SOAS University of London

Centre of Buddhist Studies

Thus Have I Heard: Sound and Buddhism in Japan

Akinobu Tatsumi, Clive Bell, Neil Cantwell & Nick Luscombe (Japan Sound Portrait), Dr Chihiro Inose, Dr Lucia Dolce

Date: 2 March 2019Time: 1:00 PM

Finishes: 2 March 2019Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: BGLT

Type of Event: Round Table


“There can be few phrases more familiar to readers of Buddhist texts than the traditional opening of the sutras: Pali: evam me sutam Sanskrit: evam maya srutam" John Brough, “Thus Have I Heard”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1950 The foundational status of the phrase ‘Thus Have I Heard’ within the transmission of Buddhist teachings suggests a primary importance for sound and the act of hearing within this religious tradition. This is certainly the case within the different Buddhist schools of Japan, where the use of sound is fundamental to their culture and rituals. This event will explore a multitude of both modern and traditional ways in which sound can provide a vehicle for experiencing and understanding wide-ranging facets of Buddhist teachings.The programme will include three presentations examining a range of personal engagements with sound in a Buddhist context. Elsewhere, attendees will be able to experience a series of Japanese soundscapes in Virtual Reality and step inside a sound installation of the Kongokai / Diamond World mandala. A final round table discussion will provide an opportunity to ask questions to our guest speakers and delve into issues raised by the talks, performances and experiences.The event is free to attend and all are welcome, but registering on our eventbrite page is necessary.


13:00 Opportunity to experience Virtual Reality Soundscapes / Sound Installation.

13:30 Introduction/Opening: Akinobu Tatsumi/TA2MI

14:15 Clive Bell

15:00 Neil Cantwell & Nick Luscombe (Japan Sound Portrait) 

15:30 Tea Break / Opportunity to experience Virtual Reality Soundscapes / Sound Installation.

16:00 Q&A and Round Table Discussion, featuring all participants, joined by Dr Chihiro Inose (Nagoya University) and Dr David Hughes (SOAS). Chaired by Dr Lucia Dolce (SOAS)

17:00 Close


Akinobu Tatsumi  is a remarkable musician who goes by the artist name of TA2MI, and also happens to be a Jodo Shinshū Buddhist temple priest. He is as comfortable switching between ritual chanting and beatboxing as he is traversing electronic musical genres in his prodigious creations as a producer. Tatsumi will explore the importance of sound and music for him in his role as a priest, both in a traditional ritual context, as well as in using different forms of music to attract different generations to visit his temple.

Clive Bell is a musician, composer and writer with a specialist interest in the shakuhachi (Japanese flute), khene (Thai mouth organ) and other East Asian wind instruments. He has travelled extensively in Japan (where he studied shakuhachi with the master Kohachiro Miyata), Thailand, Laos and Bali, researching music and meeting local practitioners. Clive will be talking about and demonstrating the many Buddhist aspects of the shakuhachi, ranging from the history of the Komuso tradition of the Fuke school of Zen Buddhism, to the meditative effects of playing the instrument.

Neil Cantwell is Co-Director of the film KanZeOn, and, together with Nick Luscombe from BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction, they have created the project Japan Sound Portrait in order to explore what representation of the country emerges through focusing on sound. Building on Neil’s time as a Research Fellow at Kyoto’s Shuchiin University, their presentation will accompany a sound installation based on the Diamond World Mandala that is central to Shingon Buddhist teachings, as well as a sound-based Virtual Reality experience of Japanese locations. Analysing these experiments in how sound is able to transform our perception of the visual and the spatial will lead into discussion of related issues that are prominent within another project of Nick’s called Musicity, which commissions pieces of music in response to pieces of architecture, which can then only be listened to at the location which inspired their creation.

Chihiro Inose is a Research Fellow at the Research Center for Cultural Heritage and Texts at Nagoya University. He holds a PhD from the same university and specialises in medieval Japanese literature and the history of Japanese performing arts. His recently published monograph, Chūsei ōken no ongaku to girei 『中世王権の音楽と儀礼』[“Music and rituals in Japanese medieval history”] (Tokyo: Kasama Shoin, 2018) has been awarded the 4th Nakamura Hajime Prize for Eastern Study.

Dr Lucia Dolce is Numata Reader in Japanese Buddhism in the School of History, Religions and Philosophies at SOAS, and Chair of the SOAS Centre for the Study of Japanese Religions. She will chair a round table discussion with the event’s participants.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of Buddhist Studies, Centre for the Study of Japanese Religions, Japan Sound Portrait

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Sponsor: Khyentse Foundation