The significance of Oshu and Echigo honkyoku for the student
The honkyoku from the former Oshu and Echigo provinces (Tohokuken) are perhaps the most nuanced and deep of all the honkyoku. They’re also rare in that they can include an element of improvisation. The Oshu and Echigo honkyoku make use of various unique yuri or “vibrato” including yuri using the lips and or jaw. These honkyoku had a large impact on masters Watazumi and Jin Nyodo, to name a few. These regions were known for playing the longest shakuhachi of the Edo period at 2.2 shaku. They also passed down the honkyoku orally without the aid of notation much longer than any other schools in Japan.
Oshu and Echigo were two neighboring provinces in the North of Japan during the Edo period. Oshu-kei literally means “Oshu family” and refers to the honkyoku styles of the various Fuke-shu temples that were in that region during the Edo period. Myoanji was the name of the Fuke shu temple in Echigo, however, it had nothing to do with the temple in Kyoto bearing the same name. The Oshu-kei and Echigo honkyoku do not exist as separate schools, however, their honkyoku are incorporated into other schools across Japan. There are three main pieces played which are Reibo, Sanya, and Tsuru no Sugomori. The honkyoku from these regions are less fixed than other styles, having been passed down orally without notation much longer than any others. It may be for this reason that, even though the repertoire is very small, there are extensive variations of each piece.
Onodera Genkichi (小野寺 源吉) from Kinjoji
One of the most interesting stories is that of the Komuso monk Onodera Genkichi (小野寺 源吉) from Kinjoji in Oshu who traveled further north to Aomori, Hirosaki (c. 1888). There he was heard playing Kinjoji Reibo by the Kinpu Ryu master Nyui Getsuei (乳井月影). Getsuei invited Onodera to teach him and his students and he stayed and taught them all for three months. In Riley Lee’s PhD thesis he points out that, “Nyûi did not merely recognize and acknowledge the technical (and, one might assume, spiritual) qualities of Onodera’s shakuhachi playing, he even allowed Onodera to teach his students for three months. There is no hint of any of the ‘loss of face’ that a shakuhachi player of Nyûi’s position might experience today if confronted with similar circumstances.”
These regions play just three pieces but there are extensive versions of them. They’re Sanya, Reibo, and Tsuru no Sugomori.