The significance of the Kinpu Ryu for the student
The Tsugaru shakuhachi music of the Kinpu Ryu is unique in that it developed among the still active samurai class, whereas in the rest of Japan honkyoku developed with the Komuso. It’s played with a pulsing breath called komi-buki or “packed/pushed breath”. If done, it offers a chance to synchronize with the teacher in unique way making for an unparalleled experience. The sound of komi-buki is reminiscent of other musical tradition of Aomori including the driving rhythms of the Tsugaru shamisen. The style is also very dynamic and beautiful. It easily becomes apparent why the Kinpu Ryu influenced many great masters across Japan.
Komi-buki mostly comes from the abdomen or hara and chest. The throat or epiglottis is also usually involved to a much lesser degree. However, the abdomen need not be pulsed in a forceful way, rather, it can be much like how singers project from the “diaphragm”.
In lessons I offer the opportunity to explore variations of komi-buki and I encourage my students to find what they connect with most, even if that means not doing it at all. Even without this characteristic technique the music is profound and unparalleled.
(Esoteric note: Chigiri is a ubiquitous motif or riff in Kinpu Ryu. It varies slightly but involves a fairly quick step-like progression between the notes Tsu (dai) meri, Ru, Tsu (dai) meri, Ro, and Ro dai meri.)
History of the Kinpu Ryu, the original honkyoku of Tsugaru
Kinpu Ryu (sometimes spelled Kimpu Ryu AKA Nezasa-ha) is the style of shakuhachi playing which developed in the samurai communities of Aomori prefecture. This school was formalized by Nyui Getsuei in 1884, however, it began to dissolved in the early 20th century due in-part to in-fighting over how komi-buki should be played which turned away students who didn’t care for such squabbles.
Aomori and Tsugaru are known for having strong musical traditions. The Kinpu Ryu honkyoku survived very well as a distinct regional style, although, as with most honkyoku schools, practitioners are few.
(esoteric note: There were no Komuso monks or temples based in Aomori, however, the pieces were based on Fuke shu Komuso honkyoku.)
Onodera Genkichi (小野寺 源吉) from Kinjo-ji
One of the most interesting stories is that of the Komuso monk Onodera Genkichi (小野寺 源吉) from Kinjo-ji in Oshu who traveled further north to Aomori, Hirosaki (c. 1888). There he was heard playing Kinjo-ji Reibo by the founder of the Kinpu Ryu, Nyui Getsuei (乳井月影) who founded the school just 4 years prior in 1884. Getsuei actually invited him 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.”
No Madake bamboo
Apparently, they did not have access to madake bamboo in the North because it cannot grow there due to the frigid winters. Therefor, they had to import their shakuhachi from the South. Interestingly, the standard length used for the Kinpu Ryu was said to be the deeper 2.0 middle “C” or ni-shaku. This is perhaps comparable to the the larger and thus deeper sounding Tsugaru shamisen. Additionally, the neighboring Northern prefectures were known to play even longer 2.2 shakuhachi and a connection or influence must be assumed.