Monday, May 12, 2014

Hogaku in Brussels

I'll be heading off to Brussels, Belgium to join with a group of 60 players of traditional Japanese music (hogaku) on June 18th. We'll be performing two concerts, the larger of which will be held on June 23rd at BOZAR Center for Fine Arts. The concert will include a large ensemble of Nagauta players. Nagauta, literally "long song", is a kind of traditional Japanese music which accompanies Kabuki theater. They were developed around 1740. Influences included the vocal yokyoku style used in noh theater, and instruments including the shamisen and various Japanese drums. The shamisen, a plucked lute with three strings, is a very popular instrument in Nagauta. Nagauta performers generally play shamisen and sing simultaneously.

Aside from Nagauta, we weill be performing a selection of jiuta sankyoku pieces and Kinko-ryu honkyoku.

Date: Mon. 23 Jun.2014
Start: 8 pm
Place: BOZAR Cetre for Fine Arts/Studio
Supported by the Embassy of Japan in Belgium
Info & Tickets

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Apples and Oranges

In a recent post by friend Perry Yung of Yung Flutes in NY on the differences between a modern instrument and older instruments made in the 19th century, I commented........

........modern and the older flute are different beasts all together and shouldn't be judged by the same standards.  Older shakuhachi have a very distinct character that simply wouldn't hold up to modern, ensemble playing.  Their purpose was to serve as a conduit for the player's spirit or essence to move into the universe.  They moved the player's center from being locked in their physical body to another place in a very conscious action.  They served as an expanding mechanism.  As such, standardization was less an issue than with modern instruments.   Modern shakuhachi are primarily designed to suit ensemble playing and to titillate the listener.  Any sort of spiritual connection and expansion comes by way of compositional constructs and not the instrument itself and isn't necessarily intended for the player, but rather the listener.

For me, the older flutes are a personal, romantic encounter with an expanded spirit.  Very much a time-travelling experience.  When I play them, I hear a distant voice calling….hello……are you there?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013



Dear Friends,

 It is with great pleasure that I announce the release of my new CD Zenzen. Recorded and mixed at Ty Tyrfu, Guelph, Ontario Canada and recorded, mixed and mastered at BigFish Studio, Kumamoto, Japan . This is a group of pieces inspired by traditions and how they are distilled through the minds, hearts, lungs and fingers of myself (Jeff Cairns) on shakuhachi and percussion and my old friend and long-time Cowboy Junkies sideman, Jeff Bird on mandolin, octave mandolin, wood bass, tambourine melodique, riq, hulusi and percussion.

As independent musicians, our heart and soul went into this project (not to mention a certain amount of cash) and we would be so grateful for your support which basically would allow us to move into the next project, which awaits.
Purchases of this CD can be made by sending an e-mail to me (Jeff Cairns) at . I accept payment via PayPal for any purchases made from outside Japan, or direct mail from within Japan.

1,500 yen + shipping
$15.00 US + shipping

Friday, December 7, 2012

Edo Art

I've been active in the field of collecting shakuhachis for a few years and occassionally come across these very unusual gems.
Although the usual questions in flute purchases, like 'How old is this?', 'Who made it?' and 'How does it sound?' come to mind, I find myself posing a few more questions like 'Why did the maker put this time and effort into adorning this flute?', 'What is the significance of the images chosen?' and 'Did the maker of this flute do the carving, or was the carving done as an after thought?'
I've come to the conclusion that the carving is done for the sheer joy of representation and perhaps with a little bit of '...because I can' thrown in there.
The images carved onto into this flute are a full-bodied dragon (ryu) at the top entwined around a plant which may be a peony, Pine trees on the lower portion and Bamboo on the root.
The dragon is symbolically common in Japan where it first appeared around 638 ce in the Kojiki. It is typically thought in both Buddhist and Shinto lore to be a water god. The peony is a traditional symbol of good fortune, high honour, and the season of spring and was introduced into Japanese culture in the Nara period (8th century). The pine tree is native to Japan and has come to represent longevity, good fortune and steadfastness. Both Japanese and Chinese art associate the pine with virtue, a motif of winter and New Year, and as a premier symbol of long life and even immortality. Finally, bamboo represents strength of character. A man can undergo hard, difficult, tough times, for which he must adapt, but must never break, never lose his sense of self. A man must keep his essence no matter how bad the world is treating him.
Shakuhachi of this age were far less store-shelf commodities than they are now. Indeed, they were verging on the esoteric and truly represented dreams and aspirations of their creators. As such, they are interesting windows into the past both in terms of visual and audible aesthetic.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

