The shakuhachi, though derived from vertical bamboo flutes originally from India many centuries ago, developed into a uniquely Japanese instrument in both construction and sound.
Today, the shakuhachi is known as a quintessentially Japanese instrument often played by Zen Buddhist practitioners. The sect was responsible for the early adoption of the shakuhachi as a form of musical meditation where it took on the physical characteristics that are distinct to the Japanese instrument.
The shakuhachi is constructed out of a single bamboo stalk that must grow in a configuration as to allow for the greatest aesthetic beauty as well as to accomodate its five hole configuration without letting the rings of the bamboo interfere with the alignment and position of the holes.
Playing the shakuhachi is often challenging for beginners as its mouth piece is simply a blade over which air is blown at a precise angle. Where other instruments provide a guide for the air to meet the blade (recorder, tin flute) - the shakuhachi demands that the player find this point manually and maintain a steady flow of air or risk losing sound altogether. This design makes the instrument difficult to learn, but it permits the player to create a host of unique sounds distinct to the shakuhachi. These techniques of manipulating the passage of air include a skill known as kubi-furi (head shaking) which is only possible due to the instrument's unique construction.