Zackary Entwistle: Shakuhachi

I learned how to play shakuhachi for my CIP. Every Thursday I received private lessons from Kawamiya-san for around two hours where I was taught the fundamentals of the instrument, and every Tuesday I put what I learned at my lesson into context by playing with Iwazaki-sensei’s ensemble of koto, shamisen, and shakuhachi players. These lessons and rehearsals culminated with two performances, one where I played a duet with my private lesson teacher and another where I performed a couple pieces with the larger ensemble.

I adored my experience learning shakuhachi here in Kyoto. I’ll cherish not only my newly acquired (but still extremely rudimentary) ability to play this instrument I had never even heard in person before coming to this country, but also the memories I made from practicing at rehearsals, getting dinner with my teachers, and going to parties together after the performances. Of course there were also times when I struggled, as hardship is inherent to learning a new instrument, and especially finding time to practice at home in addition to scheduled practices twice a week was challenging to do during a short study abroad experience. But overall, I couldn’t have dreamed of a cooler way to interact authentically with Japanese people and learn about traditional Japanese culture, improving my language skills along the way too.

For any incoming students thinking of learning a new instrument as your CIP, just make sure you’re okay with the sacrifices first. Your time abroad is short and an activity that requires diligent practice like this will drain any freetime left in your already extremely packed study abroad schedule; my time spent on shakuhachi-related activities would sum to more than 10 hours most weeks. I was happy to let shakuhachi be such a big part of my study abroad experience, but you should be mindful of the commitments you’re making before you make them.

(See the full performance here: