Gonzaburo the Flute Player

In Japanese folklore there is a tale of a kind-hearted young man called Gonzaburo, who was a beautiful flute player. He cared for his aging mother and would play the flute for her, which brought her much happiness. One Autumn there was so much rain that his village was flooded and his home and fields were washed away.

'Flute Player' - Torii Kiyonaga, 1783

Gonzaburo's mother was missing so he decided to wander while playing his flute in the hope that she would hear him. He searched high and low and looked along the river but had no luck. He began to suspect she was dead and couldn't stand the thought of living without her.

Night Rain' - Utagawa Hiroshige, 1839

In despair he played one final tune on his flute then threw himself into the river and drowned. A few days later a strange thing happened. Each night after the sunset the sound of the flute was heard coming from the river. The locals began to think that it was Gonzaburo's ghost still searching for his lost mother.

Ogata Gekko, 1896

They were very frightened so they built a grave marker and read sutras. The ghostly flute playing was not heard again. The river was thereafter known as the flute-playing river. This story is connected to the Fuefuki River in Yamanashi Prefecture and there is apparently a small Shrine on its bank in honour of Gonzaburo. In Japanese fuefuki refers to the sound of a flute and some say the flowing river still sounds like a flute being played.

Utagawa Hiroshige, 1856

Fuefuki River, Yamanashi Prefecture

Utagawa Toyosai

Utagawa Hiroshige II, 1860

Kobayashi Kiyochika, ca. 1930s

Katsukawa Shunsho, 1782