A piece of bamboo, cut down with the root, dried out for years and used vertically. Five finger holes, four in the front and one in the back, and a bezel is cut in the top node in order to create the utaguchi (歌口, embouchure) that nowadays tend to include an insert of a hard material.

By fully opening or closing the fingerholes, one can produce a minor pentatonic scale, but the music rarely is. Changes on embouchure, air emission, partial covering and changes on the opening of the top of the bamboo allow the player to produce an important amount of sounds that include what could be called micro-tonal intervals.

Its name comes from isshaku hasun (1 shaku and 8 sun) and derives from an old Japanese unit of measure, the shaku. On it, 1 shaku equals 30.3 cm while 1 sun is a tenth of it. With the name indicating a length that corresponds to 54.5 cm, it is used to refer to a wide range of instruments from 1.4 to 3.7 (39 to 90 cm approximately).


This Japanese end-blown flute is traditionally handmade out of madake (真竹) bamboo (Phyllostachysbambusoides) and is originated from a Chinese ancestor that is supposed to have also developed into the danso in Korea and the xiao in China.

There are several hypotheses as to its origin in Japan, one of them points to the hitoyogiri  (一節切) as a predecessor of the shakuhachi. A shorter, only one node, vertical end-blown flute that was used among others by monks in Japan before the existence of the Komusō.

Another theory takes as point of origin the import of court music Gagaku (雅楽, elegant music) from China around fifth century. This import of musical instruments acted as a point of origin for most of the traditional Japanese musical instruments, including the shakuhachi, with the more notorious exception begin the shamisen (三味線).

Reviewing the oldest shakuhachi still in existence in Japan (, it is possible to attest as to the changes that the instrument had undergo from what are commonly accepted to be the initial versions of it in Japan. Among the most significative changes that happened in the instrument, there is the loss of one finger hole, changing from the original six into the actual five in a process that calls attention to the users’ interest in economy of means, a characteristic in many Japanese art forms.

Other meaningful changes involved the inclusion of the root-end part of the bamboo, the use of a hard material insert in the utaguchi and the possibility of separating the instrument in two parts by the nakatsugi (中継ぎ) joint in some of present-day instruments.

During Meiji jidai (明治時代, Meiji Era), that lasted from 1868 to 1912, some shakuhachi makers developed a new technique that began altering the inside of the instrument to adjust it to the production of a sound that many thought best at the time.

It was in this way that a new version of the instrument was created, one that came to explore a more uniform and stable sound, maybe influenced by new ideas of what musical sound should be.

The technique involved a combination of removing and adding material in different parts alongside the inner tube of the instrument and latter applying a coat of ji (地, filler) to the bore. Finally, cover with a coat of urushi (漆), a very famous Japanese lacquer made from the sap of the usushi tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum) was applied to the interior of the shakuhachi.

This new-born shakuhachi received the name of jinuri shakuhachi (地塗り尺八). Since its creation, the jinuri shakuhachi has been coexisting with the jinashi shakuhachi (地なし尺八, no lacquered shakuhachi), which is the name given to the previous version of the instrument.

These changes regarding sound coincided with the West coming to be felt as a new model to emulate in almost every aspect of Japanese life, including music and surely beauty in sound.

These two kinds of instrument are still in use today and they possess differences on sound, on the way the player should blow on them and also on their situation of use. As a very generic consideration, it could be said that those players driven by the spiritual aspects of the instrument, that originated were linked to Zen Buddhism, tend to favour the jinashi shakuhachi, while those focussing on musical aspects and different musical repertoires tend to favour the jinuri instrument. The second group is considerably bigger than the first one both in Japan and abroad.

At present, and due to the high prices associated with the shakuhachi, machine made instruments of a variety of materials, that include wood and resin among others, are found on the market. Such instruments are considered by many sensei as perfectly valid options for initiation on the playing of the instrument. They possess good quality regarding tuning and sound stability and considerably lower prices. In the case of the jinashi instrument, general prices tend to be lower due to a relatively easier and shorter making process and in many cases the players themselves build their own instruments.

To know more about the instrument, the materials used today and their sounds: