Post image for Tsuru or Shakuhachi

Tsuru or Shakuhachi

by admin on November 26, 2012

There is a saying that mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery. This could never be truer than in the case of the tsuru, or Japanese red-crowned crane, and the people of Japan. In Japan the tsuru is a national treasure that is revered as a symbol of good fortune, longevity, and fidelity. In mythology the tsuru was said to have lived for 1,000 years. The crane has also become a favorite in origami, the Japanese tradition of paper folding. It is said that folding 1,000 cranes represents healing and hope during challenging times. It is also known that the tsuru mates for life.

The name red-crowned crane comes from the spot of red exposed skin on its head. The tsuru is a large bird with an omnivorous diet, although it prefers meat over plants. Tsurus can grow up to four foot ten inches to five foot two inches tall with a wing span of seven foot three inches to eight foot two inches. However, despite its size the tsuru is the third largest crane species. The tsuru does; however, hold the record for being the heaviest crane weighing in at fifteen to twenty three pounds. With its impressive size the tsuru does not fear many natural hunters. A tsuru is normally indifferent to the presence of small birds of prey, but any larger birds or potential threats—to their nests or themselves— are treated aggressively and chased off. While the tsuru is generally passive toward birds it is extremely hostile towards carnivorous mammals. Even formidable predators, such as the grey wolf, are attacked without hesitation to protect their nest. The parental instincts of the tsuru are admired in Japanese culture.

The tsuru has a gruff, fluting call that is often mimicked by the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese flute, in music. Katsuya Yokoyama, who lived from 1934 to 2010, was one of the world’s greatest masters of the shakuhachi. Yokoyama studied under Fukuda Rando and Watazumido-doso. Fukuda Rando was a Japanese composer. Watazumido-doso was a Japanese master of the bamboo flute who practiced Zen Buddhism. After his studies were completed Yokoyama was able to create his own style of playing that combined the modern style of Rando with the traditional style of Watazumido-doso. Yokoyama went on to establish various groups and establishments for shakuhachi players.

“Tsuru no Sugomori” is a traditional shakuhachi piece. When translated the title means “The Cranes nesting.” “Tsuru no Sugomori” is meant to portray the joy and love that is exhibited in the life cycle of the tsuru. This piece is widely appreciated as a work of absolute music; however, it utilizes many programmatic playing techniques such as flutter tonguing, tremolos, glissandi, and irregular vibratos to mimic the life of the tsuru. The beginning of “Tsuru no Sugomori” is a sequence of alternating notes that gradually gain speed until it becomes a tremolo then gently fades away. After a very peaceful beginning the first tsuru call is heard forty four second into the piece. The call of the tsuru is imitated by flutter tonging.  Throughout the entirety of “Tsuru no Sugomori” glissandi and vibratos are utilized to enhance a remarkable imitation to the point of realism. Tsuru no Sugomori is one of the most celebrated shakuhachi pieces. Many variations of this piece with similar titles exist and are being played today. At the center of it all is a deep respect for the tsuru.

by Ryan Wyatt

Emily Mercer November 28, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I really enjoyed reading this article; it’s fairly unique and on a topic about which I have very little knowledge. Also, you seem pretty keen on the topic, judging by the detail of your article. I was inspired to listen to some shakuhachi while I read.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: