International Shakuhachi Society Logo

The International Shakuhachi Society

Ajikan (Itchoken)

阿字観

This is a piece of genre Koten from the Chikuho Ryû and Taizan Ha Schools . This piece was composed for Shakuhachi by the person Miyagawa Nyozan.

History (Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin):

Of all honkyoku, this one is most often played in Zen temples. It comes originally from Itcho-ken Temple in Hakata (Fukuoka Prefecture) on the island of Kyushu.
The music is supposed to represent the Zen concept of "seeing with the heart" as opposed to normal seeing with one's eyes. The "a" of the title Ajikan refers to Zen priests in meditation: the "ji" represents the primary or original sound: and the word "kan" means "to see". Thus, this honkyoku is about "seeing the original sound", a special sort of vision that is associated with enlightenment.

Ajikan (Itchoken) appears on the following albums

AlbumShakuhachiKotoShamisen
Ajikan Taniguchi Yoshinobu

    "A" in this title is pronounced "Ah" and is the first sound of the Japanese alphabet. In the Mikkyo ("secret teachings") of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, "Ah" represents the "basic essence" of all things. "Kan" means to "see" this essence with one's Heart/Mind (kokoro). These teachings were expounded by Kukai, the famous founder of the Shingon sect at Toji Temple in Kyoto. The beginning of all things is in the heart and mind and these find their manifestations in the physical world. One must concentrate on this to understand how any idea one holds can change the shape of the seen and unseen world.


Art of the Shakuhachi Vol II Mitsuhashi Kifu

    This composition, one of the most famous in the entire shakuhachi repertory, is played by nearly everyone who performs traditional honkyoku. The title refers to an important meditative practice of Shingon-sect esoteric Buddhism. "A” is thought to be the first sound uttered by humans once they open their mouths. Once one has moved away from this "A" nothing is explicable in words, thus becoming pure "nothingness." Thus reflecting (kan) on the ideograph (ji) of "A" gives "Ajikan."

    "Ajikan" as performed here was devised by Miyagawa Nyozan. It is based on an earlier piece from Kyushu known as "Sashi." "Sashi" comes in three variants. One, known as "Bo-sashi" is performed "straight as a stick (bo)." A second, devised in the Hakata area (Fukuoka prefecture) by a man known as Ikkencho-no-Shinshichi, played this in a more wavering (yuri) style, and is known as "Yuri-sashi" (or "Shinshichizashi") Finally, a third and even more complicated variant known as "Neri-zashi" was devised. "Ajikan" is based on the second variant, "Yuri-sashi."

    "Yuri-sashi" features a melody that is repeated, but in "Ajikan" the opening of the repetition is played in a higher range of the instrument. For this reason "Ajikan" features a sense of tension that would not result were the melody simply repeated. Perhaps its most remarkable characteristic is the use of ornamentation known as "yuri." When Nyozan played "Ajikan" he performed it at a rapid tempo; disciples such as Kyochiku, however; who used a longer, deeper_pitched instrument, tended to play it at a slower pace.


Breath-Sight - Yearning for the Bell Volume 1 Riley Kelly Lee

    Seeing the Letter Ah

    In this case, the letter is the Sanskrit "ah" which, besides being the first letter in the Sanskrit alphabet, also has the meaning of "original", "primordial", "the 'Word' which existed in the beginning". Played on a 2.4 shaku flute.

Chikusei


Empty Bell, The David Duncavage

    Miyagawa Nyozan, a komuso from the Zen temple Itchoken, arranged this honkyoku from various earlier pieces. Ajikan is a form of tantric meditation in the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Ajikan literally means seeing the first sound of Sanskrit: “Ah”, understood in the Shingon tradition as the “ungraspable void.”


Ethnic Folkways Library - Music of the Shakuhachi Yasuda Shinpu

    From ancient times there was a town known as Aji in Kyuchu. Kiguchitaizan and Miyagawa Nyozan (35th generation of Meian School) added the term Kan and the tune came to be known as Ajikan. This piece is in the esoteric style peculiar to the Meian school of playing. It sounds like the chanting of Zen monks. It is typical Buddhist Shakuhachi music and is also known as Saji or Sa. It is played on a shakuhachi or specified length made of esron pipe. This is used to adapt the tune to the current auditory sense. It could be said that it represents the Renaissance of Japanese classical music. This esron pipe has seven holes and is 56 cm. long.


