Jon Kypros is a shakuhachi teacher and craftsman. He’s the creator and crafter of the Bell Shakuhachi and the author of Your Shakuhachi Journey. Jon began studying and crafting shakuhachi full-time at the age of eighteen. Since then, he has never ceased exploring its inexhaustible depths (Jon’s bio/credentials). As a craftsman and player, Jon focuses on the older style of jinashi shakuhachi. These shakuhachi retain all or most of the natural bamboo inner bore. As a result, crafting them to a high-level is inherently more challenging than any other type of shakuhachi. Therefore, the finest examples are often rare and costly. For this reason, Jon focuses much of his efforts on crafting affordable copies which he calls Bell Shakuhachi.
To begin, Jon first harvests his own bamboo (detailed further down below). After over a year of drying, he can set out on the long journey of crafting fine jinashi shakuhachi. Once crafted he can then select the best examples for the equally lengthy process of copying them via complex molds. After much work, Jon’s Bell Shakuhachi represent the highest fidelity copies currently possible, surpassing both CNC machining and 3D printing. The Bell Shakuhachi are also the first and only complete copies of jinashi shakuhachi. In addition to being the only such instruments available for sale, in the world. [For those interested in the science of flute acoustics google aerophones.]
Copying Bamboo For Bell Shakuhachi
Above is one of Jon first simple attempts at copying a piece of bamboo using molds. As we can see, Jon’s mold process copies every visible detail of bamboo. On the left is a black resin copy (not Jon’s current bamboo eco-composite) and on the right is the original piece of bamboo. This would later evolve into the complex process Jon now employs to copy one of his jinashi shakuhachi. Years later, he now crafts his molds so that he can copy every single aspect of his original bamboo shakuhachi, inside and out, finger holes and all.
The meaning of Bell Shakuhachi
The name of the Bell shakuhachi comes from the honkyoku Reibo (鈴慕) which translates as “yearning for/missing the bell”. In this case, the bell is that of the monk Fuké (Puhua c. 770-840~60 AD). Legend has it, he would ring his bell in the village as a call to enlightenment or awakening. The Komuso monks expressed this in their saying ichi-on jobutsu, which means, “one sound, Buddahood”. Serendipitously, the shape of the root end of the shakuhachi also resembles a bell.
Harvesting Madaké bamboo in Japan for making shakuhachi
For me, bamboo groves are a testament to the resilience of life on earth. When stepping into a mature Madaké grove, I feel dwarfed by towering giants. The shakuhachi shows us how bamboo grows out in nature and it embodies the versatility of bamboo.Jon Kypros
This shakuhachi crafting video shows Jon out také hori or “harvesting bamboo” (Nara, Japan 2020). It also shows him performing Aburanuki or “fire heating”. This video represents weeks of painstaking labor edited down to just under 2 minutes. Note that no part of the 6 or so hours of initial root cleaning and trimming was filmed (pictured below), just the final cleaning before aburanuki.
Harvesting Japanese Madaké bamboo for shakuhachi
To craft his shakuhachi, Jon only uses Phyllostachys bambusoides, commonly called Madaké or giant Japanese timber bamboo. Madaké all over the world has the same DNA because bamboo reproduces Asexually directly from the roots or rhizomes. However, terroir has a huge effect on how any plant will grow. First, a positive ID must be made which is only possible by examining a bamboo shoot, as seen above. Luckily, Madaké has very unique shoots with “auricles”, smooth leopard spotted skin, and pinkish hues when fresh in Spring.
Jon spends many hours digging up the root end of the bamboo for making his shakuhachi. Besides the roots of the stalk itself, Jon has to contend with the “mother of bamboo” or rhizome. The thick, often incredibly tough rhizomes are the subterranean wombs of the bamboo grove which give birth to each stalk. Rhizomes are also unbelievably hard and have shattered Jon’s tools.
The new shoots bud from the rhizomes, breach the earth, and climbing toward the sky to transfigure light into food. In this way, Jon sees the whole bamboo grove as one tightly interconnected organism. Additionally, there are often other rhizomes intermingling in a single root-ball making it even harder for Jon to dig up. Jon tries to only harvests the old, dying, or dead stalks. This discourages infections, infestations, and overcrowding in the grove.
The Dangers of Harvesting Madaké bamboo in Japan for Shakuhachi
Of course, when harvesting Madaké there are many dangers. However, harvesting in Japan comes with its own unique set of risks. For example, professionals harvest Madaké during the winter months to avoid certain living dangers. The winter is when certain insects, such as deadly giant Japanese hornets, have hopefully died or gone dormant. They like to make subterranean homes in bamboo groves and thus present a serious risk to anyone venturing into a bamboo grove. However, other dangers persist in winter, such as wild Japanese boars. During the colder months, bamboo also tends to be more dormant. This makes the drying process faster and less likely to cause cracking.
Madaké Bamboo life-cycle
The average lifespan of one stalk of Madaké is only about four to six years. The ideal time to harvest is about 4 years of age while still green. This is partly so that heat-straightening can still be performed. Harmless fungi can also create lovely mottled splotches or “spalting” that shakuhachi enthusiasts have come to love. The Japanese call these spalted pieces of Madaké goma which translates to “sesame seeds”. This moniker was inspired by the small bumps of dried sap that can form on the bamboo (see picture above).
Aburanuki – heating Madaké for Shakuhachi
After many long hours of harvesting, transporting, and cleaning, the time finally comes for Jon to perform the next process called Aburanuki. Aburanuki is the act of sweating bamboo over a heat-source. This drives out moisture and cooks the juices of the bamboo, making them more viscous like glue. This in turn makes the bamboo somewhat stronger and less likely to crack. After performing Aburanuki, Jon places the bamboo in the full sun to dry for a month or more. He then has to rotate each piece regularly so that they receive even sunlight. After sun drying he places the bamboo indoors to further dry or “cure” for a year. After which, he can craft them into shakuhachi.
Madaké Bamboo in America for Shakuhachi
Additionally, Jon harvests Madaké growing domestically. Madaké has been cultivated by people in the Southeast for more than one-hundred years. Some groves have been lovingly looked after for decades. One such example being Keiji Oshima’s grove at Haiku Bamboo Nursery, located Hendersonville, NC. To date, Jon has harvested Madaké for shakuhachi from three Southeastern States. He continues to find new groves, both wild and cultivated.