Also:       fue      takebue      

Title: Japanese Dance Music--Yagi Bushi; Kato Yoshio, shinobue. Label: King Record Co. Format: CD. Catalogue#: KICH 2022. Track: 9.

Contextual Associations

The shinobue is a side-blown edge aerophone (flute) of Japan. Such flutes are made in many local variations. It is traditionally played as part of an ensemble to accompany bon dance-songs and local instrumental ritual music at religious and agricultural festivals (matsuri). When played in these contexts it can be referred to as the fue. It is also used in kabuki theatre to accompany singing.


The shinobue is made from a variety of bamboo called shino. The stalk has all of its natural internal nodes removed to create an open cylindrical bore, however, the blowhole end of the tube is closed with wax. The bore is coated with lacquer to provide protection from moisture. Both ends of the tube are wrapped with strips of rattan that serve to discourage splitting of the bamboo and to add a decorative touch. Along its topside are located in a line the blowhole and, after a gap, seven equidistantly spaced fingerholes; there is no thumbhole on the backside. The blowhole is located relatively close (in comparison to most other transverse flutes around the world) to the end of the tube.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player holds the shinobue with both hands, either to his left or right side, so that the blowhole is positioned in front of his mouth. He directs a focused airstream through his embouchure against the far edge of the blowhole, which disrupts the airstream and sets the air column in the tube into modes of vibration. The fingerholes are covered with the middle joints of the fingers of both hands while the thumbs are used to steady the flute from the backside. The scale to which shinobue are tuned is not standardized; this particular flute has a fundamental pitch of approximately G4 and a range of about two and a half octaves, although the lowest octave is not much utilized. Generally played at a loud dynamic level, the flute has a piercing tone quality appropriate for outdoor performance.


Like many folk instruments around the world, little is known of the origin and evolution of the shinobue. However, one might surmise from the known fact that side-blown Japanese flutes have been used in some forms of court music since the 8th century CE and theatre music since the 13th century CE that the shinobue might possibly have a very long history that simply wasn’t chronicled. 

Bibliographic Citations

de Ferranti, Hugh. 2000. Japanese Musical Instruments. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.

Hughes, David W. 1984. “Shinobue [shino; takebue: ‘bamboo flute’].” NGDMI v.3: 373-374.

________. 2008. “Folk music: from local to national to global.” In The Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music. ed. Alison McQueen Tokita and David W. Hughes. Aldershot, England: Ashgate Pub. Company, pp. 281-302.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Nation: Japan

Formation: Japanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

421.121.12 aerophone--side-blown flute: the player blows against the sharp rim of a hole in the side of the tube; with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - cylindrical with open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: beveled edge in wall of instrument, directly blown against

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length of standing wave within cavity with fingerholes and by selecting partials through overblowing


18.1 in. length

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter, Toby Austin