A Journey of Discovery

The Sound of Bamboo—Shakuhachi: A Journey of Discovery was written by Bob Berlin-Grous over three decades ago, between 1974 and 1980, when he studied shakuhachi with the esteemed teacher Sato Seibi and Zen Buddhist philosophy with Abe Masao. The manuscript was carried over time and across continents, but only now appears in print for the very first time.

This comprehensive edition is far more than a personal narrative. It is a thoroughly-researched treatise providing a complete overview of shakuhachi its relationship to Japanese culture and foundation in Zen Buddhism. The book 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 section of this book 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.

The Sound of Bamboo includes 56 rare photos, illustrations and diagrams collected by the author during his time in Japan. The most amazing of these are a series of shakuhachi-themed sumi-e paintings by the famed artist Clifton Karhu (1927-2007), the memory of whom this edition is dedicated. These profoundly beautiful and moving sumi-e prints appear in print for the very first time. Each are full-page reproductions printed on high-quality 28 lb. laser presentation paper.

Chapter & Subsection Titles

List of Illustrations

Introduction: The Spirit of Bamboo
The Bamboo Cutter
The Sound of Bamboo

Chapter 1 / The Craft: From Bamboo to Shakuhachi
Physical Characteristics
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
Shinkyoku or New Music

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
- Asymmetry
- Simplicity
- Sublime Authority
- Naturalness
- Profound Subtlety
- Freedom from Attachment
- Tranquility
- Hearing and Listening
- The Importance of Breathing
- Sound and Breath
- Breath and Body Movement
- Religious Significance of the Fuke Legend


Artist & Author Biographies
- Clifton Karhu
- Bob Berlin-Grous

115 pages. PG-24

Some Photos & Images from The Sound of Bamboo

What People Say About The Sound of Bamboo

The Sound of Bamboo is a remarkably and carefully crafted personal synthesis of Japanese history, cultural and musical ideas, philosophies and insights that bear on the shakuhachi that it could only come from living and learning completely from the bamboo. There is no other book that I know of that approaches the scope and intimacy of The Sound of Bamboo.

The Introductory Manual for Kinko Honkyoku is like a wish being realized. The Introduction's discussions and insights are remarkable. Very timely for me. I have read quite a bit on the shakuhachi and its "religious" aspects. It was my heart and its search for itself in music that sent me to you nearly four years ago. I quickly realized that the shakuhachi is the path for me and the last four years have been spent in trying to learn/understand this path and move along it. Bob's introduction to his manual is the most authentically clear discussion I have read, and I am very grateful to him. In terms of timing also, it is a gift from the Universe. Thank you.

Shakuhachi Player. USA

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. He was a resident of Kyoto for more than 40 years. Karhu 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.

Clifton 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.

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Bob Berlin-Grous
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