How to Oil a Jinashi Shakuhachi

One of my shakuhachis developed some mold recently; it had a yeasty smell, kind of like when you let bread rise or make sourdough starter. Apparently, this happens occasionally with new jinashi shakuhachis. (This isn’t a problem for jiari shakuhachis, because the bores are covered with ji paste.)

So I went in search of advice for cleaning it. It was suggested that I clean it using one of the following, together with a bottle brush:

  • Dishwashing liquid and water
  • Vinegar and baking soda
  • Rubbing alcohol

I did all three, because after each of the first two stages, it still smelled a bit. I was initially worried about getting the instrument wet, but my teacher, Kiku Day, told me that she sometimes puts all her flutes in the bathtub to wash them.

After cleaning, it was suggested that I oil the flute, at least on the inside. This would get into the raw bamboo and protect it from humidity. Some people oil their flutes regularly, both inside and outside, in order to protect them, so this seemed like a good idea.

There were many suggestions as to how to get the oil well applied inside the flute, and, to be honest, not all of them were simple. I could take a piece of cloth, such as a tsuyutoshi – that’s the cloth with a weighted string on the end that is recommended to use after playing – but the one I have isn’t very thick, so it wouldn’t apply the oil evenly. Or I could take another type of cloth and push it through with a stick. But I found a much simpler method, one that doesn’t waste much oil. (I’m using camellia oil, which is apparently the most common type of oil to use.)

You’ll need the following:

  • Cotton wool
  • A stick longer than your shakuhachi
  • Oil

Stick a wad of cotton wool in the mouthpiece end of the flute. Pour enough oil on the cotton to wet it completely. Push the cotton through the flute with the stick. When it comes out the end, do it again, maybe a couple of times, if you want to be sure to get oil everywhere. You can then use the oiled cotton wool on the outside of the flute, if you wish to oil that as well.

This was much cleaner than what some people had suggested, which was pouring oil directly into the flute, then applying it with a cloth. Because with that method, you need to put masking tape over the holes; with the cotton, you don’t need to, because it won’t come out the holes.

I’ve done this twice, and will do it again after a few days; my shakuhachi seems to be absorbing the oil fairly quickly. I have been told that some players like to oil their flutes often because of the patina that develops, which one might even want to do with a jiari shakuhachi; I can see that being interesting over time.

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