This symbol is called a hanko which is stamped near the back hole of the shakuhachi and identifies the maker of the flute. My hanko includes two Japanese characters: the upper Ku translates as "emptiness or void"; the lower Setsu or fushi is "the joint that divides the bamboo".

Setsu or Chieh, in Chinese, comes from the ancient Chinese oracle known as the I Ching or Book of Changes, an ancient manual of divination based on eight symbolic trigrams and sixty-four hexagrams—a series of randomly generated broken and unborken lines—interpreted in terms of the principles of yin and yang. It was included as one of the five classics of Confucianism. In the past, the I Ching was consulted using yarrow sticks, but popular amongst the counterculture that came of age in the 'Sixties, a common way to consult the I Ching is to toss three coins, randomly assign a certain value to them, record the value, and repeat a total of six times to create a hexagram.

After making my very first shakuhachi in 1970, I consulted the I Ching and came up with

Hexagram #60: Chieh / Limitation

[See Richard Wilhelm, tr., The I Ching / Book of Changes (Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XIX, 1950) p. 231].


Tai Hei Shakuhachi

Tai Hei is Japanese for "Pacific" as in Pacific Ocean or, in this case Tai Hei Ogawa, the Pacific Rim. (It also means "Great Peace"). I work with shakuhachi on both sides of the Rim, living  in the coastal mountains about 10 miles northeast of Willits, a small town in northern California about an hour's drive from the Pacific coast. My workshop in Japan is located in the tiny farming village of Kitagawa, Tokushima Prefecture on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands. Shuttling between two locations on the "Ring of Fire" I get to experience earthquakes on either side.

View of the Willits Valley from near my workshop. (Photo by Anna Levenson)

The name Shakuhachi is a corruption of I Shaku Ha Sun which is derived from an ancient Japanese measuring system and literally means "1.8 feet", (54.5 cm.), the length of the classical flute in the key of D. A shaku is just shy of one foot and is divided into 10 equal parts, each called a sun. "I" is short of ichi or "one" in Japanese; "Ha" is short of hachi or "eight". Hence, I Shaku Ha Sun = 1 shaku + 8 sun which, over time, became condensed and shortened to "shakuhachi." Not very romantic!

A "Shaku" tape measure.

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