Ichijo Kobayashi is one of the best known and well-respected shakuhachi makers in Japan. The following is excerpted from a conversation between Ichijo and Yoshimura Kohmei, a shakuhachi master and student of Matsumura Hohmei:
Ichijo means 'one castle'. His attitude, to be responsible for the entire process of shakuhachi making might have come from his given name. Kobayashi-sensei is from Yashiro, a city in Hyogo prefecture. He entered Kansai Gaguin Daigaku physics department and belonged to the university Japanese music club and studied shakuhachi under Tanaka Udo, in the lineage of kinko-ryu. When he was a sophomore he asked Nagahiro Shinzan in Osaka to repair his shakuhachi. This event sparked his interest in shakuhachi making. In order to pay his repair bill he offered to help Shinzan make shakuhachi. Thus intention became destiny and he became uchi-deshi (live-in student) to this great maker in 1972, meanwhile continuing his study of the kinko-ryu repertoire. In 1976 he started studying kinko-ryu with Aoki Reibo and still studies with him to the present day.
Sizes and prices
Ichijo makes shakuhachi in sizes from 1.1 to 2.5, fom A to G on the western scale, even-tempered. Prices vary from $1500 upwards. The middle tier price range is $2500-$3500. High price range is $5000-$6000. Very rare and select flutes can be priced up to $10000. These are only occasionally available since they arise without intention, when working on the higher price range flutes.
At all price levels, Ichijo works with excellent quality bamboo (these pieces are rare...within one bamboo grove, only a handful of culms may be acceptable). The quality of the urushi laquer in the bore is also important: He uses only best quality domestic urushi. His attention to detail and his control of all the making processes means that he can produce only a limited number of flutes per year.
Ichijo beleives that good quality sound comes from a well-balanced bore profile. The shape of the mouthpiece (utaguchi) also influences how well the player can access this sound. This is breath-receptivity and is player-specific. However, the potential of the flute is not affected by the utaguchi shape. In the process of making a flute, the bore is minutely adjusted and measured, with micro adjustments to the walls of the flute making significant differences to the overall sound. Good balance is the ultimate goal. Inside the flute are 50-60 important points which influence the sound, rather like the meridian points within the human body. The smallest change in the bore diameter at any of these points will alter the sound of the shakuhachi.
Final adjustments to the sound of the shakuhachi are made at different times of day and in different physical states. When a shakuhachi has been created to make a certain quality of sound it does not imply that the player will be able to find the full depth of that sound. Players have different blowing styles. Ichijo flutes are made with bore diameters that enable accessible blowing for the majority of blowing styles. Some players want to have very wide bore shakuhachi to suit their playing style, but there are relatively few players who have developed enough power to be able to make these wide bore flutes sing. Thus he works to provide flutes for most players with normal blowing needs.
Marco's black flute
Marco Leinhard, a very fine Swiss shakuhachi player living in New York, passed by Ichijo's studio one day to ask him to repair an Ichijo shakuhachi. Ichijo was surprised to see the flute that Marco brought to him: It was very dark, worn and old looking, almost black. He didn't remember making such a dark flute, but his stamp was on the back. He thought Marco might have soaked his flute in soy sauce, but it turned out that since he bought the flute, Marco had been playing it for over ten hours each day and thus the flute had become so old-looking.
Caring for Ichijo shakuhachi
When flutes crack it is because of stress to the flute caused by sudden changes in temperature or humidity. Ichijo finds that cracked flutes are flutes that are not regularly played or are placed in hazardous situations. He recommends keeping flutes in plastic bags and humidifying in drier climates. He also recommends oiling the outside of the flute occasionally, with a plant oil such as Camelia oil or Walnut oil. Best is to play it every day and let it absorb the oils from your hands.