History of the Seien ryu – The original honkyoku of Fudai-ji
The various arrangements of the Seien ryu Fudai-ji (ryu means “school” and ji means “temple”) honkyoku (西園流 譜代寺) are the most popular pieces today (Kyorei, Takiochi, Koku, Mukaiji, and others). However, the Seien ryu versions which provided the source material are very rare and are only taught outside of Japan by me and my teacher Justin Senryu Williams. Even in Japan, this style is seldom heard outside of its current home in Nagoya. The reason for this is because the various version found in the schools founded by individuals such as Higuchi Taizan (Myoan), Jin Nyodo, and Watazumi, eclipsed the originals. This is due in part to the fact that the Seien ryu was located in the countryside while the individuals previously mentioned lived in major cities, Kyoto and Tokyo.
Higuchi Taizan (1856 – 1914) was the first to introduce the Seien ryu honkyoku to a wider audience. The Seien ryu was the first style he learned, being the style of his home town. He later moved to Kyoto in 1885 where he made some changes to the Seien ryu honkyoku which formed the base of his school. He made changes in the pitch, ornamentation, and structure of the Seien ryu pieces. For example, he added the furi (~) technique. Successive generations of teachers in his school have diverged further resulting in the school sounding quite different from that of the source material in the Seien ryu. Masters such as Jin Nyodo and Watazumi received all of their “Fudai-ji” honkyoku from Higuchi Taizan’s school and then they further altered them for their respective post Edo period schools.
The origins of the original Fudai-ji honkyoku are traced back to two komuso monks named Gyokudo and Baizan who passed down the original Fudai-ji honkyoku to Kanetomo Seien I (1819-1895). The home of the Seien ryu is currently in Nagoya which is not far from the original Fudai-ji which was in Hamamatsu, however, it was destroyed during the Buddhist persecutions of the Meiji Restoration.
The significance of the Seien ryu Fudai-ji honkyoku for the student
This straightforward style provides an ideal starting point for the novice as well as a clean-slate for the initiated. It has little ornamentation and is played with a powerful breath called bou-buki or, “wooden-staff-breathing”. By learning the Seien ryu Fudai-ji honkyoku beginners will build a solid foundation free from habits while experienced players can work toward a more minimalist playing style. Lastly, the notation is free of extraneous information making it very clean and much less intimidating to read. This allows the student to see what is going on more clearly and make notes when necessary.
About the notation
My notation is based off of some of the oldest available notation for the Seien ryu which was written by a Zen Buddhist monk named Tanase Ritsudo. Tanase Ritsudo used a rare and unique way to write the length of a note called Takoashi-fu or “octopus legs”. These sideways-slanting lines denote the length of a note as apposed to beat marks or vertical lines. I have redone all of the Seien Ryu notation in Ritsudo’s style using my calligraphy which I digitized for high resolution and consistency.
Below is my calligraphy of the first Seien ryu honkyoku Honte Shirabe which is based Tanase Ritsudo’s notation (click to enlarge)
The eleven Seien ryu Fudai-ji honkyoku
(Listed in the order in which they are taught)
1. Honte Shirabe (本手調子)
2. Shizu no kyoku (志図)
3. Takiochi (滝落)
4. Sanya (三谷)
5. Reibo (霊慕)
6. Koto Sugagaki (箏菅垣)
7. Akita (秋田)
8. Tsuru no Sugomori (鶴の巣籠)
9. Mukaiji (霧海箎)
10. Kokku (虚空)
11. Kyorei (虚鈴)