The significance of the Shimpo ryu Myoan-ji honkyoku for the student
The Kyoto honkyoku of the Shimpo ryu are intensely beautiful and unparalleled in there unique musical structure. They provide students with an opportunity to work at playing with greater subtlety, speed, rhythm, and precision. They offer a rare opportunity to choose from several options when playing certain flourishes which gives the player some freedom. For this reason I prefer to teach Shimpo ryu to my students after they have become proficient in the Seien ryu honkyoku which are played more boldly in a straight forward manner.
Sadly, the Shimpo ryu honkyoku are no longer taught in Japan as a complete school, with only a few pieces (mostly adaptations) surviving in the repertoires of other schools. My teacher Justin Senryu Williams was that last person to receive the most complete repertoire and the only one in the original and rare notation system of Fu, Ho, U, We, Ya. His elderly and retired teachers left it solely in his hands to preserve these pieces for future generations. So it is with great responsibility and joy that I do my part to help share this wonderful music. I have undertaken the enormous but gratifying challenge of translating these pieces into Ro, Tsu, Re notation with the approval of my teacher Justin.
History of the Shimpo ryu – The original honkyoku of the first Myoan-ji (temple) in Kyoto
Myoan-ji (ji means “temple”) served as the main shakuhachi temple in the Kansai region. The shakuhachi style from this temple is refined with subtle nuance. Myoan-ji was largely independent from the Fuke sect’s headquarters in the capital (Ichigetsu-ji and Reiho-ji). This was reflected in the music which had an entirely different notation system (Fu, Ho, U, We, Ya). According to one document the first ryu or “school” founded at Myoan-ji was called the Kichiku ryu.
Ozaki Shinryo (1820-1888) taught the honkyoku of Myoan-ji. His student, and eventual successor, Katsura Shozan (1856-1942) named the school Shimpo and added more honkyoku pieces to the repertoire. Katsura Shozan attracted many students and was known as the “last Komuso“. However, Myoan-ji was destroyed during the Meiji Restoration’s persecution of all things Buddhist. The honkyoku from the first temple are now referred to as Kyu Myoan or “Old” Myoan to differentiate them from honkyoku taught at the second Myoan-ji. The second and current Myoan-ji was established in the Meiji period by Higuchi Taizan for his style which contains none of the honkyoku from the first Myoan temple. Taizan’s school teaches adaptations of the Seien ryu honkyoku with a few Kinko ryu pieces as well (Seien ryu was the first style Taizan learned in his home town before moving to Kyoto. More can be read below at the bottom of the page).
‘Fu Ho U’ Notation
It’s through Yamaue Getsuzan’s (b. 1908) lineage that the original “Fu, Ho, U, We, Ya” (フホウ) notation of the old Myoan-ji continued to be taught after the passing of Katsura Shozan, as well as the most complete repertoire. This notation is different from the notation of other regions known as “Ro, Tsu, Re, Chi, Ri/Ha” (ロツレ). While Getsuzan and his students continued to teach in Fu, Ho, U, all other teachers passed on the few pieces they had learned from the Shimpo ryu in their own notation systems. I have undertaken the enormous task of translating this extensive repertoire into Ro, Tsu, Re, Chi, Ha notation, however, I also provide and teach from the Ozaki’s original notation in Fu, Ho, U, We, Ya.
Confusion over Myoan – Higuchi Taizan’s Myoan vs Shimpu ryu or Kyu Myoan
Suzuki “Taizan” Kodo, AKA Higuchi Taizan (1856 – 1914) was born in Nagoya where he studied sankyoku and his region’s honkyoku in the Seien ryu. He studied under Kanetomo Seien I who received the honkyoku of Fudai-ji (which was destroyed during the Meiji Restoration) from two komuso named Gyokudo and Baizan. He also studied in the Kinko ryu under Grandmaster Araki Kodo II (Chikuo) and in the Ikkan ryu which was a branch of the Kinko ryu under Takigawa Chuka.
In Meiji 1885 he moved to Kyoto to teach sankyoku music, however, he failed to become successful most likely because Kyoto already had a very established sankyoku community. He was adopted, so to speak, by a the Higuchi’s, a Kyoto family, so he changed his name to Higuchi Taizan (Taizan being his professional title). He eventually began teaching the Seien ryu honkyoku as well as some of the Kinko and Ikkan ryu’s honkyoku. He made some changes in the pitch, ornamentation, and structure of the pieces and his school further evolved or diverged from teacher to teacher over successive generations. Perhaps most notably he most likely added the furi technique which is a quick shake of the head to create a vibrato, usually done after an Atari or “repeat”. A similar technique can be found in the Shimpo ryu honkyoku of Kyoto of which he did learn a few pieces, but included none in his school.
He rented a new space in Kyoto to act as the base for his school which he named Myoan-ji after the temple that had been destroyed years earlier during the Meiji Restoration’s persecution of all things Buddhist. It remains the base of his style and a major gathering place to this day. As mentioned previously, his school actually contains none of the original Kyoto honkyoku from the first Myoan-ji temple (Shimpo ryu), however, his school is most often called “Myoan” after the temple he founded in Kyoto. When “Myoan ryu” or just “Myoan” is heard today it almost always refers to Taizan’s school. “Myoan” is also sometimes incorrectly used as an umbrella term for “old honkyoku” or “koten honkyoku’, however, this is inaccurate and very misleading. To avoid confusion the original Myoan-ji is often called Kyu Myoan-ji or “Old” Myoan-ji.
Higuchi Taizan instigated the revival of honkyoku in Kyoto and founded a new Myoan-ji which stands to this day and is a hub of activity for shakuhachi events and “pilgrimages”. Taizan’s school became very popular and spread across Japan sometimes effecting or even eclipsing local regional styles and schools. For example, in places like Kyushu it is extremely difficult to impossible to ascertain what the original way of playing was like there before Taizan’s school reached the area. Masters such as Jin Nyodo and Watazumi were heavily influenced by his style and received all of their Seien ryu Fudai-ji honkyoku solely through his school, which by then had developed quite differently from the source material of the Seien ryu (this includes such pieces as Kyorei, Takiochi, Mukaiji, and others).