The Fudaiji Temple Honkyoku of the Seien Ryu 普大寺 西園流

and its connection to Myoan Taizan Ha 明暗 対山派

Iwata Ritsuen Seien VI 岩田律園 (passed away Nov. 16th 2018), my grand-teacher. Survived by his son Akihiko Iwata 岩田昭彦
Iwata Ritsuen Seien VI 岩田律園 (passed away Nov. 16th 2018), my grand-teacher. Survived by his son Akihiko Iwata 岩田昭彦

The Seien Ryu preserves the original Honkyoku of Fudaiji temple which were passed down to Kanetomo Seien I 兼友西園 (b. 1818) by the final two Fudaiji Komuso, Gyokudo and Baizan. The home of Seien Ryu is Nagoya, which isn’t far from the original Fudaiji temple which was in Hamamatsu. The Honkyoku repertoire consists of 11 pieces which have become well known through the version created by a students of Seien I named Suzuki Kodo, later known as Higuchi Taizan, thecfounder of Kyoto Myoan Taizan Ha 樋口 対山 (1856 – 11/22/1914).

In Taisho 3~4 (1914~1915) Seien Ryu was officially established out of necessity because other schools, such as Kinko Ryu and Tozan Ryu, were beginning to enter Nagoya, thus creating a natural need to distinguish the native Fudaiji way of playing from these other schools. Of course, the students of Kanetomo Seien decided to name it the Seien Ryu after their beloved teacher.

This more simplistic, straight forward, unadorned style from rural Japan has largely gone unappreciated in its original forms outside of its home, with most masters opting to learn the more embellished versions from Myoan Taizan Ha and/or offshoots thereof. However, because the Fudaiji Seien Ryu way of playing Honkyoku is the most minimalistic in all of Japan, it holds tremendous value for those with humble aspirations or minimalist sensibilities.

For example, there are no flashy techniques which can often obscure ones inability to play shakuhachi simply and well, i.e., the simplicity of Seien Ryu leaves us with nothing to hide behind. This also has the effect of exposing the habits we may have developed from other styles, or from playing Honkyoku without guidance.

These are the 11 Fudaiji Seien Ryu Honkyoku in the order in which they are taught;

  1. Honte Shirabe 本手調子 – often called/pronounced Choshi in Myoan Taizan Ha and other schools, Honshirabe in Dokyoku Chikushinkai.
  2. Shizu 志図
  3. Taki Otoshi aka Takiochi 滝落
  4. Sanya 三谷
  5. Reibo 霊慕 – renamed Renbo Nagashi 恋慕流 in Myoan Taizan Ha.
  6. Koto Sugagaki 箏 菅垣 – renamed at some point to Koro Sugagaki 転菅垣 in Myoan Taizan Ha. Also a piece called Koro Sugagaki in Kinko Ryu.
  7. Akita 秋田
  8. Mukaiji 霧海箎
  9. Koku 虚空
  10. Kyorei 虚鈴
  11. Tsuru no Sugomori 鶴の巣籠

Fudaiji Temple 普大寺

Fudaiji temple 普大寺 was founded in 1613 in Hamamatsu, first in Hirata-machi and later moved to Shiken-cho. Along with so many other temples, under the anti-Buddhist movement of the Meiji period it was ordered to be closed in the 4th year of Meiji, 1871. It was sold into private hands and turned into the first Yamaha pipe organ factory. The last Fudaiji Komuso were Gyokudo and Baizan.

Nowadays, Gyokudo and Baizan are often thought to be one person, “Gyokudo Baizan”. However, this seems to be a modern interpretation (originating from Takahashi Kuzan) because all remaining older sources refer to them as two separate people. Little memory of their lives remains, save for the following two stories (recounted by Yasufuku Gozan.

Baizan apparently had difficulty opening and closing the back hole of his shakuhachi to his satisfaction. To remedy this, he cut off the tip of his thumb. Gyokudo, although a master of Honkyoku, was of course not experienced with “Gaikyoku”, aka Sankyoku ensemble music. However, late in his life he endeavored to learn how to play the Sankyoku Kurokami and apparently became quite excellent at it. We know of two of their students, Murase Chikuo and Kanetomo Seien, and it’s thanks to them and their students that the Fudaiji Honkyoku were preserved.

Kanetomo Seien

Kanetomo Seien was born Kanetomo Yasuzaemon Morinobu (b. December 18th, 1818) and belonged to a wealthy family in the West side of Nagoya who’s business was honing or sharpening swords and knives. His shakuhachi name Seien is derived from his given name Morinobu which can also be pronounced “Seien”, though different Kanji were used with the same reading, 西園.

