity, and also the fact that the shakuhachi becomes such an international instrument, I mean, you can hardly call it a Japanese instrument anymore. So many people playing in so many people, both in and outside Japan are experimenting with the construction, the playing styles, and all these kinds of things. So it's become quite International. So there's something interesting I find with this kind of instrument that has managed to kind of speak to so many people in so many parts of the world. And if we all then, at least, think about world peace, or community. The time where we do this together. You know, I'm hoping that will create a little bit more of empathy.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  36:01



Kevin Shorner-Johnson  38:27

May we posture our bodies, finding the rhythm, the length of our own breath, and enter the flow of soundings that hold generous space for silence. and absence. May we generate passages to connect, to grieve, to feel to love. We're thresholds open to hospitalities of a universe of here.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  39:03

Special thanks to Kiku Day Takahashi Yuji and Mogens Christensen for permission to use recordings in this podcast. Kiku Day's CD titled "Wild Ways" can be found on streaming services everywhere. Her website is at This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson. At Elizabethtown College, we host a master of music education with an emphasis in peacebuilding. thinking deeply we reclaim space for connection and care. Join us at music peace

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