The International Shakuhachi Festival Prague was founded in 2006 by Doc. Vlastislav Matoušek PhD, composer and ethnomusicologist, professional shakuhachi player Christopher Yohmei Blasdel, and Marek Matvija, film-maker and shakuhachi player. Their ideas and passions that bridge sound, spirituality, and new media continue to shape the event.

The festival earned its reputation for featuring the highest quality traditional Japanese music, commissioning and premiering new pieces by Czech and international composers, and exploring new possibilities of Japanese instruments in improvised music and interdisciplinary projects.

Kumiko Shuto, Mitsuhashi Kifu and Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra with Marko Ivanovic perform November Steps (Toru Takemitsu), Prague, 2016

In 2010 we partnered up with the European Shakuhachi Society to organise the European Shakuhachi Festival, the largest shakuhachi event in Europe theretofore. Since then, Prague has become one of the most important centres of Japanese music in the world.

For the festival’s 10th anniversary in 2016 we worked with the Prague Spring Festival, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, National Gallery, National Film Archive, BERG Orchestra, National Theatre, Japan Foundation, Czech Ministry of Culture, and several other major cultural institutions to present the pinnacle of Japanese contemporary and traditional music.

In 2017, the NEIRO Association for Expanding Arts (represented by Marek Matvija) took over organising the event from 108 Hz (represented by Vlastislav Matoušek). The festival now takes place biennially: the next ISFP is set for September 2019.

From left: Vlastislav Matoušek, Christopher Yohmei Blasdel, Marek Matvija; founders of the festival

From left: Vlastislav Matoušek, Christopher Yohmei Blasdel, Marek Matvija; founders of the festival

Previously, the festival featured stellar performers and artists including Mitsuhashi Kifu, Dozan Fujiwara, Shodo Sakai, Kuniyoshi Sugawara, Zenyoji Keisuke, Sato Kikuko, Pamelia Kurstin, Shuto Kumiko, Slavek Kwi, Amit Chatterjee, Akira Matsui, Takahashi Ryudo, James Ragan and many, many others.

ISFP began in 2007 in a yoga studio and a few micro-venues, gradually moving to the halls of the Academy of Performing Arts (HAMU). Through friendship and a shared passion for Japanese instruments, the festival continues to grow annually, connecting peoples around Europe and around the world. Today we collaborate with the country’s leading art institutions and agencies.

Christopher Yohmei Blasdel about the festival’s inception:

On a humid 1996 summer evening in a leafy suburb of Tokyo, Vlastislav Matoušek and I met to discuss shakuhachi music. Vlastislav’s intense dedication inspired me, as I listened intently to his stories of the many obstacles he faced when trying to learn the instrument in his home country. Vlastislav came of age during the Communist regime, a time of extremely little artistic or scholastic freedom. As a student, he was very interested in Asian music, but there were few opportunities to study in Prague and it was impossible for him to leave the country, since he had once been jailed for sharing satirical poems about the government. After the fall of Communism he could finally leave the country, but there was no money available for musicians to travel abroad. Finally, a grant from the Japan Foundation enabled Vlastislav to journey to Japan, his mecca, to study the shakuhachi.

As cicadas sung, livid, in the trees nearby. He paused to listen, and, as if inspired by their sound, turned to me and said, “someday, let’s do an international shakuhachi event in the Czech Republic.” The thought of an ancient Japanese instrument resounding in an ancient European city was intriguing, though at the time I had no idea how we could make it happen.  

Seven years later in 2003, when I was invited to Budapest to perform in the annual Budapest Spring Music Festival, I recalled Vlastislav’s dream. From Budapest it was easy to stop by Prague, and he arranged a small workshop and a few concerts, thereby planting the seeds for something bigger. The next Prague shakuhachi gathering occurred in 2006 and by 2007, we had the rudiments of a festival going. 

And it all began while listening to insects on a summer evening in Tokyo.

This year, 2019, marks the 12thanniversary of the Prague Shakuhachi Festival.