Shomyo (声明)

Shomyo is one of the traditional forms of Japanese music. It is a chant of Buddhist scriptures and a religious music for ceremonies. It is also called Bonbai and Bonnoku in Japanese. It is written as 聲明 in the old form.


Shomyo is the name for one of the academic fields (Gomyo) of ancient India. Gomyo refers to five academic fields - Shomyo (phonology and grammar), Kugyomyo (technics and technology), Ihomyo (medical science), Inmyo (ethics) and Naimyo (study of a scholar's religion, as in Buddhism for a Buddhist). It was introduced to Japan together with Buddhism and became well established. There is a record that a Buddhist ceremony involving the use of Shomyo was held at the opening ceremony for the Todai-ji Temple Great Buddha Eye in 754, so it is believed that Shomyo flourished during the Nara period.

During the early Heian period, Saicho and Kukai introduced Shomyo and founded Tendai Shomyo and Shingon Shomyo, respectively.

Buddhist sects other than the Tendai-shu and Shingon-shu sects also have their own Shomyo, each of which has been handed down to the present day.

Because Shomyo was passed down by Kuden (handing down from month to ear), there was no musical notation. Therefore, its initiation was extremely difficult. Later, Hakase was invented as an equivalent of musical notation. There are differences in technical terms (such as Hakase) in each school.

However, Hakase was a reference to chant, and in order to learn Shomyo, kuden (also called roi, or direct initiation by an instructor) was necessary; therefore, conservation and inheritance were impossible from the perspective of a master to a disciple. Therefore, the development of instructors and successors was a must. Numerous schools were extinguished due to various circumstances.

Tendai Shomyo

Tendai Shomyo developed independently, in accordance with what Saicho had introduced.

After Saicho, Ennin and Annen made it prosperous. Ryonin, the founder of Yuzunembutsu-shu sect, is known as the patriarch of the Restoration. In 1109, Ryonin built Raigoin Temple (Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City) in Ohara, Kyoto. Raigoin Temple, in Ohara, was called Gyozan as the temple's title, having been named after Gyozan, the birthplace of Shomyo in China. Before long, Raigoin Temple and Shorinin Temple were known as the dojos of Ohara School Gyozan Shomyo. Jakugen developed a school later, so there were two schools of Shomyo in Ohara. Subsequently, Shukai restored Ohara Shomyo.

Tanchi established a stream based on a new form of music theory. Since then, it became the center of Tendai Shomyo, and it has been inherited by the present Tendai Shomyo.

The Yuzunembutsu-shu sect, Jodo-shu sect and Jodo Shinshu sect represent the lineage of Tendai Shomyo.

Shingon Shomyo

Shingon Shomyo has been passed down to the present day based on what Kukai introduced.

Shomyo was systematized after Shinga. Particularly, Kancho was known as the patriarch of the Restoration. He worked on the composition and control of Shomyo.

There were numerous schools until the Kamakura period, but the princely priest Kakusho reorganized them into four: the Honsoinryu School, Shinsoinryu School, Daigoryu School and Nakagawa-Daishinryu School. Shomyo, of the Kogi (old) Shingonshu sect, declined and became extinct with the emergence of the Edo period. The Honsoinryu School, Shinsoinryu School and Daigoryu School were extinguished by the middle of the Meiji period.

Currently, it is divided into Chizan Shomyo (Chishakuin, Kyoto), Buzan Shomyo (Hase-dera Temple, Nara), Nanzan-shinryu School (Mt. Koya-san and Kogi Shingonshu sect temples, Kyoto).

Chizan Shomyo and Buzan Shomyo (Shingi (new) Shingonshu sect Shomyo):Shomyo of Chizan-ha Buddhists, Shingon-shu sect and that of Buzan-ha Buddhists, Shingon-shu sect were originally derived from the Nakagawa-Daishinryu School. Raiyu took in the traditional school of Daigo. In 1585, when Negoro-ji Temple (Wakayama Prefecture) was burned down by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and went into decline, the Chizan and Buzan schools formed a school based on the traditional school of Daigo.
It features Buzan's 'Logic' and Chizan's 'Shomyo.'

Nanzan-shinryu School (Kogi Shingonshu sect Shomyo): This school is based on the Nakagawa-Daishinryu School. The Nakagawa-Daishinryu School has Daishin, of Naka-no-gawadera Temple, Nara, as the founder of the school. During the years 1232 and 1233, Shoshin, of Sanboin Temple in Renge-dani (Mt. Koya-san), moved his stronghold to Mt. Koya-san. Later, it was called the Nanzan-shinryu School, being named after Nanzan, another name for Mt. Koya-san. It is also called the Shinryu School or the Yasan Shinryu School.

Shomyo and Japanese Traditional Music

The music of Heikyoku, Yokyoku, Minyo or Joruri can be said to be variations of Shomyo. Its has had a great impact on monophony (unaccompanied music).

[Original Japanese]