Born into a family of master musicians in Fukushima Prefecture, the still young Kominato Akihisa (小湊昭尚) is determined to keep the tradition of playing the shakuhachi, a type of bamboo flute, alive. But like with so many traditional ways and instruments, interest in playing this instrument is diminishing fast in modern Japan.
Kominato-san was born in 1978 in Fukushima, the eldest son of a family of musicians who are masters in their own right when it comes to the ‘minyo’ folk ballad tradition. He was already exposed to music from the early age of four, and at age eleven he had already started learning how to play in the Kinko style, the largest school of shakuhachi playing.
He began his formal training in playing the shakuhachi in 1995 under the late Yamaguchi Goro (one of Japan’s National Treasures). Following the footsteps of his father, Kominato-san graduated in 2001 at the Department of Traditional Japanese Music from Tokyo University of the Arts. He is frequently seen and heard on TV and radio, as well as at concert events all over Japan and abroad. Besides classical music, he also incorporates other music genres into his work such as folk ballads, pop, and jazz, making this traditional instrument appealing for the younger generations as well.
As modern Japan’s interest in the shakuhachi continues to dwindle, Kominato-san made it his mission to continue to explore new possibilities, and to introduce the shakuhachi to different kinds of people by showing them the beauty of the sound of this flute. He believes that the expressive potential of this musical instrument emanates from its power to make people sing, as this instrument goes very well with the human voice as well as other musical instruments.
Kominato-san has already built a repertoire containing 10 contemporary pieces using his shakuhachi, and has even started performing these on the streets to make his music heard to everyone. He has taken the shakuhachi to a different level doing “fusion-type” collaborations with various genres. Recently, he contributed material to a new CD release by Scottish singer Susan Boyle, bringing a new flavor to the classical hit from Kyu Sakamoto “Ue o muite aruko”, more popularly known as “Sukiyaki.” With this rendition, Kominato-san is building bridges between Japanese and Western music. I’m looking forward to what else this master of the shakuhachi will surprise us with!