Blowing Zen & The Spirit of Shakuhachi

Bob Berlin-Grous & Monty H. Levenson
Clifton Karhu & Taniguchi Ryudo Yoshinobu

An interactive book that connects directly to the Internet via Ricoh's innovative new Clickable Paper technology, turning a print edition into the equivalent of a web browser with video and sound.

The Sound of Bamboo provides an expansive overview of the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese bamboo flute dating back to the 12th Century, and its close association with Zen Buddhism as a vehicle for meditation.

The first section of the book, Shakuhachi: A Journey of Discovery, was written by Bob Berlin-Grous over four decades ago, between 1974 and 1980, when he studied shakuhachi koden and koten honkyoku with the renowned teacher Sato Seibi, and Zen Buddhist philosophy with Abe Masao. Originally published in 2013, this revised edition has been greatly expanded, updated, and edited by Monty Levenson in the new 2019 interactive edition.

Bob's comprehensive work is far more than a personal narrative. It is a thoroughly-researched treatise providing a complete overview of shakuhachi in its relationship to Japanese culture and foundation in Zen Buddhism. The initial part starts out with a description of the craft of the shakuhachi, exploring every aspect of how the instrument is traditionally made by craftsmen in Japan. Each step in the process is carefully documented. Selection and harvesting of madaké bamboo in the grove is followed by information detailing all aspects of the traditional craft. Chapter 2 explores the Japanese sense of sound, describing the unique acoustical sensibilities deeply embedded in Japanese culture, language and physiology. Bob explains how the shakuhachi's tonal variability and association with nature embodies nuanced ways of perceiving the world, making is a perfect vehicle for spiritual practice and aesthetic expression. A review of the historical evolution of the instrument and its traditional music is followed with with a detailed analysis of shakuhachi honkyoku from both a Western analytical and Japanese perspectives on music theory. The piece Hi Fu Mi Cho is analyzed phrase-by-phrase in order to shed light on the structure and tonal phrasing of honkyoku music. Other more contemporary forms of Japanese music such as Gaikyoku, Juita and Shinkyoku or New Music are also covered in this chapter. The final chapter presents an exhaustive discussion of the religious foundations of shakuhachi and honkyoku music and their association with Zen Buddhism in the hands of Komuso priests of the Fuke tradition.

Included in the book are beautiful and inspiring Zen- and shakuhachi-themed Japanese sumi-e ink brush paintings by two renowned artists—Clifton Karhu and Taniguchi Ryudo Yoshinobu—published for the very first time in this edition.

The final section, Stalking the Wild Bore, Monty Levenson expands and broadens his analysis of the acoustical physics of the shakuhachi, an effort to unravel the mystery of how breath is transformed into its remarkably resonant and nuanced sound.

The Sound of Bamboo is something entirely new and different in how information is transmitted, imparted, and otherwise conveyed. Embedded in pages of the book is a fourth section composed of hyperlinks that open a portal to the wide and wonderful world of shakuhachi. Access to this deep repository of information is provided directly from the book via interactive web links, audio music files, and multimedia video content. The links introduce you to many of the foremost shakuhachi players and master teachers in Japan and around the world, sharing with readers their invaluable, diverse, and unique perspectives, and gracing you with performances of their deeply moving music. Unlike any other printed book, content and enhancements are continually being added, so The Sound of Bamboo will never become outdated.

The edition is made possible by the encouragement extended by Ricoh USA, Inc. and Ricoh Company Ltd. of Japan with support by the Graphic Communication Institute at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, California.

Ricoh’s collaboration with Tai Hei Shakuhachi on the project showcases their innovative interactive Clickable Paper technology—a new way of learning and communicating via print—that essentially turns a printed book into the equivalent of a web browser with video and sound. The Sound of Bamboo is one of only two books in the world written and published using this innovative new technology. It also testifies to Ricoh’s commitment and dedication to expand awareness of traditional Japanese culture worldwide, thereby helping to perpetuate its rich and venerable heritage.