Fuke Shu Honkyoku; Kyotaku Nishimura Koku

Heart of Bamboo, The Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin

Hikyoku wo Saguru Nagaoka Kodo

Ichion Jobutsu Matsumoto Kyozan


Japanese Masterpieces for the Shakuhachi Yes

    The realization of Buddhism or the state of enlightenment. The first letter is an "A", the beginning of both Eastern and Western alphabets, derived from the Sanskrit "nothing". In Buddhism there is a code of "nothingness", and this music conveys that "all is nothing and nothing is all". Composed by Nyozan Miyagawa, one of the most beautiful Buddhist pieces.

Japanese Masterpieces for the Shakuhachi (LP) Yes

    The realization of Buddhism or the state of enlightenment. The first letter is an "A", the beginning of both Eastern and Western alphabets, derived from the Sanskrit "nothing". In Buddhism there is a code of "nothingness", and this music conveys that "all is nothing and nothing is all". Composed by Nyozan Miyagawa, one of the most beautiful Buddhist pieces.

Japanese Music for Two Shakuhachi Riley Kelly Lee

    The word Ajikan is a mantra, a collection of syllables the very vibration of which, apart from any specific meaning, is believed to be conducive to meditation. Ajikan is also the term used to refer to the highest and most difficult meditative practices of the Shingon Mikkyo sect of Buddhism. The first syllable, AH, symbolizes the unproduced, the impermanent, the immaterial. It is also the initial syllable of Amitabha, the Buddha.

Jin Nyodo No Shakuhachi 06 Jin Nyodo

Jin Nyodo No Shakuhachi 06 Jin Nyodo

    Miyakawa Nyozan: AJIKAN

    2-shaku 1-sun
    7 min. 12 sec.

    1. About the title:

    Ajikan is the most important method of religious discipline in the Shingon Sect of Buddhism. It is the contemplation (kan) of the first letter (a-ji) of the Sanskrit alphabet which is seen as symbolic of the void from which all creation emerges. There are difficult questions regarding the transmission and development of this piece but for more details please consult the section "Different Pieces with the Same Title. Identical Pieces with Different Titles."

    2. Structure of the piece

    It has a binary structure [I (a-b) -- II (c-b-finale)]. Section c is quite short but has a beautiful takane melody. The piece has both straight-line and curving-line (by means of yuri) melodic patterns which intertwine. The curving melodies have a deep feeling or meditation while the straight melodies give a feeling of longing for something far away.

    3. Special features of the piece:

    This piece mixes together feelings of mystery and loneliness so that it is one of the outstanding examples of classical honkyoku. It is quite marvelous in the interchange of linear and curving melodies and serves as an excellent example displaying the highest level of the expressive technique of classical shakuhachi honkyoku.

Koku Monden Tekiku

Koten Shakuhachi Gaku Zen Shu - 3 Takeuchi Chiko

Kyotaku Nishimura Koku

    A song about the journey of human beings from birth to death based on the sacred scriptures of Buddism.

Kyoto Spirit Kurahashi Yodo II

    An ancient meditative piece that exists in several versions. The title probably means contemplation (kan) of the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, a-ji. A-ji symbolizes the void.

Meian Socho - 1 Sakaguchi Tesshin

Meian Sodatsu Fukeshu Shakuhachi


Meianji Shoden Shakuhachi Honkyoku Shu 02 Yoshimura sôshin Fuan

Musique Traditionnelle du Japon Kikusui Kofu

    AJIKAN est une oeuvre bouddhique d'un compositeur inconnu du XII ou XIIIeme siècle. L'idée de la composition, tirée du Bouddhisme Zen, veut évoquer la notion de nèant contenue dans cette philosophie.

    Kofu Kikusui emploie pour jouer cette pièce un shakuhachi de 1 m 20 taillé dans le bois kiri (pawlonia).

