Azuma no Kyoku 吾妻の曲
This is said to be one of the playful works in the shakuhachi honkyoku repertoire. Rather than being used in religious training as most honkyoku pieces originally were, it is a playful piece. Long ago the wandering komuso shakuhachi players performed this light, playful piece which could be enjoyed by the masses. The title means “Music of Azuma” which is the old name for the Eastern part of Japan around the old city of Edo, now known as Tokyo. Historically, certain people were detained there as political hostages, which is perhaps why the music is said to represent the feelings of loneliness of a samurai who is far from his family and home.
The structure of the piece is divided into three parts: melody in the low register, melody in the high register, and a short ending.
Azuma is also related to the older word, tsuma, which means “wife,” so the name could mean “Song of my Wife.”
There is a legend that the Azuma area of Japan got its name when Yamato Takeru, a semi-mythical fourth- or fifth-century warlord from the Nara area conquered the “barbarians” living in the area that is now Tokyo. He took his warriors across Tokyo Bay by boat from the Miura Peninsula to the Boso Peninsula. A storm arose as they were crossing the bay, and the boats began to founder. His wife, Ototachi Banaji, who accompanied him, believed the sea gods desired a sacrifice, and nobly volunteered. She jumped into the water, and disappeared; the storm ceased. After conquering the area, he stood upon a mountain in Hakane, looked down over the bay, and said, “There lies my wife.” After that, the area came to be known as Azuma. This story adds special poignancy to this music.
Source: The International Shakuhachi Society (www.komuso.com)