Ranjo shinobue types, maintenance, and repairs

This guide includes information that Ranjo san wanted me to provide to anyone using his shinobue. I also added some of my own advice regarding fue care. Feel free to ask me any questions about any of this.

1. Ranjo san makes 2 types of shinobue lacquer: 

Urushi Lacquer - these have a darker appearance and are more expensive. Some people have an allergic reaction to urushi, especially if the urushi has been freshly applied and hasn’t fully cured. These flutes also have a wax seal on the plug near the blow hole, and Ranjo san recommends getting this maintained every 1.5 years. Without the maintenance, the sound may eventually become less clear, and the wax can even fall out of the flute.

Cashew Lacquer - these have a more pale appearance and are less expensive. This type provides an alternative to anyone who is allergic to urushi, or is looking for a high quality fue with a lower price. Cashew fue do not have the wax seal so maintenance is not necessary. According to Ranjo san, cashew flutes sound the same as urushi flutes.

2. There are 3 main types of binding:

Tsugaru - no binding
Tenchi - bound at the ends only
Sou Maki - bound throughout

Ranjo san says that there is no sound difference between the different binding styles. The risk of cracking is almost zero with sou maki, but the price is higher for the extra materials and labor that goes into these flutes. Tsugaru and tenchi are similar in price and cracking risk.

3. Ranjo san recommends storing the fue in the plastic bag, especially for people living in dry climates. This is to prevent cracking caused by the bamboo drying out too much, especially if the flute is not played regularly. Another potential problem is for the wax seal to dry out and shrink, causing it to affect the sound and playability. After playing, I would recommend waiting for the inside of the fue to dry before storing in plastic so that the trapped moisture doesn’t cause mildew problems. 

4. Be careful not to let the fue get hot, such as in a hot parked car. This could contribute to cracking as well as melting the wax and affecting the performance of the flute.

5. Playing the fue immediately after eating can cause more bacterial build-up inside the instrument, eventually producing gunk and bad odor. I would recommend brushing, rinsing, or letting some time pass between eating and playing.

6. If the fue cracks, it is best to send it to Ranjo san for repair immediately. You can send me an email to get pricing and address information.

7. Contact me if you are looking for a specific size or type of fue. I will be making orders for Ranjo san to ship me more instruments as often as needed. My goal is to make sure these high-quality instruments are available outside of Japan.

8. Contacting Ranjo san yourself is possible, although he only speaks Japanese. His wife Setsuko san says that simple English spoken slowly can work for her. In addition to phone calls, they also have an email address which is checked occasionally. Please send me an email if you would like this contact information. Otherwise I’m happy to forward any messages you might have. But the best way to engage with Ranjo san is to visit his workshop in Chiba and select your flutes at the source. He is very friendly and welcoming to anyone as is evidenced by his giant book of business cards of past visitors. I make the trip out to see him every time I’m in Japan, and I’m happy to take orders for anyone or to personally bring him any fue that needs repair or maintenance.

Learn more here: Ranjo, master Japanese bamboo flute maker, with Daniel and Kaoru