Is a Jinashi Utagutchi More Forgiving than a Jiari?

In my battle of the embouchure, I’ve found it quite a struggle to be able to get a good, stable sound on my shakuhachis. For a while, it was going quite well, until I realized, late last year, that I was pushing my lower jaw forward, creating a lot of tension. So I had to un-learn and re-learn how to blow.

I’ve recently gotten over my issues, and part of the difficulty, I think, is that a jinashi shakuhachi is more forgiving than a jiari. (Jiari shakuhachi have a paste called “ji” in their bore; jinashi flutes are just bamboo with nothing added. Read more about jinashi flutes in this Wikipedia article.)

I started playing a 2.2 jinashi that I got from José Vargas, which I had found too difficult when I first bought it, and all of a sudden, everything clicked. (It’s the top one in the photo with this article.) It seemed to me that the utaguchi (the blowing edge) of a jinashi is more forgiving, is easier to blow. I confirmed this with my teacher, Kiku Day, who agreed that this is the case.

What I think is that the sharp edge of the jiara requires a much more precise air flow than the rough edge of a jinashi. Also, the rougher edge of a jinashi’s utagutchi means that the sound is freer, and that the precision in air flow and direction is less important. While I had to blow a bit from the side on my jiari shakuhachi, I can blow more in the center of my mouth with the jinashi.

In addition to playing more stable notes, I’m also starting to play in kan (the second octave) which was very difficult on my jiari. I prefer the sound of the jinashi shakuhachi, so I’m delighted that I’m making this progress. This has been a very interesting exploration, and I feel that I can now move on and start playing more demanding music.

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