Myoan Shimpo Ryu

Myoan Temple

The Myoan temple, know as Myoan-ji or in recent times sometimes as Meian-ji, was in the beautiful city of Kyoto and served as the main Fuke temple of the Kansai region. The shakuhachi style from this temple is highly refined with subtle, gentle nuance.

This style is now extremely rare. During the Edo period, the Myoan temple was largely independant from the Fuke sect’s headquarters in the capital, Ichigetsu-ji and Reiho-ji. This was also reflected in the music which had an entirely different notation system. However, during the Meiji period this style was nearly made extinct. After the destruction of the Myoan temple, there was a revival movement of the temple made by Higuchi Taizan, whose music was primarily from Ichigetsu-ji in Edo and Ichigetsu-ji’s branch temple Fudaiji in Hammamatsu. He even named his school after the temple, so that when the names ‘Myoan Ryu’ or ‘Myoan’ are heard today, it almost always refers to Taizan’s school. The revival movement also rented a small temple which is now known by the former Fuke temple’s name, Myoan-ji, and this serves as the base for Higuchi Taizan’s school and a major centre for honkyoku activity. As it happens, Taizan did not include even one honkyoku from the original Myoan temple.

Kyu Myoan and Myoan Shimpo Ryu

With this potentiality for confusion, the original Kyoto schools are now referred to by the term Kyu Myoan (旧明暗) meaning ‘Old Myoan’, while Taizan’s school can be known as Myoan Taizan Ha, or the least confusing name being Taizan Ryu, a name he was known to have used himself. By the end of the 19th century, Kyu Myoan included schools based primarily on ensemble music such as Soetsu Ryu which is now extinct, and Myoan Shimpo Ryu (明暗真法流) which taught only honkyoku and came to be renowned as the holder of the Kyoto honkyoku.

Katsuura Shozan

Katsuura Shozan (1856-1942) was the last head of Shimpo Ryu. He attracted many students, but only one of them learned the complete repertoire of over 60 pieces – Yoshikawa Shoko. Many people from other schools learned a few pieces from him, such as Kawase Junsuke, founder of the Chikuyusha branch of Kinko Ryu; Nakao Tozan, founder of Tozan Ryu; Sakai Chikuho, founder of Chikuho Ryu; and eclectic players such as Jin Nyodo and Takahashi Kuzan.

One of Katsuura’s most promising students was Sano Tokai, for whom Katsuura had great hopes, but he unfortunately died young. Largely due to the troubles of the Second World War, much was lost from Shimpo Ryu, and it no longer exists as a separate school. Since Yoshikawa Shoko is not known to have had any students, the school’s lineage in its entirety has not been passed on. The lineage continuing today with the highest numbers of pieces known to have been transmitted is that of Yamaue Getsuzan, with 26 honkyoku.

Yamaue Getsuzan

Originally from Kyushu, Yamaue studied Shimpo Ryu from the age of 19, for 5 years with Sano Tokai; for 2 years with another of Katsuura’s students, Minamoto Unkai; with Sano’s introduction he went on to study with Katsuura himself for 9 years; and after Katsuura’s death, with Tsunoda Rogetsu in Kyushu. Yamaue was very strict at preserving the styles which he learned precisely. His lineage represents the most complete as well as the most orthodox in style of any remaining Shimpo Ryu transmissions.

‘Fu Ho U’ Notation

It is through Yamaue’s lineage that the original ‘fu ho u’ (フホウ) notation of Kyoto’s Myoan temple continued to be transmitted. This notation is quite different from the notation of other regions, known as ‘ro tsu re’ (ロツレ) notation, which is now used by almost all other schools, especially Kinko Ryu, Seien Ryu and newer schools such as Tozan Ryu.

Yamaue’s lineage, now taught by Justin and his teacher Otsubo Shido, is the only lineage to continue teaching the transmission in this ancient Shimpo Ryu notation. Since the other lines of transmission (see below) already had their established styles with their own notation systems, and since they generally received only a few pieces, they passed on those pieces in their own notation systems.

