Also:       hitiriki      

Title: from Asia/TOGI Hideki--[in Japanese Kanji]; Togi Hideki, hichiriki. Label: Toshiba. Format: CD. Catalogue#: TOCT-24093. Track: 6.

Contextual Associations

The hichiriki is a double-reed aerophone of Japan. It is associated most strongly with Imperial court music, in particular the Shinto ritual music called mikagura (in which the hichiriki is joined by the wagon zither, the kagura-bue side-blown flute, and the shakubyoshi concussion sticks); and the gagaku ensemble (with a varied collection of idiophones, membranophones, chordophones, and other aerophones). These genres, and therefore the hichiriki as well, can also be heard at a few Shinto shrines outside of the Imperial household on special ceremonial occasions. A few gagaku ensembles have been established at Shinto shrines and in ethnomusicology programs outside of Japan, in particular in the United States (Hawaii, California, and Washington). Throughout its entire history, the playing and teaching of the hichiriki has been restricted to the male members of a few family lineages serving the Imperial Household. Only in recent decades has it begun to be taught outside of this domain. One hereditary carrier of the hichiriki, Togi Hideki, took the bold and controversial action to move the hichiriki into the commercial music realm of New Age music (the audio clip, taken from one of his releases, features him playing unaccompanied in traditional style).


The body of the hichiriki is cylindrical but the shape of its bore is reverse conical with a diameter of approximately 0.6 inch at the reed end and 0.4 inch at the distal end. It is made from a stalk of bamboo wrapped with bark and bound with string, and then coated both inside and out (the binding only) with lacquer (Hughes p. 217). Seven oblong-shaped fingerholes penetrate the topside of the instrument with slightly larger gaps between the first and second (from the reed-end) and fourth and fifth ones. It is in these larger gaps that on the reverse side (see detail image) are located two thumbholes, again with the distinctive oblong shape. The reed is made from natural reed (ashi) slightly flattened out and dried before being cut and shaped to size (Provine p. 63), and a cane ring is fitted over the finished reed that can be slid up and down by the performer to make subtle adjustments to the instrument’s sound quality. The round base of the reed fits snugly against the top end of the bore, which is recessed about an inch from the end of the body.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A hichiriki player holds the instrument in front of himself with both hands so that the reed is placed between his lips and the distal end is tilted downward slightly from horizontal. The top four fingerholes and the upper thumbhole are operated with the digits of the left hand, the lower three fingerholes and lower thumbhole by those of the right hand (the baby finger of this hand is the only digit not assigned to a hole on the instrument, and in modern practice the lower thumbhole is always covered to help balance the instrument while being played). Because for any given fingering a range of pitches can be produced with finger manipulation and by varying air and embouchure pressure, it is not possible to give a basic scale for the instrument. Its range is given by various sources as: F4 or G4 to A5 or B5, so a little over an octave. Overblowing is not utilized on this instrument. A skeletal syllabic notation exists for gagaku parts, but in reality the subtle melodies produced by the hichiriki player must be learned by rote imitation of his teacher. A gliding melodic gesture called embai, produced with coordinated airflow, finger, and lip pressure control, is a characteristic feature of hichiriki playing which, along with its penetrating nasal quality, contribute greatly to the sonic identity of the instrument.


The immediate ancestor of the Japanese hichiriki is the guan, which at the time it was introduced to Japan from Tang Dynasty China (618-907 CE) was called bili (the original Chinese characters for bili are still used for the hichiriki, although the pronunciation of them in Japanese is different). Until very recently, the hichiriki has been associated almost exclusively with Japanese court music, and it is in that sphere that over time it has taken on distinctive, if subtle, design characteristics and practices of construction that set it apart from its Chinese precursor. 

Bibliographic Citations

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

Hughes, David W. 1984. “Hichiriki.” NGDMI v.2: 216-217.

Malm, William P. 1959. Japanese Music and Musical Instruments. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company.

Tanigaito, Kasuko. 2002. "Shinto Music." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 7. East Asia. ed. Robert C. Provine, Yosihiko Tokumaru, and J. Lawrence Witzleben. New York: Routledge, pp. 607-610.

Terauchi, Naoko. 2002. "Gagaku." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 7. East Asia. ed. Robert C. Provine, Yosihiko Tokumaru, and J. Lawrence Witzleben. New York: Routledge, pp. 619-628.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Nation: Japan

Formation: Japanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

422.111.2 aerophone--single cylindrical-bore reedpipe with double (or quadruple) reed: the pipe has a reed (usually a flattened stem) of paired lamellae which periodically open and close, controlling the flow of air; with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - tapering with open distal end

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

Energy transducer that activates sound: exposed concussion (multiple) reed

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: not used

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length/shape of standing wave within single cavity with fingerholes


7.2 in. length (without reed) 8.4 in. length (with reed) 2.3 in. length of reed

Primary Materials

reed - cane

Entry Author

Roger Vetter