Shakuhachi: The Japanese Traditional Bamboo Flute

Shakuhachi: The Japanese Traditional Bamboo Flute

The 尺八 shakuhachi is a Japanese flute often heard at matsuri (festivals); not the sharp, high-pitched one, but the instrument that makes a melodic, middle tone. The Shakuhachi plays the most hauntingly beautiful lullabies.

Along with the stringed instruments 琴 koto and 三味線 shamisen, the shakuhachi is one of the instruments heard in 三曲 sankyoku—the three instrument Japanese chamber music. 

The venue most associated with the shakuhachi is the honkyokuHonkyoku is a style of music made specifically for the shakuhachi and is often used for meditation. The shakuhachi is the only melodic instrument Zen Buddhism uses for meditation. Even though the notation is structured it can be loosely interpreted.

It is said if a shakuhachi player plays a perfect note, the music would bring peace to all.

The Komuso (see photo at below right) are mendicant priests that roam around serving others by receiving their troubles, worries, and grief upon themselves. After playing they might receive in their rice bowls money, rice, or simply the troubles of the people they played for. Easy to spot, the Komuso wear large reed baskets over their heads to keep themselves anonymous.

The shakuhachi of today is a piece of bamboo hollowed out with four holes on the front and one hole in the back. In the hands of a master it can play chromatically (12 notes) for three and a half octaves.

Today, the shakuhachi can be heard during suspenseful scenes in movies such as The Last Samurai or television programs. The instrument produces a sound perfect for a good chase on a steep hillside with barely a ledge. 

It is played superbly by jazz players because of its expressiveness and responsiveness. John Coltrane and Kenny Loggins have been known to play this wonderful instrument.

The current form of the shakuhachi has been around about four hundred years. It has weathered physical changes, being banned by the government, and survived war (Sino-Japanese War and WWII). It continues to stand the test of time.

-Brian Franklin

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病院で使う日本語 Japanese at the Hospital

病院で使う日本語 Japanese at the Hospital

Sick and Living in Japan? Here's What to Say…

If you live in Japan and start to feel sick, you may be wondering how to politely and accurately express how you feel to your doctor. This page is to the rescue!

This is a work in progress. Please feel free to post in the comments section requests for other medical phrases and terms.

For the English translations, we are using "I" since these will probably come from the patient's point of view, but with a pronoun, it could refer to someone else.



netsu ga arimasu.
I have a fever.


binetsu ga arimasu.
I have a low-grade fever. [a "binetsu" is around 37 c (about 99 f)]


futsuka mae kara netsu ga arimasu.
I've had a fever for two days.


netsu ga sagarimasen.
My fever isn't coming down.



kibun ga warui desu.
I feel bad.


karada ga darui desu.
My body is sluggish; I feel listless.


kentaikan ga arimasu.
I am fatigued. I feel washed-out.


tsukareta you na kanji ga shimasu. 
I feel (constantly) tired.


karada ga omoi desu.
My whole body feels heavy.


mune ga mukamuka shimasu.
I feel nauseated / my chest feels queasy.


kinou, tabetamono o haite shimaimashita.
Yesterday, I threw up what I had eaten.



tachi agaru to, furafura shimasu.
When I stand, I feel dizzy.


memai ga shimasu.
I feel dizzy; vertigo


shokuyoku ga arimasen.
I don't have an appetite.



geri no shoujou ga arimasu.
I show signs of diarrhea.


tokidoki geri shimasu.
I sometimes have diarrhea.


ben ga yurui desu.
My stool is loose/runny.


otsuuji wa arimasu ka?
Have you had a bowel movement?
[may be asked by nurses or doctors; お通じ means "bowel movement."]


iie, arimasen. benpi desu.
No, I am constipated.


hai, arimasu. demo, totemo yurui desu.
Yes, but it is very loose (runny).



onaka ga itai desu.
My stomach hurts.


atama ga itai desu.
My head hurts; I have a headache.


ashi ga itai desu.
My foot hurts; my leg hurts. [足 can mean leg or foot]


mune ga itai desu.
My chest hurts.


senaka ga itai desu.
My back hurts. I have back pain.



me ga harete imasu.
My eyes are swollen.


ashi ga harete imasu.
My legs are swollen.


kubi ga harete imasu.  
My neck is swollen.

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Love Words in Japanese

Love Words in Japanese

Love words in Japanese–Common ways of expressing one’s love and other fun stuff.

in Japanese

If you are wanting to express your love in Japanese, you’ve come to right place.

You may have heard the word for love, ai, isn’t used as much as its counterpart in English. This is probably true. Here is “I love you,” but remember to only use it when you really mean it.

ai shite imasu.
I love you.

Instead of the above, you are more likely to hear:

anata ga suki desu.
I like you.

Use this even when in English many people may use the “love” word.

Sometimes you have to coax it out of your love-hopeful. Try this:

watashi no koto ga suki desu ka?
Do you like me?

And when you want to say you like… anything:

~ga suki desu.
I like…

Just replace the ~ with some noun. Ex. neko ga suki desu. “I like cats.”

If someone asks you why you are doing what you are doing (and you feel adventurous):

ai shiteiru kara.
Because I love you.

Get down on your knees and practice saying:

kekkon shimasen ka?
Will you marry me?

And here are a few related words:

hito me bore
Love at first sight.

ai ai gasa
Sharing an umbrella.
[Interestingly, neither of the ai‘s here are the “love” ai. The “gasa” is a phonetic change from umbrella “kasa.”]

sweetheart; lover

kata omoi
unrequited love; one-sided love; to carry a torch for

And of course, everyone’s favorite:

sankaku kankei
Love triangle

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Makoto e-Zine #4 Audio Files

Makoto e-Zine #4 Audio Files

Issue #4
July 2018


Please note: We are providing the sound files from this issue openly, but to follow along and have full access to grammatical notes and the running gloss, please either purchase this issue at:


Listen to the story about ninja history and techniques. The story is recorded both regular speed and slowed down.

Reader Sound Files NORMAL SPEED: Click to Download


Reader Sound Files SLOW SPEED: Click to Download



ž Laughs, Jokes, Riddles, and Puns
ž Prefecture Spotlight: Aichi
ž Etymology
ž Phrase of the Day: Love Words
ž Japanese Art: Byobu
ž Kanji Spotlight
ž Grammar Time!

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Japan’s Prefectures

Japan’s Prefectures

Japan is divided into 11 regions. These regions are further divided into 47 prefectures. Our list starts from the most northern part of Japan (Hokkaido) and ends with the most southern (Okinawa).

This page contains detailed information on each of the prefectures.

Note: Please give the Flash time to load — Click on any prefecture to hear the Prefecture and Capital City

About the Prefectures:
Japan is divided into a total of 47 parts. However, they are not all called ken (prefecture). Of the 47, 43 are called “ken” — (prefecture). 2 are called ‘fu’ (Osaka & Kyoto). 1 is called “do” (Hokkai DO). 1 is called ‘to’ (Tokyo to)

Download the Prefecture map as a PDF

To remember it Japanese children learn the following poem:

itto, ichi dou | ni fu | yonjuu san ken
one “to,” one “do” | 2 “fu” | 43 “ken”

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