The sensei-deshi, or master-student, relationship has been the bedrock of the
traditional arts in Japan for centuries, and as we zoom into the twenty-first one,
flautist Kan Fukuhara believes that updating this relationship is crucial to the survival
of these arts.
"Older teaching styles were illogical. Students were not told anything, but were
expected to follow. Today teachers need to be more analytical and dynamic to hold
students' attention and stimulate interest in these arts. Teachers must also demonstrate
the highest level of skill and sophistication in their playing in order to inspire
students and keep them coming," he says.
Good advice. It worked for him. Born in Nagoya 32 years ago, Fukuhara started nagauta
(traditional Japanese) flute at eight, and from twelve secured a chance to study with
Living National Treasure Sanzaemon Takara. He also played drums, shamisen and sang, but
because he was so drawn to Takara's mastery, he was inspired to follow flute, deciding to
become professional even before he entered Tokyo Fine Arts University.
Over the years, Fukuhara has also played Western instruments, including silver flute and
piano. He has created ensembles to combine Western and Japanese instruments. For him, the nokan
(a double-barreled flute from Noh, also used in nagauta) with its pitchless, haunting
sound has been the most compatible in both settings. "The nokan holds something more
essentially Japanese in its sound. It embodies some hidden, mysterious part of Japanese
culture." Likewise, his experience when playing it-as opposed to the takebue,
or bamboo flute-is more profound.
Fukuhara, as a flute player, is a bit like his beloved nokan, for he, too has a passport
into many worlds. Flute players are not bound to one musical style, as shamisen players
and singers are. They can play with all styles of music and thus get a wider view of the
traditional music world, playing with many different guilds and families. Fukuhara is
generally supportive of the traditional iemoto system, rigid and expensive though
it is. He points out something easily overlooked amidst the complaints of elitism and
feudalism regarding this system. "At least it is now open to all. In past times it
was open only to those in the family, a true aristocracy."
In 2002, the Mombusho (Ministry of Education) has resolved to reinstate hogaku
(Japanese, as opposed to Western, music) in the school system, offering young people the
chance to study traditional Japanese music alongside the piano and violin that have
recently surpassed them in popularity. Unfortunately, there has been little talk yet of
who exactly will teach this music, a crucial question. Not surprisingly, there has been
little communication between the Mombusho and professional musicians to discuss the
possibilities. Fukuhara remains clear on his position. "The burden of responsibility
to stimulate interest in this music is on the teachers." We can only hope that the
Mombusho will heed this advice and get it right.