Shakuhachi size guide – Shaku and Shakuhachi

Shakuhachi size guide TLDR: 1.8, 2.0 and so on, are the total length in the old Japansese measurement system called shaku 尺. You can take the shaku number, for instance 1.8, and multiply by 30.3 cm to get the length (1.8*30.3 = 54.54). The length determines the pitch of the lowest note (fundamental aka tonic, key, Ro) to which the finger-hole notes are tuned to match.

Shakuhachi sizes guide chart for common keys

In the following shakuhachi size guide chart, the lengths in centimeters are purely based off of 1 shaku equaling 30.3 cm. However, because of variations in construction and playing style, the actual length and pitch varies somewhat (more on why below). Therefore, the lengths below simply give a general idea of the size for a given key.

Shaku and shakuhachi lengths

The shaku 尺 or ‘Japanese foot’ is an antiquated unit of length that’s 30.3 centimeters or 11.9 inches (tailors use a different shaku which is 37.9 centimeters or 14.9 inches). The word shakuhachi 尺八 refers to the standardized length of the shakuhachi Japanese bamboo flute. It’s abbreviated from ichi-shaku-hachi-sun. However, the length often varies slightly from instrument to instrument, further underscoring the need for this shakuhachi size guide. This is due to flute acoustics and bamboo (more on this in the final paragraph).

The word shakuhachi is an umbrella term, as it’s commonly used to refer to any and all lengths or keys. Literal shakuhachi, or “1.8’s”, are almost always in the key of D4 above middle C4, as seen in the shakuhachi size guide chart above (C4 being the key of the standard silver Boehm flute). However, as mentioned before, all is not always clear-cut when it comes to the relationship between the length and the pitch.

Shakuhachi length and pitch discrepancies

Various factors can cause minor or major discrepancies between the expected length and pitch. Particularly, the width of the bamboo, aka the bore volume, the size of the bottom opening, and whether or not the shaku length is rounded up or down. For example, a shakuhachi with a larger bore volume for the length will play flatter than a more standard instrument with a medium to narrow sized bore. For these reasons, it’s often necessary or recommend for shakuhachi craftspeople to provide the precise pitch at room temperature and length in cm (73° F / 22.7° C).