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Commentary on Tsuru no Sugomori

By Watazumi Dōso

Translated by Lindsay Dugan

Tsuru no Sugomori is one of the most famous pieces in the honkyoku repertoire. The crane is a sacred icon in Japanese culture, and is frequently discussed in Buddhist texts. Tsuru no Sugomori conveys an atmosphere of serenity, and there are many variations.


Many states of the crane in its daily life are expressed through various phrases and techniques in this hikkyoku. At the darkest hour in deep and misty mountains, just before the sky is about to reveal the very first light of dawn, a male and female crane cry out; the first phrases of Tsuru emerge from this darkness. After daybreak, the sun rises high. It's a clear day, and a male and female crane are flying together in an open sky. 


The shakuhachi is the sound of cranes nesting at the mouth of a river where three valleys meet. It is the sound of the water, and the mountains and valleys that the water flows between. It is the sound of cranes living in those places, sleeping, flying, mating, and raising young.


At Icchōken, Tsuru no Sugomori is a fundamental piece that everyone plays. The teaching and performance style of Icchōken relies on natural one-piece shakuhachi for training. This tradition originated in Hakata, Kyūshū.


Ichiō Osho was the pioneer of Icchōken. Ichiō came from Myōanji, in Kyoto. When he visited Entsuji in Hakata, there was no-one in charge, and he became the head of the temple. Several generations after Ichiō, the temple also became known as Entsuji Icchōken, and later yet, as Fumonzan Icchōken. 


During the Tokugawa Period, komusō in Kyūshū were more strongly associated with ,and representative of, the Fuke sect than komusō in any other part of Japan. During the Meiji Period, the Fuke sect was disbanded, and komusō temples all over Japan were closed. However, people in Hakata rallied and supported Icchōken to preserve its traditions, and, unlike other komusō temples, many of the traditions of Icchōken still exist.

©2020 L. Dugan

Lindsay Dugan



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