Hichiriki Flute (篳篥)

Hichiriki flute is one of the wind instruments used for gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music) and kagura (sacred music and dancing performed at shrines) that was created in modern times following the flow of gagaku.
Fukimono (a wind instrument used in Japanese court music)
There are 'O-hichiriki' and 'Ko-hichiriki,' but the hichiriki flute usually indicates 'Ko-hichiriki.'

Hichiriki flute is made of a lacquered bamboo tube, and it is an end-blown flute that has seven holes on the front side and two on the back side. For a sound source, Rozetsu (a reed), shaped like a double reed, is used. One of two dried arundinaceous tubes is heated and crushed, and a ring called Seme is inserted into the tube. The other tube is wrapped many times with Japanese paper called Zugami (paper for a figure). Then the tube wrapped with Zugami is inserted into the upper part of Hichiriki flute itself and then played. Its' structure is similar to the western oboe.

The range is basically one octave from sol (G4) and it is one tone above, lah (A5), but it is possible to smoothly change the pitch by how strongly you blow into the flute and how deep you insert the Rozetsu in your mouth. This playing technique is called Anbai melisma.

In gagaku, Sho (Japanese flute), Ryuteki flute, and the Hichiriki flute are collectively called Sankan or three Instruments. Sho describes the light from heaven, Ryuteki flute describes dragon's voice swimming between heaven and the earth, and the Hichiriki flute describes the human voice existing here on earth. The Hichiriki flute has a narrower range, but is louder than the Sho and Ryuteki flutes. Hichiriki flute plays the lead (more precisely 'something like the lead').

There are some anecdotes about people who escaped death and a robbery that were revived by the performance of the Hichiriki flute. But it was an instrument of an alien race, so not many nobles could learn how to play it. There are not many famous Hichiriki flutes, so only names of Kaizokumaru, Namigaeshi, Fudemaru, Hikomaru, Iwanami, Takiotoshi, and Kokimurasaki have been handed down. Experts included WANIBE no Mochimitsu, Mineyoshi OISHI, MINAMOTO no Hiromasa, and FUJIWARA no Tomasa.

Making a Hichiriki flute

Hichiriki flute is an instrument that requires well-sounding tone and intervals.

The sound of a temple bell is used for the Hichiriki flute interval. Sounds of temple bells from Myoshin-ji Temple and Chion-in Temple in Kyoto are used.

An advanced technique is required for positioning the holes and hole making to realize the instrument's scale.

An electric gimlet is not used for hole making. The electric gimlet can be used if an instrument has sufficient distance between holes as the material won't crack. However, the Hichiriki flute requires a close distance between the holes, the material is blighted, old, and dried, and it is bamboo that has been smoked in the ceiling above a fireplace (a sunken hearth) in a farmhouse in daily life for three hundred to three hundred fifty years, so it is very hard and fragile.

A screw gimlet' is a roll-up string type, known to be used to make fire since ancient times in Japan, to create a sacred flame for a ceremony at a shrine. The screw gimlet' is used to make holes that won't break the flute..

The material used is naturally-grown bamboo, so the internal diameter and thickness are all slightly different. Therefore, the scale cannot be determined by just copying the hole position on a prototype.

To make it into an instrument, hole positioning requires an intuition and an expert's technique.

Just like creating inspirational sound by feeling it, all the hole positioning and hole making are performed in the same way.

By studying the material, make a hole where you decide to have it, and adjust the hole shape while blowing into it.

If one hole cracks, it is a failure and cannot be used as an instrument.

Such precious bamboo are from a small portion of selected materials that are difficult to obtain that meet the requirements for making good instruments, so tension and hesitation occurs as no mistakes can be allowed.

Play it, make a hole, adjust it, and then play it again. When making a hole, concentration and courage to take the plunge are required.

The inside is coated with urushi Japanese lacquer and this adjusts its scale.

The craftsmen who acquire these techniques, are required to concentrate and master tunes and pitches during the first six months.

Mix mokushitsu and water together and coat the inside using a paddle. Dry it, blow, adjust, and confirm its scale. Concentration and careful coating techniques are required.

The material used to make a Hichiriki flute is old, dried-up, and fragile bamboo. So, if the coating fails, it will crack straight from the hole to the bottom when moisture from the urushi Japanese lacquer starts to dry.

Therefore, it is not appropriate to work on this process during arid times when the coated urushi Japanese lacquer dries too quickly.

The best time for the lacquering process would be from the end of March to May 20 during the Spring and a shorter period during Autumn according to the twenty-four sekki calendar.

Lacquering the inside of a Hichiriki flute could be done only during this period, because it could crack if this process were carried out at any other time.

Hichiriki flute is an instrument, so it is made without cracks, has the right scale, and a well-sounding tone.

It is considered the very best when five out of ten are completed as actual instruments.

A player says that just looking at the Hichiriki flute enables him/her to concentrate before a performance while thinking about how the craftsman put his/her soul into making it.

The shape of Hichiriki flute has always been the same since ancient times, so the predecessors' work is a useful reference for improving the technique.

The length of Sho, a wind instrument, is one shaku (= 30.3 cm) and seven sun (= 3.03 cm x 7), and it was a large Sho until the beginning of Kamakura period, in the thirteenth century, but it became smaller afterward. However, the fue (Japanese flute) and the Hichiriki flute have a fixed length, so it is based upon the famous instruments made before the change in measurements occurred.

For the craftsmen, their techniques stop improving if they only continue their own work. However, a craftsmen's technique improves with ideas and effort by examining famous instruments passed down from ancient times.