Mokugyo (a fish-shaped wooden drum) (木魚)

Mokugyo (木魚; a fish-shaped wooden drum) (also written in 杢魚) is a kind of butsugu ({Buddhist altar fittings}).


Mokugyo (a fish-shaped wooden drum) is intended to keep the rhythm of sutra chanting by beating and sounding. It also helps to awaken people in sutra chanting. It is used in Zen sect, Tendai sect, and Jodo sect. The use of Mokugyo was once prohibited in Jodo sect, but afterward, it came to be used when sutra was chanted.

It is placed on a small zabuton (traditional Japanese cushions used to sit on the floor)-like table, and it sounds like 'poku poku' when it is beaten with a plectrum whose top is wrapped in cloth. It ranges in size from about six centimeters to the size close to one meter in diameter. It looks like a bell which is designed from a fish eating its own tail, or two fishes and a dragon competing for a gem. The uroko (scale pattern) of fish is carved on its surface. It is made from wood like camphor tree. The inside of Mokugyo is hollowed. It is cut from an opening; 'sound hole' of Mokugyo to make a hollow inside.

The original model of Mokugyo is 'gyoban' or 'gyoku' (wooden gong shaped like a fish) which was used in Zen. Gyoban (wooden gong shaped like a fish) is a fish-shaped board as its name suggests, and it was beaten to give a signal to call people together. It is believed that its fish-like shape was a symbol of devoting one to training since a fish never closes its eyes at any time during the day or night. It is also considered that beating the belly of fish helped one throw up his/her earthly desires. This may be extra information, but it is said that it made steady rhythms in order to keep people awake. By the Ming Dynasty, the shape of Mokugyo that is seen today was established.

It is said that Ingen Osho, who came from abroad in the early Edo period, spread it in Japan. Mokugyo of the Muromashi period has also been handed down.

Mokugyo as an Instrument

Considering Mokugyo as an instrument, it is a kind of slit drum. That is, it is a hollow piece of wood with a slit.

In Qing in the period of Chien Lung, it was used as an instrument for popular music. In Japan, it is sometimes used in Kabuki (traditional drama performed by male actors). In Vietnam, it is called 'Mo,' and is used as a percussion instrument. After the World War II, it has been used in the Jazz or classic music. It is also called temple block, or Chinese block, and between two and five Mokugyo are often used together.

Compared with wood block, which has high tone with a hard and sharp tone color, the tone color of Mokugyo is soft and it sounds fertile.

Music composition in which Mokugyo is used

It may be played in temple block or wood block.

Orchestral works

The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra

The work of wind-instrument music

Variations with a theme of Korean Folk Song
Incantation and Dance

J-POP, other music

Various albums or single songs of Maywa Denki
The plectrum installed in the end of an arm is moved due to the sensor fitted onto fingers, to which the movement of fingers is transmitted when fingers are snapped. The instrument called 'pachimoku,' which enables to play Mokugyo installed in the end, is used as well.

Sakanaya no Ossan no uta (the song of a master of a fish shop) (by Anonenone)
In a song of Tatsuo KAMON, who was a disciple of Kuniaki SHIMIZU, Mokugyo is used for special effects.

It sounds like Mokugyo is used in the intro of the song 'Yume ha hitori de mirumono ja nai' (a dream can't be dreamed alone) which is a single of Mariko KODA.

[Original Japanese]