Reibo - In memory of the bell Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin

    Of all honkyoku, this one is most often played in Zen temples. It comes originally from Itcho-ken Temple in Hakata (Fukuoka Prefecture) on the island of Kyushu.
    The music is supposed to represent the Zen concept of "seeing with the heart" as opposed to normal seeing with one's eyes. The "a" of the title Ajikan refers to Zen priests in meditation: the "ji" represents the primary or original sound: and the word "kan" means "to see". Thus, this honkyoku is about "seeing the original sound", a special sort of vision that is associated with enlightenment.

Shakuhachi - Classical Modern Best 30 - 01


Shakuhachi - Ryudo - 02 Takahashi Ryudo


Shakuhachi Honkyoku Riley Kelly Lee

Shakuhachi Koten Honkyoku Shusei - 1 Aoki Reibo II

Shumi Tokuyama Takashi

    Miyagawa Nyozan combined an old Kyushu melody with the unique Yuri-no-te technique of Hasegawa Kogaku, last abbott of the house of Futai, in Sendai, to create this new adaptation. Though short, it fully reveals the charm of the shakuhachi. The name Ajikan refers to a ritual of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Tani Kyochiku, known as the last of the Komuso, is said to have enjoyed playing this piece on a long flute, 2.5 shaku (a little under 2 1/2 feet) in length.


Smithsonian Folkways - Shakuhachi Honkyoku Riley Kelly Lee


Sound of Distant Deer Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin

    This honkyoku is supposed to represent the Zen concept of "seeing with the heart”. It is about "seeing the original sound", a special sort of vision that is associated with enlightenment.

Souvenir of Japan - Shakuhachi Komusoh and Suizen


Sui Zen - Blowing Meditation on the Shakuhachi - 03 Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin

    There is some controversy about the origin of this piece, which is one of the most frequently played honkyoku in Zen temples. It is an outstanding example of classical honkyoku, conveying, as indicated by its title, a sense of both mystery and solitude.

    Ajikan, or Ajikwan, to use an older pronunciation, is said by some to refer to a mystic religious practice of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism, the contemplation (kan) of the first letter (a-ji) of the Sanskrit alphabet. Part of this esoteric practice included throwing small sticks into a fire, and looking for the letter "A" in the flames while chanting. One might also look into the sky to find the letter in clouds. Another translation indicates that "a" refers to a Zen priest in meditation, ''ii,'' the original sound, and "kan." to see. The letter that is contemplated is supposed to be symbolic of the immaterial void from which all creation emerges. The piece is said to represent the Zen concept of seeing with the heart, or experiencing the first, or original sound. This contemplation deals with three levels of being: the sound, the letter, and the reality.

    This Taizen Ha piece is attributed to Itcho-Ken Temple in Hakata (Fukuoka) on the island of Kyushu. The music is said to have been found hidden inside an old statue of the Buddha. However, some musicologists note that Ajikan's modern structure and technique suggest that it is a more modern composition. It uses modern fingering techniques, with quick repeats of the note re using the fourth finger, rather then the third finger technique usually used for Meian Zen pieces. Also, shakuhachi music has only been written down in more modern times, so the existence of an ancient music score would be anachronistic.

    Another argument made by musicologists against its ancient origin in Itcho-Ken is that the subject matter is not appropriate to an origin in this temple. The type of esoteric mystic Buddhist practice suggested by the title was not practiced in the Itcho-Ken temple, which did not use Shingon sect disciplines.

    Some say that the piece was composed for the shakuhachi by Miyagawa Nyozan, a 35th generation komuso from the Itcho-Ken is temple, based on a variant of Sashi. This piece from Kyushu called Yuri Sashi, was supposed to have been played with a wavering "yuri" style by the last abbot of the house of Futai, in Sendai, Hasegawa Kogakua.

    When played on a longer instrument, Ajikan is generally played in a slower manner; on a shorter flute, the tempo is faster. It is played here on a 2.1 length instrument.

Take no Shirabe; Fuke Shu Honkyoku Yes

Zen Spirit Tani Senzan


The International Shakuhachi Society - 2017