Home Podcasts Japan Station Japan Station 31: A Conversation with a Shakuhachi Master (Christopher Yohmei Blasdel)

Japan Station 31: A Conversation with a Shakuhachi Master (Christopher Yohmei Blasdel)

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On This Episode of Japan Station

On this episode of the Japan Station podcast, we’re exploring the world of the bamboo flute known as the shakuhachi..

About Christopher Yohemei Blasdel

Christopher Yohmei Blasdel is a master of the shakuhachi, an educator, and an award-winning author. He began instruction in the instrument in Japan in 1972 and has spent almost 50 years performing, producing music, teaching, and promoting the instrument around the world. Blasdel is the author of the instructional book The Shakuhachi: A Manual for Learning and The Single Tone: A Personal Journey into Shakuhachi Music. The latter of these is an autobiographical account of Blasdel’s experiences with the shakuhachi. The Single Tone was originally published in Japanese under the title Shakuhachi Odessei, Ten no iro ni Miserarete and awarded the prestigious Rennyo Award for non-fiction in 2000.  Blasdel also possesses a fourth degree black belt in Aikido.

Topics Discussed

  • What a shakuhachi is and how it differs from other flutes
  • Why the shakuhachi is so difficult to play
  • The history of the shakuhachi
  • The connection of the shakuhachi to Zen Buddhism
  • The shakuhachi’s use as a tool for suizen (blowing meditation)
  • The rise and fall of the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism
  • Why komusō monks wore hats that covered their faces (tengai)
  • The shakuhachi’s emergence as a world instrument
  • Why Blasdel decided to go to Japan
  • How the shakuhachi is taught traditionally
  • The tablature method used to transcribe shakuhachi music
  • The World Shkauhachi Festival
  • Blasdel’s relationship with the artist Isamu Noguchi
  • The different types of sounds that one can produce with the shakuhachi
  • And much more!

Note: At one point in this episode I say “Japanese internment camps.” This is misleading since the camps in question were not established by the Japanese. The term was used in reference to the internment camps the U.S. government established during World War II to detain individuals of Japanese ancestry. The usage of the term “Japanese internment camp” was not intentional and only noticed after the final edit of the episode was made.

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Links, Videos, Etc.

You can find out more about Christopher Yohmai Blasdel via his website.

Christopher Yohmei Blasdel

If you would like to purchase either Blasdel’s instructional book on the shakuhachi or his autobiography, you can use the links below. These are Amazon affiliate links.

Over the course of his career, Blasdel has released numerous albums. His latest is called Striking Light, Striking Dark. This album is the result of a collaboration with vocalist Sasha Bogdonowitsch. It features original music set to the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, John Logan, Sam Hamill and the Tang Period Zen poet Fuke Zen-ji. You can check it out on Amazon via the affiliate link below.

“November Steps” by the the Japanese composer Tōru Takemitsu comes up during the course of this episode. If you would like to listen to a performance of this song, you can do so via the video below.

You can check out videos, such as the one below, of Christopher Yohmei Blasdel playing the shakuhachi on his YouTube channel.

As mentioned during this episode, an article was witten based on this interview and published in Volume 2 Issue 5 of Wasabi magazine. You can read the article via the link below.

Wasabi December-January 2020

If you would like to learn more about Isamu Noguchi a gret place to start is the podcast 99% Invisible. Recently, they did a great episode about Isamu Noguchi. You can check it out using the link below.

99% Invisible

Special Thanks

Opening/Closing song: Oedo Controller (大江戸コントローラー) by Yunomi featuring Toriena (Used with permission from Yunomi)
To listen to more of Yunomi’s music, check out his Soundcloud page or YouTube channel.

Japan Station cover art: Provided by Erik R.

Images: Courtesy of Wasabi magazine

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