The free Clickable Paper app maximizes the reader's experience in learning and better understanding concepts and processes by making print come alive and enhanced via multimedia content. It is based on the concept that people learn and understand in different ways. Some learn best by reading, some by videos, some by hearing, and some by a combination of these venues. Clickable Paper provides all of these experiences.

The Sound of Bamboo demonstrates Ricoh's Clickable Paper as an Augmented Reality (AR) application that brings to life a “Japanese experience” through music, culture, learning, and training via web pages, videos, and sound. A printed book or other form of print media can now be embedded with multiple hotspots linked to one or multiple sources, instantly taking readers from two-dimensional printed content to online, multi-channel content. iOS and Android mobile apps are free to download and easy to use. One tap on a smart phone aimed at an embedded page opens the reader to the World Wide Web via hyperlinks put in place by the author.

The beauty of this new interactive technology goes beyond broadening the informational parameters of a printed book. It also allows an edition to be expanded and enhanced past the date of its initial publication. Like any online website, linked content can and will be updated or otherwise modified well into the future, keeping a book relevant and up to date. And finally, it encourages interaction amongst readers, authors, and others by opening channels of communication within a community of interest.

The Sound of Bamboo includes over 100 photos, illustrations, and artwork as well as 400 hyperlinks connecting the reader from the printed page directly to the world of shakuhachi via the Internet.

173 pages  PG-24  $42.50

Revised 2nd Edition
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Chapter & Subsection Titles

THE SOUND OF BAMBOO: Blowing Zen & the Spirit of Shakuhachi
Table of Contents
How to Use this Interactive Book
Foreword: Original 2013 Edition
Foreword: 2019 Ricoh Clickable Paper Edition
Artwork & Images

by Bob Berlin-Grous
Sumi-e by Clifton Karhu


The Spirit of Bamboo
The Bamboo Cutter
The Sound of Bamboo

Chapter 1:
The Craft—From Bamboo to Shakuhachi
Physical Characteristics
Harvesting Madaké for Shakuhachi in Japan & China
Straightening Bamboo
Madaké Bamboo
Jiari and Jinashi Shakuhachi
Finger Holes
Making the Interior Bore
Blowing Shakuhachi

Chapter 2:
The Culture—The Japanese Sense of Sound

The Significance of Sound in Japanese Culture

Chapter 3:
The History—The Instrument and Its Music

The Fuke Legend
The Hitoyogiri

Chapter 4:
The Art—Shakuhachi Music—Past and Present

Honkyoku Music
The Nature of Honkyoku Music
Music Theory
Ryo, Ritsu, Yosen & Insen Scales
The Honkyoku Scale
The Structure of Honkyoku
The Yin/Yang Principle
The Tonal Structure of Hi Fu Mi Cho
Gaikyoku Music
Juita Music
Shakuhachi Music in the Modern Age

Chapter 5:
The Religion—Blowing Zen

Zen Buddhism and Shakuhachi
Sound and Silence
The Music of Silence
The Meditative Qualities of Shakuhachi and Honkyoku
Meditation and the Music of Blowing Zen
1. Asymmetry
2. Simplicity
3. Sublime Authority
4. Naturalness
5. Profound Subtlety
6. Freedom from Attachment
7. Tranquility
Hearing and Listening
The Importance of Breathing
Sound and Breath
Breath and Body Movement
Religious Significance of the Fuke Legend


About the Author & Artist
Bob Berlin-Grous
Clifton Karhu

by Yoshinobu Ryudo Taniguchi

STALKING THE WILD BORE: A Trek into the Heart of Shakuhachi Darkness
by Monty H. Levenson

Evolution of Form
Changes in Structure and Design
The Future of Bamboo
From Emptiness to Sound
Intonation or Pitch
Now for the Boring Part
Strategies for Bore Design
New Priests of Emptiness and Nothingness
The Human Factor

