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A Brief Introduction to Buddhist Instruments



Buddhist monk and also band player, Eishin Watanabe plays Bub Marley's Three Little Birds with Buddhist instruments (and guitar). I found this via facebook sharing, now it is posted in Youtube as well.


Among Buddhist instruments, sonic ones are particularly called narimono 鳴り物. (This is not specific term of Buddhism, but traditional general term for sonic/musical instruments.


Following the TV show in which Eishin introduced his using instruments, I introduce names of instruments as below.

Clockwise from top left, you see both 1) -a inkin (bell) and 1) - b mokugyo 木魚 (literary wooden fish, percussion) with wooden stick, 2) guitar (of course not Buddhist instrument), 3) juzu 数珠 (rosary), 4) kitōdaiko 祈祷太鼓, in another designation, ōdaiko 大太鼓, 5) taiko 太鼓 (drum) particularly called as senbōdaiko 殲法太鼓, and 6) daimokugyo 大木魚.


Before let us see in detail, I note here that various sizes of bells, mokugyo, and juzu are popular tools for buddhists.


1)-a. inkin 引鏧 (also written as 引金 or 引磬)


is portable bell. You ring it with a wooden stick.

Bells in Buddhist temples are normally bowl-like shaped. This is the clear difference between bells used in shinto ritual. So when you see half-sphere bells in a ritual, in general, you can automatically consider it as ritual related to the Buddhism.

You hit outside of the bell. (You never scrub inside of the bell like Tibatain singing bowl.)



1)-b, 6) mokugyo 木魚


is wooden percussion used to be in form of fish.


Mr. Watanabe Eishin has the one in which a small bell and a small mokugyo are both attached to the wooden stick. He his both by same wooden stick.


6) is biggest and place on the floor. It is called as daimokugyo, means big wooden fish.


3) juzu rosary


Normally the rosary is double, and made of 108 beads. This number corresponds to the one of desires.

Beads has its own meaning as well. The cercle is composed by two biggest beads which means two Buddhas (Shaka or Amida), 108 small ones, 4 beads which corresponds to four heavenly kings. Tassels are made of three different types of beads, ones just under the main beads are for Bosatsu (Bodhisatva), 20 beads means disciples, and one for fixes them.

The fil means Kannon Bosatsu (Guanyin).


4) and 5)


Japanese drums called as taiko vary into two types according to the way of fixation of their drumheads.

Both are a type called byōuchi daiko. Drumheads are nailed into the body.

Type 4 is very frequent for folk music or folk performing arts such as kagura, percussion ensemble.

5) Senbō means ritual for penitence by chanting sutra. Frankly I've never seen it in my daily life as buddhist or I've never been to specific Buddhist ritual using it. For a while I cannot explain how and when it is used. However, I may be used for syōmyō... Let us see later.



Follow him on instagram : @namagusaeishin


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Personal remark. When I first saw this video, I recalled my childhood. My house is near the temple, and it was play area for children. It was forbidden to play with anything in temple, not to desecrate. Personally I was forbidden to play with them by my grandmother. Wooden fish sounds very loud, and it was our favorite. When children play with it, all adults nearby heard the sound...I even think that wooden fish is the loudest instrument among them. Even though it is much smaller than drum, you hear it most.



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