nae pogpo

Here's a piece of music entitled Nae Pogpo (My Waterfall) performed by my long-time friend Jeff Bird and I that will appear on our upcoming CD release ZenZen.  This piece harkens to my meeting with P'ansori master Bae Il Dong and his training at the base of 'his waterfall' for 7 years in Korea.
Jeff Bird plays melodic tambourine  kalimba and various bells.  I play 2.0 shakuhachi, kalimba and various bells.  I hope you enjoy and I welcome any and all comments.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Since the appearance of cracks in bamboo are commonplace, I wanted to post this response on the topic to a letter from someone new to the instrument in the hopes that it presents a slightly different perspective to others who think they are presented with misfortune when this occurs.
...a hairline crack running through the thumb hole.
" Cracks are a condition of humanity.  They are in a large part what makes things unique.  If there were no cracks, we would all be exactly the same person.  The co-relate you found in this aspect to your instruments is no coincidence.  Embrace these little adjustments, for that is what they are.  Your instruments adjusting to their environment.  Interject your care and mindfulness and a symbiotic relationship will grow.
My main 1.8 is an excellent point in example.  It was made for me by my sensei's father, a master craftsman.  He had the bamboo sitting in his workshop for 30 years waiting for the right situation to coax a top level shakuhachi out of it.  I was honoured to receive it from him.  For the first few years that I had it, I was never satisfied with the sound I was achieving from it.  I guessed that it was my inability to produce a good sound.  On one trip back to Canada in the winter, I took the instrument out of its case only to find that it had several long cracks right through to the bore.  It was unplayable.  I was heartbroken.  On return to Japan, I presented it to my sensei explaining how it happened and hoping that it could be revived   He looked at it and laughed (half out of shock and half out of recognition of the unforeseen twists that life often takes.)  He took it and gave it back to his father who returned it to me a few weeks later beautifully bound and playing better than it had ever played before.  I think that being exposed to an inhospitable climate in the winter of Canada relaxed some stresses that were inherent in the bamboo from its growth and certainly this instrument now has a wonderful, relaxed and contemplative tone.  I'm convinced that it offered me a chance to grow with it.
Do take heart.  All cracks offer the potential for growth and a slight change in direction.  Embrace that and use your good sense to move."

Friday, October 26, 2012

A long RO away

Well, it's been quite a long time since I've blogged here, but I haven't been inactive in the shakuhachi world.
Of note was a great concert I did in August in Vancouver with good friends Joseph Pepe Danza and Alcvin Ramos at Prana Yoga School.  It was a Soundwave type performance made popular by Pepe whereby the three of us started the show and played continuously until the end about 2 hours later.  We did a mix of pieces interspersed by solos and improvisations on a variety of lengths of shakuhachi, multiple persussion instruments and Al's Tenkan (an overtone shakuhachi developed by him.)

The concert was entitled Zen Take Tabi which loosely translated means Zen Bamboo Trip and that was pretty much the sentiment that we went into the performance with.
There should be some video coming up soon of this show done by videographer Don Xaliman
This is a kakejiku done by friend and artist Nogami Reizan for the show.  It says Zen Take Tabi.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Here's a rendition of the classic Tamuke with some added ambiance.
Click here for Nomuke.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Economic woes hit shakuhachidom

It seems that the economic slump, or maybe more rightly the idea and fear of such a thing has hit the shakuhachi world.
I've been involved in buying, playing and selling second hand shakuhachi at what I consider below-market prices for a few years.  Typically, when I put instruments up on my site and notify my mailing list members, they sell within a week or two.  Recently, I posted 8 instrument that range all the way from rustic and cheap to stunning and expensive.  Two chokan (2.7 and 3.1) sold right away as did a beautiful old quilted maple shakuhachi music stand.  The rest, though mostly of excellent quality and under priced at that, haven't budged.  Is the general world economy tightening people's purse strings or has the market just been satisfied?  My hope is the latter.
The upshot is that it keeps these amazing instruments in my hands for a longer while allowing me to enjoy their wonders. 
I wish you all a bright future and keep blowing.

Friday, December 2, 2011

あ。うん On Top of the Town

あ。うん On Top of the Town at Matenrou, November 19th, 2011
The Dining Room at Matenrou
The Diners
The Pleasures
The Music
Izumi Fujikawa-koto, Jeff Cairns-shakuhachi, Yumiko Minoda-shamisen
Photos and Graphics by Robert Mortenson
A Flight of Fancy