Mokugyo – The Wooden Fish

The Nottingham Zen Group Mokugyo
The Nottingham Zen Group Mokugyo

At the end of zazen practice on Sundays we have a morning ceremony. A part of that ceremony is the chanting of sutras. We harmonise our voices and chant the words together. During certain sutras we chant to a beat. That beat is provided by the mokugyo.

What is a Mokugyo?


The Mokugyo is a wooden percussion instrument used in Soto Zen Buddhism. We use it at the Nottingham Zen Group when we chant the ‘Maka Hannya Haramita Shingyo’ (Essence of the Sutra of Great Wisdom that enables all beings to go beyond).

The Nottingham Zen Groups Mokugyo
Mokugyo Carvings

It is called a ‘wooden fish’ as it has scales on top and two fish heads meeting together at a pearl on its handle which symbolises unity. In Buddhism the fish, which never sleeps, is representative of wakefulness.

They come in different sizes and can be played by anyone. It’s great fun! I’ve always enjoyed playing the mokugyo. Recently, I played one that was so large that you had to hold the striker with two hands as it was so heavy.

The largest mokugyo in Japan, probably the world, is over 2.5 meters in diameter and is located at Hadedera Temple in Kamakura.  Ours is about 20cm. But, as they say, size isn’t everything!