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Shakuhachi players to gather in Kyoto for festival

by Eriko Arita

Staff Writer

The clear and deep sound of the shakuhachi, a vertical Japanese bamboo flute, will take center stage in Kyoto from May 28 to June 4.

More than 400 shakuhachi players will gather from around the world in the ancient capital for the World Shakuhachi Festival. It’s a fitting place, the instrument dates back to the 700s and developed into its current form during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

This is the sixth festival of its kind. The event began in 1994 when it was held in Bisei, Okayama Prefecture, and the previous one was held in Sydney in 2008.

According to Takafumi Tanaka, a festival organizer, the shakuhachi has been popular worldwide since the 1970s and many foreign fans of the instrument refer to its sound as “zen music” or “music leading to the universe.”

During the upcoming eight-day-long event, a number of shakuhachi concerts and ensembles with other Japanese traditional instruments will be held in Kyoto. The biggest of these will be the “Masters’ Shakuhachi Concert” on June 3, says Tanaka, who is also the editor in chief of Hogaku Journal, a magazine that features Japanese traditional music.

“The concert is a very rare opportunity in which the world’s top shakuhachi players will play together,” Tanaka says of the masters event that will feature 45 top musicians. Among them are David Kansuke Weeler, Christopher Yohmei Blasdel and John Kaizan Neptune.

Neptune is set to play “Ocean Motion,” “Bamboo Born” and “West of Somewhere” with Hitoshi Hamada, a bamboo marimba player, and Hardie Christopher, a bamboo percussionist.

In addition to the above, an international shakuhachi competition will be held as part of a support event for the festival on May 31. Twenty-four competitors who won the preliminary contest in March will compete to win a ¥1 million award. The contestants include six non-Japanese players from China, Taiwan, the United States and Australia.

The Masters’ Shakuhachi Concert will take place at Kyoto Fumin Hall Alti on June 3 (1 p.m. start; ¥5,000). The shakuhachi competition will take place at Otani Hall on May 31 (1 p.m. till 7 p.m.; free admission). For information on the other events of the festival, visit 2012wsf.info.