New Technologies for Shakuhachi Making
Electronic Bore Measurer
The Shakulute — Shakuhachi Headjoint for the Silver Flute


About the Author

173 pages. PG-24

Some Photos & Images from The Sound of Bamboo

Authors & Contributors

Bob Berlin-Grous acquired his first shakuhachi in Kobe, Japan and began blowing in earnest upon his return to northern California. Soon after being introduced to the traditional music, he moved to Los Angeles to study shakuhachi with Baido Wakita. After a year and a half, Wakita sensei recommended that he go back to Japan to deepen his studies. From 1974 to 1980 Bob studied Kinko honkyoku with Sato Seibi in Osaka. Today he continues to blow shakuhachi at his home in Santa Rosa, California. Bob is the author of Introductory Manual for Kinko Honkyoku and a CD entitled Karhu.

Clifton Karhu, who was of Finnish descent, was born in Duluth, Minnesota, USA, in 1927. Between 1946-48 he was stationed in Sasebo, an American Navy base in Japan. From 1950-1952 he studied and graduated at the Minneapolis School of Art. He returned to Japan as a missionary for the Lutheran church, selling Bibles door to door, but around 1958 he started his artistic career in Japan. First he made oil paintings and watercolors while living in the Gifu area. In the early 1960s he concentrated on making mokuhan, woodblock prints. In 1963 he moved to Kyoto, and in 1964 he became a member of the Nihon Hanga Kyokai.

From the start his work was popular, and eventually he became one of the grand old men of Sosaku Hanga. Karhu's work is instantly recognizable because of its strong forms, lines and colors. He did his own carving and printing, and continued doing so until the very end of his life.

Clifton Karhu was a resident of Kyoto for more than 40 years. He died in Kanazawa on March 24th 2007, and was buried in Kyoto, in Gion, which he loved most of all, and where he was often seen sketching.


Taniguchi Ryudo Yoshinobu is one of the foremost living masters of shakuhachi in Japan today. In addition to having studied under three great pillars of shakuhachi—Aoki Reibo, Yamaguchi Goro, and Yokoyama Katsuya—he has also mastered the playing styles and repertoire of many other shakuhachi sects. Taniguchi is a recipient of the transmission of Koden Honkyoku through Watazumido Shuso and Yokoyama Katsuya.

He has received several honors for his work in Japan including acknowledgement as top performer at the Osaka Geijutsu Sai. He was also given the honorary title of Grandmaster (Sen Shin Kutsu Dai Shihan) at the young age of 32, a title usually reserved for senior ambassadors of shakuhachi.

Taniguchi-sensei was Visiting Professor of Shakuhachi at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio where he taught in 1982. He presently resides in Mineyama-cho, a small city near the Sea of Japan outside of Kyoto. Despite widespread recognition as a master of the shakuhachi, Taniguchi shuns the spotlight, preferring to focus on his personal training and preparations for a few select performances each year.

His deep commitment and lifelong practice of Zen Buddhism are manifested in his art, and embodied in his work with shakuhachi and traditional Japanese sumi-e ink brush painting. He is the descendant of a long line of Zen monks on both sides of his family. Taniguchi's father came from Niigata Prefecture, near where his distant relative, the Zen saint Ryokan (1758-1831), a renowned poet and calligrapher, took up residence in a hermitage he named Gogo-An at Kokujo-ji Temple on Mt. Kugami. A monk of the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism, Ryokan's calligraphy and haiku poems are known and admired throughout the world. Taniguchi's great grandfather on his mother's side was Byakuho-Ryoukoh, head monk of
Eihei-ji Temple.

Tai Hei Shakuhachi are made by Monty H. Levenson who maintains workshops at his home in the hills of Mendocino County, California, as well as in Japan at the small farming village of Kitagawa (Tokushima Prefecture) on Shikoku Island. Monty has been making shakuhachi since 1970.

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