The Shakuhachi came to Japan in the seventh century from China and was a six-holed flute used in Imperial Court music. Later, in the middle ages, it was changed into the five-holed flute played today. Mendicant Zen monks who wandered the countryside played the Shakuhachi during their pilgrimages, wishing to be delivered from earthly desires. Honkyoku are the songs which were created by these monks.
Listen to a musical sample of the Honkyoku song Honshirabe (1.0mb, mp3) played on the shakuhachi.