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Shirabe (Nezasa Ha)

調 (根笹)

This is a piece of genre Koten from the Chikuho Ryû and Nezasa Ha / Kimpu Ryû Schools .

History (Yokoyama Katsuya):

Like Honshirabe, this is a piece of Shirabe music. It is often played before the Sagari Ha.

Shirabe (Nezasa Ha) appears on the following albums

AlbumShakuhachiKotoShamisen
Art of the Japanese Bamboo Flute, The Watazumi Doso Roshi


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

    Original Tuning of the Nezasa Sect

    One of a group of short honkyoku pieces called Shirabe or Choshi, played as warm-ups or preludes to larger honkyoku pieces. More than that, they serve as a renewal of the relationship between the bamboo and the performer, a searching of the balance between the two that is most conducive to mediation. This particular Shirabe is the version which is said to have been transmitted by the Nesasa ("bamboo grass") sect of shakuhachi from Northern Japan. Nesasa pieces are noted for the technique of komibuki, a pulsating breath believed to be conducive to meditation. Played on a 2.4 shaku flute.

Empty Bell, The David Duncavage

    The rough breathing of Nezasa-ha style honkyoku depicts blowing through a bamboo grove or, some say, across the fields of northern Japan. Shirabe is often used as a way to settle the mind before playing a longer honkyoku.


Floating Clouds Michael Chikuzen Gould

    The breathing technique employed here imitates the sound of the wind blowing across the sasa bamboo leaves in a grove; a favorite technique of performers originally of the Tsugaru district of Japan.

In Dead Earnest Ishikawa Toshimitsu

Jin Nyodo No Shakuhachi 01 Jin Nyodo

    Nezasa-ha: SHIRABE

    1-shaku 8-sun
    2 min. 55 sec.

    1. About the title:

    Please consult the section on Shirabe-Choshi in "Commonly Used Titles."

    It is possible to view this particular Shirabe of Nezasa-ha as having once been an independent piece, but of course its use as an introduction or prelude is its more important feature. That is to say, in Nezasa-ha it was attached to the performance of each piece, and became fixed as an introductory section for the "cleaning of the heart and the repose of the soul." However, the single piece Matsukaze is an exception: since it already has a shirabe-style opening, this piece Shirabe is not used with it.

    2. Structure of the piece

    It begins in the lower range, proceeds to the upper, and returns again to end in the lower range. This construction is shaped like a gently rounded mountain. From the point of view of dan ("steps"), we can divide it into three sections: 1. a five-breath jo, 2. a high four-breath section and 3. a four-breath closing section.

    Although it is short, it has all the basic elements of composition and thus can be played either as an introduction or as an independent work. The komibuki of the initial ro-tone is said to represent the wrath of heaven and earth and thus should be played with some strength and fierceness.

    3. Special features of the piece:

    Pieces called Shirabe or Choshi all display the artistic styles of their schools. This piece clearly shows the artistic style of Nezasa-ha: a feeling of deep sorrow and desolation set within a rather vigorous framework. There is a theory that this is a composition by Ban Yasuyuki (1798-1875), but just as we can suppose that there is a Gen-Rokudan ("original Rokudan") behind the koto piece Rokudan-no-Shirabe, we are free also to assume that there was also another original piece behind Shirabe.

    This is the first short, basic piece studied in Nezasa-ha, but it is not so easy to master completely: this is rather like the situation with Rokudan-no-Shirabe where even the most famous players find it hard to perform the piece to their own complete satisfaction.

Jin Nyodo No Shakuhachi 05 Jin Nyodo

Katsuya Yokoyama Plays Shakuhachi - 2 Yokoyama Katsuya

Koten Shakuhachi Gaku Zen Shu - 5 Takeuchi Chiko

Meian Socho - 2 Sakaguchi Tesshin

Mysterious Sound of Bamboo Flute - 2 Watazumi Doso Roshi

    The Nezasa ha style comes from the northern tip of Oshu (northern Japan). This piece is said to have been created in the end of the Tokugawa period.

    The feeling of this piece is that of a soft breeze weaving its way among a snow-laden wood. It uses the technique of tsuguri extensively.

    A 2.3 shaku hocchiku was used for this piece.

Mysterious Sounds of the Japanese Bamboo Flute - Watazumido-Shuso, The Watazumi Doso Roshi

    The impression of a soft wind blowing through a snow covered forest is the feature of this tune performed with a 70 cm Hotchiku.


Poeme du Bambou Marco Lienhard

Sea Drift Riley Kelly Lee

Shakuhachi - Classical Modern Best 30 - 01


Shakuhachi - Ryudo - 01 Takahashi Ryudo


Shakuhachi Honkyoku Riley Kelly Lee


Shakuhachi Zen John Singer

Shika no Tone Shakuhachi Koten Meikyoku Shusei - 2 Yokoyama Katsuya

    Like Honshirabe, this is a piece of Shirabe music. It is often played before the Sagari Ha.


