On request from a follower, here is another thread about ONI ICHIMONJI, the flute that appeared in yesterday's thread about Katsumata Yazaemon the Kitsune-slayer. (Pictured: A transverse flute of Oni-Ichimonji's type) #japanesehistory #musichistory #tohoku
Okay, so to begin, I should say that this primarily is the version of the story I learned from Sendai folklorist Mihara Ryokichi, supplemented by other bits and pieces I've accumulated over the years to round things out.
Our story begins in the 10th century (yes, the 10th century), in Kyoto, the imperial capital. Minamoto no Hiromasa, a court noble, went to the Suzaku Gate every night to play his flute.
He met a mysterious figure in court garb, there, who'd also come with a flute, and they played a duet that was apparently beautiful to the point of unearthly.

They exchanged flutes one night, and then Hiromasa never saw the person again.
The mysterious figure was, according to some, the oni (an ogre-like creature) of the gate-- so, it was called Oni-ichimonji ("Ogre's Number 1," presumably because a flute looks like a Japanese number 1: 一)
There was a beauty to its sound that was sublime, and not just anybody was able to play it properly.

Somewhere along the way, it passed from the Imperial treasury to the house of Date. Namazue Rokudayu was someone with skill enough to coax the right sound from it.
According to Mihara, the house of Date owned Oni-ichimonji clear on down to 1947!

Along with other noble clans who lost their status when the peerage was abolished, the Date sold many, many treasures to raise funds. This included Oni-ichimonji.
When I was a student at Pitt, I met a visiting Noh actress and mentioned I found a story about Oni-ichimonji and its fate in 1947. She hadn't heard specifically of that flute, but she said something incredible.
She said "My father saw a lot of that- nobility selling off incredible treasures-- flutes and Noh costumes and masks and other things like that. He wanted to buy them all, but of course he couldn't. I can't remember specifically but I think the Date family came to him too."
HOWEVER! Oni-ichimonji's story doesn't end in 1947!

I lost the news item that said this, but about five years ago I found out that Oni-ichimonji had been returned to a museum in Sendai in 1999.

I can't find anything newer, but it pinpoints the flute to within 19 years.
So-- it's still out there, possibly in Sendai, and still looking remarkable for a flute said to be over a millennium old. I wonder if anybody's played it in the past century.


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