The traditional Japanese flutes are simply designed and made from bamboo. Also known as shakuhachi, these flutes in Japan surfaced during the Tang Dynasty. As the essential part of the new Gagaku court music, along with other flutes, these Japanese flutes were also used by blind monks of the Fuke school of Zen Buddhism in the practice of suizen.
The Japanese flute in its early days was a short and narrow flute with six holes. Around the 12th and 13th century, the Japanese flute music became popular at that time. In the 17th century the monks of the Fuke sect institutionalized the use of the shakuhachi. The Japanese flute was played by komuso monks, who begged in the streets. It was around that time that the instrument went through main changes and became the Japanese flute of today with 5 holes. It is made of a thick bamboo. Gradually, other sections of the society other than monks too started taking interest in the flutes in Japan and soon the instrument was seen playing by non-monks.
The Japanese bamboo flutes today, feature five finger holes and a curved mouthpiece for airflow. Today, you will come across various versions of these traditional Japanese flutes existing in ABS and hardwoods. The soulful Japanese flute music became very popular in 1980s pop music in the English-speaking world. The first shakuhachi recording in the US was Bell Ringing in an Empty Sky, presented by Gorō Yamaguchi for Nonesuch Explorer Records on LP. There are plenty of new recordings of Japanese flute music, especially on Japanese labels. They are increasingly becoming popular in North America, Europe, and Australia.
Although the traditional Japanese flutes are sometimes considered old-fashioned and outdated in Japan, it is showing regular growth overseas in other countries. The sound of the shakuhachi can be seen as a part of western genres of music. Whether it is electronica or pop-rock or jazz music, you can hear the Japanese flute music. As a flute player, you will find the Japanese flute a great instrument, and enjoy playing it.