Shingetsu Tajima Tadashi


Smithsonian Folkways - Shakuhachi Honkyoku Riley Kelly Lee

Sound of Bamboo, The Takahashi Kûzan

Sui Zen - Blowing Meditation on the Shakuhachi - 04 Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin

    These first two pieces will be played without a break because the "Shirabe" or "Choshi" is very often played as an introduction, going right into the next Neza-Sa-Ha piece.

    Many classical honkyoku pieces are titled "shirabe" or "choshi," or "some preface-shirabe" or "some preface-cho." No matter whether the Chinese characters representing them are pronounced shirabe or choshi, they all are derived from the verb "shirabu," which has the sense of "investigating or exploring" a particular tuning or frame of mind. The same meaning can be seen in the very famous classical trio composition, originally done for koto, Rokudan No Shirabe, which is sometimes written with the characters for choshi. Hi Fu Mi Hachikaeshi can also be called "Hi Fu Mi No Shirabe."

    These shirabe originally had the function of introductory pieces, but at present, many are treated as independent works because they are also complete compositions unto themselves. The term shirabe or takeshirabe may also indicate the opening section of a work. Many honkyoku are in four sections: "shirabe or takeshirabe," "Clearing the Bamboo;" "honte," which is the meat of the piece; "takane," the high section; and "musubi," the folding together, which closes things up.

    So, there are two meanings of shirabe. One is the section of the work, which we could designate with the convention of a small "s," and the "Capital S" Shirabe, which is a piece.

    "Capital S" Shirabe from different schools may not necessarily have anything in common. Each school or different style of Shirabe or Choshi will have its own structure or own sense of either a Jo-Ha-Kyu arc or a Ki-Sho-Ten-Ketsu. This composition structure reflects the four required sections of Chinese poetry.

    However, the "small s" shirabe or takeshirabe that is used as part of a piece, rather than as a piece in itself, usually has a quite specific structure. It starts on a low tone in low register, and usually stays in the low register, barely venturing into the high register at all. It does not modulate or change in any significant way, and does not really develop compositionally beyond the limited capacity of its introductory role in the entire piece.

    This "shirabe" is used for all 10 honkyoku in Neza-SaHa, with only one exception, Matsukaze, which has its own special built-in shirabe section. In fact, quite a few of the pieces recorded in Jin Nyodo's six-record album start with this "Shirabe;" he then plays the other piece.

    Yet, this particular shirabe of Neza-Sa-Ha, which has a special, breezy, swaying feeling, traditionally was thought to convey a sense of wind blowing through snowy woodlands or bamboo. It can serve as a truly independent piece, although it is rarely played by itself. Its most important and usual role is as a prelude of introduction to the other pieces. Not only does a shirabe warm up the bamboo, but it also serves as a choshi to examine the condition of the player, supposedly cleansing and giving repose to the kokoro (heart / mind / spirit).

    This piece has three sections that flow in a gentle arc, a low five-breath opening, a high four-breath section, and a low four-breath closing.

    The composition of this version is often attributed to : Ban Yasuyuki, who lived from 1798 to 1875. It may l be a transcription of an older piece, or based on one.

    Although this is the first and simplest piece studied in Neza-Sa-Ha, it is not easy to master. Kyorei and Daiwagaku and many other supposedly simple things in shakuhachi - as in life itself - are not really simple at all. Ultimately the most difficult thing you can do is playa single, perfect sound.


Tajima Tadashi Shakuhachi no Sekai I Tajima Tadashi

Take Ippon II Yokoyama Katsuya

    From the repertoire of Nezasa-school of Tsugaru district: this is one of the representative pieces of the school (other famous pieces being "Sagariha no shirabe" and "Matsukaze"). A special effect called komibuki, which depicts a north wind blowing through a bamboo grove, is the characteristic of Nezasa-school. This school does not exist today: though we had 16 schools when Fuke-shu was at the zenith, now there exist only 2 major schools (Kinko-school and Tozan-school) and 3 more schools (Ueda-school, Yoozan-school, and Chikuho-school).


The Voice of Bamboo Steven Taizen Casano

World of Zen Music, The - Shakuhachi Music from Tsugaru, Nezasa-ha Kinpu-ryu Nakamura Akikazu

    The main meaning of the word shirabe in Japanese is "investigation", but the word is also used to mean "melody". However, in its original musical sense, the word denoted a piece which delved deep into the state of the performer, the state of bamboo, or indeed the state of the sentient universe. Such a piece served as a kind of prelude intended to achieve a sense of oneness with the world and the universe. This is the most basic piece employed in the austerities of the Fuke Zen sect and is performed as the prelude to every piece in the repertoire with the exception of Matsukaze.

    It is a bold and vigorous piece imbued with unfathomable depth, pathos and desolation.

Zen - Katsuya Yokoyama - 02 Yokoyama Katsuya

    Like Honshirabe, this is a piece of Shirabe music. It is often played before the Sagari Ha.


The International Shakuhachi Society - 2017