From childhood he liked shakuhachi and studied from the Fudaiji Komuso Gyokudo and Baizan, mastering the 11 Honkyoku of Fudaiji temple. At that time, Sankyoku was not played in Nagoya as it had been officially banned during the Edo period. It’s said that he played shakuhachi Honkyoku everyday, save for when he was ill. Concerning his playing, there’s also a story that it could ease horses to rest and even sleep.

As for Kanetomo’s character, he is said to have disliked greed and cared only for shakuhachi itself. He was often invited to fancy restaurants by high class people but usually declined. Although his music prospered, his disinterest in other matters had dire financial consequences. As a result, and despite also marrying into a very wealthy family, his business relationships deteriorated.

Over time, he became so extremely poor that he had trouble affording rice and tea. Despite this, it’s said that he calmly played shakuhachi as if carefree. Eventually, in Meiji 10, he had to move out of his home and rent it to make a living. He then moved to Sugawara-cho and spent his life playing and teaching shakuhachi. At that time, there were many soldiers returning home to Nagoya from the Seinan Senso (West and South war). Some of them would come to Seien’s gate, asking him to teach them shakuhachi. He was very kind to them and taught them even if they were poor.

Seien also didn’t wish to found a Ryu or school and didn’t care for the power and politics of heading a Ryu-Ha. As mentioned at the beginning of this page, in Taisho 3~4 (1914~1915) Seien Ryu was officially established by his students out of necessity because other schools, such as Kinko Ryu and Tozan Ryu, were beginning to enter Nagoya, creating a natural need to distinguish the native Fudaiji way of playing from these other schools. Of course, the students of Kanetomo Seien decided to name it Seien Ryu after their beloved teacher, posthumously making him the founder or Seien I.

Among his students were Yamagata Isaburo and Hayakawa Ryusuke, both famous and knowledgeable people of their time, Hayakawa being a member of parliament, Yamagata being the head officer of Nagoya’s army. There was also Sawa Ichirobe, Yamada Wado, Yashiro Rokushiro, Suzuki Kodo aka Higuchi Taizan founder of Myoan Taizan Ha in Kyoto, and Uchida Shizan who would become Uchida Seien II.

Kanetomo Seien died on March 21st in Meiji 27 when he was 78 years old. Under the proposal of his students Higuchi Taizan and Uchida Shizan, a memorial for Kanetomo was built in March, Meiji 31, in Nagoya (later moved to Tokokakushisan).

Higuchi Taizan aka Suzuki Kodo 樋口 対山

The evolution of Fudaiji Seien Ryu Honkyoku into Myoan Taizan Ha 明暗 対山派

Born in Nagoya, Suzuki Kodo (1856 – 11/22/1914), later known as Higuchi Taizan 樋口 対山, first studied shakuhachi under Kanetomo Seien and became one of his top 3 students. His artist name was originally Kodo, however, later he took his wife’s family’s name Higuchi and changed his artist name to Taizan. He was a skilled Sankyoku and Honkyoku player, in addition to Gagaku, and moved to Kyoto to make a name for himself as a teacher and performer.

However, perhaps due to the already established Sankyoku style of Kyoto, Soetsu Ryu, he didn’t have much luck with Sankyoku music but instead found success teaching the Fudaiji Honkyoku. Like his teacher Seien, Taizan wasn’t eager in business and, as a result, his father in law, who was in the miso and soy sauce business, often complained about him.

Higuchi Taizan founded a new, revival Komuso shakuhachi temple which was named Myoanji 明暗寺 after the original Kyoto Myoanji temple that had since been destroyed. Higuchi Taizan assumed the lineage of the previously destroyed Myoanji, thus becoming the 35th Kanshu or head of Myoanji (the pre-Taizan Myoanji is often referred to as kyu or ‘old’ Myoanji).

Taizan founded what he called the Myoan Taizan Ryu which taught the 11 Fudaiji Honkyoku, however, he later wished to add more Honkyoku so he travelled to Tokyo to study Kinko Ryu from Araki Kodo II. Taizan also learned and eventually taught pieces from Oshu and Kyushu.

The Myoan Taizan Ha way of playing all of these Honkyoku pieces evolved into its own unique, distinct style. Myoan Taizan Ha pieces were very popular and spread across Japan and in the Western world, particularly in the iterations from Takahashi Kuzan, Jin Nyodo, Nishimura Koku, and Watazumi, among others. They remain some of the most revered Honkyoku today.

Through the years, Higuchi Taizan maintained his connections with the rest of his Fudaiji shakuhachi brothers, visiting his home in Nagoya and writing them letters often. Myoan Taizan Ha has endured to this day as an active group and Myoanji temple in Kyoto is visited often by shakuhachi players from around the world.

Fudaiji Seien Ryu Lineage chart