In our new Japanese masters series, we will be interviewing musicians, artists, designers and others involved in traditional and modern arts in Japan.
For our very first interview I caught up with Lenzan Kudo, a master of the shakuhachi which is a type of traditional Japanese flute. I asked him about his music and life as a shakuhachi player.
When did you start playing the shakuhachi?
I started playing the shakuhachi when I was a kid. It all started when I accidentally found one in the closet at home. I didn’t know anything about it but I knew it was some kind of instrument. I wanted to play it in my own style but try as I may, I couldn’t get it to produce any sound.
I experimented in various ways trying and mostly failing to get any sound out of it. After about 6 months, although it didn’t sound very good, I finally made a breakthrough and was about to start playing notes. That sense of achievement got me hooked on the shakuhachi.
How would you describe your style of shakuhachi playing?
I think my style is essentially traditionally as I play a lot of classics. However, I also try to incorporate new ideas and ways of playing to make it a little more modern. In other words I’ve got one foot in the past and use that as a base to try new ideas and ways of playing.
What inspires you musically?
Although it’s a different style of shakuhachi to mine, I love the sound of Yamaguchi Goro’s playing. It’s a very gentle flowing kind of style that really moves me. I’m also influenced by musicians and composers such as Ravel, Reich, Sakamoto Ryuichi and also Ravi Shankar.
Do you teach shakuhachi? Do you have foreign students?
Absolutely! And beginners are very welcome. Don’t worry, although it took me 6 months to get a sound out of the Shakuhachi, if you’ll be playing in a very short time. Please feel free to contact me anytime about taking lessons.
Could you teach us one useful Japanese phrase for learning a traditional art with a Japanese teacher?
Sure, when you start a lesson with a teacher you should always say:
It’s just a polite way to ask the teacher to start the lesson.
When you finish the lesson say:
“Arigatou gozaimashita” which means thank you very much.
Sometimes when we practice sitting in the “seiza” position which is sitting on your ankles, you might say:
Ashi ga shibireta. Yasumasete kudasai – My legs are going numb. May I have a break please?!
When are you performing next?
I’m planning to perform in April 2014, here are the details:
Event name: SARUME
Tokyo to, Suginami ku, Izumi 3-53-16, 168-0063
Date: 17th May
Times: First performance, doors open at 2pm. Performance starts at 2:30pm
Second performance, doors open at 6pm, performance starts at 6:30pm
Tickets: On the door: 4000 yen, pre-booked: 3500 yen (For tickets email: [email protected] )
Call Lenzan’s office to get tickets at 050-3572-1085
For more information and to contact Lenzan, join his facebook page.