A sample of Shimpo Ryu notation:

Although Yamaue also played and taught other honkyoku styles, he continued to play and teach the Shimpo Ryu pieces using the original Myoan notation just as he had learned them. Katsuura used to hand write the scores for his students, as had generations before him, and Yamaue continued this for his student Sato Reido, who copied his own scores for his student Otsubo Shido, and from Otsubo on to Justin.

Reido was very keen to preserve this notation in order to keep the original Shimpo Ryu nuance, and his school became the last school to continue this ancient form of notation. Justin and Otsubo Shido are now the only two teachers continuing the transmission of this ancient Kyoto notation style.

It should be noted that this ancient Myoan notation is often confused with the ‘fu ho u’ notation of Chikuho Ryu since they both have the notes ‘fu ho u’. However, after that they bare little similarity. Although often presented as being ancient, the Chikuho Ryu notation system is one of the most recent shakuhachi notation systems. Created in the 20th century largely for notating modern compositions and ensemble pieces, it shares only about 1/4 of the same symbols for notes, and an entirely different timing system, making it mutually unintelligible with the original Myoan notation.

Other transmissions

A few Shimpo Ryu pieces also continue to be transmitted in the schools of Jin Nyodo, Takahashi Kuzan, and in Chikuho Ryu. These styles show much more influence from the individual style of the schools’ founders and the arrangements of the pieces, both in their notation and their performance, but are musically and historically very interesting.

There have also been various attempts at reconstructions or inspired interpretation of the pieces from the notation, by such people as the Ueda Ryu player and composer Fujita Masaharu, among others.

Justin’s Lineage

Justin first learned Shimpo pieces from Jin Nyodo‘s lineage under Kurahashi Yoshio in Kyoto, and the same pieces later with Jin Nyodo’s top student Sato Jokan in Kyushu. His second exposure to the style was learning Shimpo Ryu pieces from Takahashi Kuzan’s lineage with Fujiyoshi Etsuzan in Tokyo. These two styles are very different from each other, and Justin was encouraged to research more into the ancient Kyoto style. Etsuzan had a great passion for this style, and a wonderfully delicate tone. He had also visited one of Katsuura’s students when he was young, on his teacher Kuzan’s recommendation to absorb the Shimpo Ryu nuance and atmosphere.

With Etsuzan’s blessings, Justin managed to track down the last 2 remaining teachers of Yamaue‘s transmission of Shimpo Ryu – Takahashi Rochiku and Otsubo Shido. Yamaue lived in a remote part of Kyushu, and passed this transmission to Sato Reido, his principle student, and to Takahashi Rochiku who travelled frequently from Tokyo in order to receive Yamaue’s precious music teachings. By the time Justin contacted Takahashi Rochiku, he was in his 80’s and was no longer teaching. However, after repeated requests, and admitting that none of his students had learned enough from him to be able to teach, he agreed, and taught Justin the Shimpo Ryu style step by step.

Sato Reido was also very old by the time Justin made contact with him in Nagasaki. He was not teaching by that time, but his top student, Otsubo Shido was teaching in his place. Otsubo was the only one to have learned Yamaue’s complete Shimpo Ryu transmission from his teacher, and with Reido’s blessing and his ever listening ear, Justin finished learning this repertoire shortly before Reido passed away in 2010. Justin has been asked by Otsubo Shido to continue this lineage by teaching to the next generation, that this great tradition may continue.

Lineage Chart

Myōan Shimpō Ryū lineage chart


The following is a recording of Justin presenting one of the most respected pieces of the ancient Kyoto repertoire, Sou Mukaiji, at a Chikushinkai gathering in Tokyo. Though the video suffers from distortion due to data compression, hopefully it will give you a feel for this unique style:

Myoan Shimpo Ryu: Sou Mukaiji
[weaver_youtube sd=0 percent=80 ratio=.5625 center=1 rel=0 https=0 privacy=0 start=11]