Assembly and disassembly
To assemble the shakuhachi ensure that the male portion of the middle joint has a thin layer of lubricant. This can be 'cork grease' for silver flutes. Line up the two halves so that the small marks at the back of the joint are more or less in line. Slowly slide the female part over the male part, simultaneously adjusting the orientation of the two marks. Sometimes the last part of the assembly is difficult, i.e. closing the gap in the joint. Place the rootend face of the shakuhachi against your thigh, grasp the upper section of the flute and push towards your body to close the gap. Don't use a hard surface. If the two halves are not in alignment, DO NOT TWIST to correct. You will have to separate thetwo halves and start again
To disassemble the shakuhachi, NEVER PULL OR TWIST APART. Grasp the instrument with your hand curled around the middle joint, knuckles up. With the other fist, repeatedly and gently hit the area between the thumb and first finger, in a direction towards the root, along the axis of the flute. The instrument will begin to separate under your fingers. You can encourage it by spreading the fingers of your fist as you use your other hand to hit. Be gentle all the way. Joints can be damaged at the last moment of separation.
Cleaning and oiling
After playing your shakuhachi it is customary to run a tsuyutoshi cleaning cloth through the bore. Drop the weighted end carefully into the mouthpiece, protect the sharp utaguchi edge gently with your thumb pad, and pull through from the bottom.
As for oiling, I've never found it necessary ever to oil a flute. I have seen some oiled shakuhachi which were sticky to hold, and I've seen at least one shakuhachi where oil transferred to the bore and damaged the urushi. I have no evidence to support the idea that oiling the bamboo reduces cracking. Maintaining some humidity in the flute's environment is the best preventative measure to avoid stressing the bamboo.
Shakuhachi and cracking
Please understand that shakuhachi flutes are not invulnerable, they can crack, even with the owner's best intentions for his/her flute.
If cracks appear, DON'T fill them with glue or wood filler. Keep the flute well humidified in a closed plastic bag, add some temporary surface bindings yourself if you can and send it for repair as soon as possible.The idea is to limit the travel of the crack towards the interior bore by de-stressing the bamboo.
Part of every shakuhachi owner's life is attending to the health of their flute. If a flute cracks, the owner understandably goes through much hand-wringing frustration and despair, but flutes are generally repairable. It is not necessary to preemptively bind a flute. Nominal flute care should suffice. Incidentally many flutes played by professional players have extensive repairs made to them during their playing lifetime.
There are differing, sometimes diametrically opposed philosophies about flute care. Some flute owners feel compelled to try to stabilize their shakuhachi in the ambient humidity of their playing area, by reducing humidity in the bamboo over a period of time. The results of such efforts are that some flutes make it, some don't!
The makers represented here feel that shakuhachi respond better to humidity than to dryness. They recommend keeping the flute in a plastic bag, sealed with a rubber band, whenever it's not being played. A wad of wet paper towel should be inside the flute at all times. If the flute becomes yours to keep, a "Dampit" (cello size) is available from musical instrument stores and is really effective at humidifying your shakuhachi. This isn't the only way to go. Other variants include: double bagging the flute and putting a piece of wet sponge in-between the two layers, then sealing the bags. Also, if you have several flutes, they can be kept in their bags, in a plastic storage box with a damp cloth. All humidified flutes should be aired regularly. If you play your flutes most days, that airing should suffice.
If mildew arises, a little rubbing alcohol on a paper towel can take care of it.
Humidity Levels-emulating the Kansai region
When I visit Kyoto, I don't need to keep my flutes protected at all. The Kansai region is also the region which yields most of the madake bamboo used by my makers. Examining the climate of the region, I find the following statistics:
January is the driest month, June is the wettest. Temperatures range from 30F to 91F (-1C to 33C).The humidity ranges from 69% in April to 78% in November and the annual relative humidity averages out to 74.4%.
Using a digital hygrometer, I measured humidity and temperature inside the flute for the following two storage methods:
1. Shakuhachi inside closed 6 mil poly bag, with moist Dampit in the bore. Humidity=70% at 73F
2. Shakuhachi inside closed 6 mil poly bag, and this placed into a closed plastic storage container with many other bagged flutes and a wet (wrung out) face cloth.
Humidity=70% at 73F.
If you transport the flute between different temperature zones, wrap it, still in its plastic bag, with a towel or put it in a case to prevent stress due to sudden temperature changes. There is no reason why you should not take your instrument with you anywhere on the planet, with appropriate care.
With newly-made shakuhachi, the urushi lacquer on the inside bore may induce an allergic response around the mouth or on the hands of the player. This effect is temporary, although it may take several months for the bore lacquer to stabilize.
After playing, wash the affected area thoroughly with lots of soap and hot water. I've found that if one washes the inside and outside of the shakuhachi with soapy lukewarm water on a wire-handled cotton flute cleaning swab (disassemble flute first), the urushi toxicity is greatly reduced. Rinse with clear water and dry. I do this occasionally during the major curing period (about 4-5 weeks from new). But remember to wash your hands and around your mouth with soapy water after playing, just to be safe. Disclaimer: you purchase and blow new flutes at your own risk.
All the makers represented here will undertake repairs to their own shakuhachi. Please enquire for an estimate. Repaired flutes are not guaranteed in any way after receipt by the customer. Flutes for repair should be sent to Japanshakuhachi, for further forwarding to the maker in Japan. Flutes sent to Japan for repair are not insured and are sent at the owner's risk, and the owner is responsible for all and any customs charges which may arise in both directions.