Tokyobling's Blog

Horagai – Japanese Battle Horn

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on January 25, 2014

In the old days, before 1600 when the whole of Japan was finally unified under the Shogunate, there were almost constant wars and battles. The feudal lords would fight against each other with large armies and just like in Europe during the same era, the generals and commanders needed different ways to communicate their tactics and orders to the officers in the field. One of these ways was to employ special trumpeters, kaiyaku (貝役), who would blow melodies on the giant conch shells, the horagai (法螺貝) also used by priests and monks since ancient times. The conch shells are carried in special woven baskets and a wooden or brass mouth piece is fitted to the end of it, through which a skilled user can blow up to five different notes. During winter warfare there was always the risk that the users lips would freeze stuck to the brass so many preferred the wooden mouthpiece.

I saw these trumpeters demonstrate their skills at the kobudo festival in Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine last year. One of them was quite young. It is quite easy to fail spectacularly with the horagai, which can be quite embarrassing but these four men blew perfectly. Here is a nice video with some different kinds of religious and military horagai sounds demonstrated.

Their demonstration opened one part of the kobudo festival, which was first blessed in a short ceremony by a young priest.






6 Responses

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  1. Mustang.Koji said, on January 25, 2014 at 6:03 am

    Didn’t know a darn thing about this. Thanks.


    • tokyobling said, on January 29, 2014 at 5:46 am

      Thank you Koji! I am only scratching the surface. I have more posts about the Horagai in the pipelines… so many subjects, so little time!


  2. Dina Farmer said, on January 25, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    Wow I have never heard about that either! Love your shots like always!


  3. Shelli@howsitgoingeh? said, on January 27, 2014 at 12:17 am

    So cool, thank you for sharing this piece of Japanese history.


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