The significance of the Shimpo ryu Myoan-ji honkyoku for the student
The Kyoto honkyoku of the Shimpo ryu provide students with an opportunity to play with more dynamics, and especially with great subtlety. For this reason I prefer to teach Shimpo ryu to my students after they have become proficient in the Seien ryu style which is a more bold and straight forward style. This school is no longer taught in Japan in its entirety with only a few pieces surviving in the repertoires of other schools which are often changed slightly, or significantly from the source material. Only my self and my teacher Justin Senryu Williams teach this school any more. Thus passing it on and preserving it for future generations is a noble cause.
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 highly 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 (ji=temple) was called the Kichiku ryu.
Ozaki Shinryo (1820-1888) taught the honkyoku of Myoan-ji and his student, and eventual successor, Katsuura Shozan (1856-1942) named the school Shimpo and added more honkyoku pieces to the repertoire. Katsuura Shozan attracted many students and was known as the “last Komuso“. Myoan-ji was destroyed during the Meiji Restoration’s persecution of all things Buddhist. It is now referred to as Kyu Myoan-ji or “Old” Myoan-ji to differentiate it from the second Myoan-ji. The second and current Myoan-ji was established years later in the Meiji period after the persecutions had ended by Higuchi Taizan for his style which contains none of the honkyoku from the first Myoan-ji temple or Shimpo ryu.
‘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 Kyu Myoan-ji continued to be taught as well as the most complete Shimpo ryu repertoire. This notation is different from the notation of other regions known as ‘ro tsu re chi ri/ha’ (ロツレ). Other teachers passed on the few pieces they learned from the Shimpo ryu in their own notation systems. I also decided to re-notated these pieces into “ro tsu re chi ha”, however, I provide the original notation and I explain how to read it. In this way students can choose to read one, the other, or both.
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).