The significance of the Kinpu Ryu for the student
The Tsugaru shakuhachi music of the Kinpu Ryu is 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 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” or abdomen and chest. The oldest recordings that we have are of the students of the founder of the school, Nyui Getsuei (乳井月影, 1833-1898). Their komi-buki ranges from very gentle to a bit stronger. Some seem to have also used yuri or “head vibrato” along with their komi-buki. Much stronger komi-buki have existed for some time and some think that older ways were more forceful.
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.
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 meri, 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 has its roots in the samurai community of Tsugaru, in the far North of Japan. This school was formalized by Nyui Getsuei in 1884 who became the first official Iemoto or “head” of the school. There were no Komuso monks or temples based in Tsugaru, however, the pieces were based on Fuke shu Komuso honkyoku. In particular, One Komuso monk named Onodera Genkichi from Kinjo-ji in Oshu taught Nyui Getsuei and his students Kinjo-ji’s honkyoku (c. 1888).
Apparently, they did not have access to madake bamboo in the North because it could not grow there due to the frigid winters so they had to import their shakuhachi. Interestingly, the standard length used for the Kinpu Ryu was the deeper 2.0 middle “C” or ni-shaku. This is comparable to the the larger and thus deeper sounding Tsugaru shamisen.
Aomori and Tsugaru are known for having strong musical traditions. Kinpu Ryu honkyoku survived very well as a distinct regional style, though, as with most honkyoku schools, practitioners are now few.