Preston L. Houser
The Origin of Mukaiji

During the T'ang Dynasty (ninth century), in China's Ho Nan Province of, lived a man named Chohaku. Chohaku became a disciple of Zen priest Fukezenji. An amateur musician, Chohaku, after hearing the priest's bell, cut a length of bamboo, fashioned a flute and tried to mimic the sound of the bell. He named the flute kyotaku, "false bell." Chohaku became a master of the instrument (and by extension Zen). This musical and spiritual tradition was handed down through Chohaku's family for sixteen generations.

Much later, during the S'ung Dynasty (twelfth century), a Japanese Buddhist priest by the name of Gakushin, traveled to Hsu-Chow Prefecture in China. Having heard the sound of the bamboo flute, Gakushin became captivated with the beauty of the instrument and, after many years, became an accomplished player of the instrument and teacher. Gakushin returned to Japan in 1254 and took up residence at Koyasan. Among his many disciples was one named Kichiku, who displayed such devotion to Zen Buddhism and the shakuhachi that Gakushin decided to make Kichiku his successor of the "kyotaku" tradition.

Kichiku finally took his leave from Koyasan and Gakushin in order to embark upon a pilgrimage. Before long, Kichiku arrived at the shrine of Kokuzo-do atop Mt. Asamagatake in present-day Mie Prefecture. He spent the night concentrating on his devotions. Falling in and out of sleep between his prayers, Kichiku had a vivid dream in which he saw himself afloat on the ocean admiring the moon. Suddenly, a dense fog covered everything and blocked out the moonlight. Through the fog, Kichiku heard the lonesome sound of the shakuhachi. The beauty of the music was indescribable. Kichiku awoke from his dream with the sound of the shakuhachi still with him. He soon memorized the music he had heard in his dream and quickly returned to his master Gakushin. Gakushin told Kichiku that the music must certainly be a gift from Buddha, and titled the piece "Mukaiji."

Preston Houser has been studying Kinko shakuhachi with Yoshio Kurahashi Sensei in Kyoto for the past 17 years. He performs frequently in Japan and America. Author of the CD-ROM Kyoto Gardens, he is also a regular contributor to Kansai Time Out and Kyoto Journal.

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