Preston L. Houser
The Origin of Mukaiji

During the T'ang Dynasty (ninth century), in China's Ho NanProvince of, lived a man named Chohaku. Chohaku became a discipleof Zen priest Fukezenji. An amateur musician, Chohaku, after hearingthe priest's bell, cut a length of bamboo, fashioned a flute andtried to mimic the sound of the bell. He named the flute kyotaku,"false bell." Chohaku became a master of the instrument(and by extension Zen). This musical and spiritual tradition washanded down through Chohaku's family for sixteen generations.

Much later, during the S'ung Dynasty (twelfth century), a JapaneseBuddhist priest by the name of Gakushin, traveled to Hsu-ChowPrefecture in China. Having heard the sound of the bamboo flute,Gakushin became captivated with the beauty of the instrument and,after many years, became an accomplished player of the instrumentand teacher. Gakushin returned to Japan in 1254 and took up residenceat Koyasan. Among his many disciples was one named Kichiku, whodisplayed such devotion to Zen Buddhism and the shakuhachi thatGakushin decided to make Kichiku his successor of the "kyotaku"tradition.

Kichiku finally took his leave from Koyasan and Gakushin inorder to embark upon a pilgrimage. Before long, Kichiku arrivedat the shrine of Kokuzo-do atop Mt. Asamagatake in present-dayMie Prefecture. He spent the night concentrating on his devotions.Falling in and out of sleep between his prayers, Kichiku had avivid dream in which he saw himself afloat on the ocean admiringthe moon. Suddenly, a dense fog covered everything and blockedout the moonlight. Through the fog, Kichiku heard the lonesomesound of the shakuhachi. The beauty of the music was indescribable.Kichiku awoke from his dream with the sound of the shakuhachistill with him. He soon memorized the music he had heard in hisdream and quickly returned to his master Gakushin. Gakushin toldKichiku that the music must certainly be a gift from Buddha, andtitled the piece "Mukaiji."

Preston Houserhas been studying Kinko shakuhachi with Yoshio Kurahashi Senseiin Kyoto for the past 17 years. He performs frequently in Japanand America. Author of the CD-ROM KyotoGardens, he is also a regular contributor to Kansai TimeOut and Kyoto Journal.

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