What Is A Wooden Fish?-Muyu Instrument

A wooden fish is a Buddhist instrument used for ceremonies by monks and laypeople. This instrument was used to chant scriptures and create rhythms by Buddhist priests. It is typically made of hollow wood and is common in the Mahayana traditions. The instrument goes by various names such as Chinese block or Korean block depending on the culture.

What is the wooden fish instrument called?

The Chinese refer to it as the Chinese block. The instrument is sometimes called the skull though this name is rarely used. In the Chinese language, the instrument is called Mu Yu and is a percussion music gadget. Another variant of this name is Mokugyo. The instrument varies in size, and it can be as wide as 3 feet. All these names come up due to cultural differences.  Some people call it the Chinese Temple Block or the wooden bell. These traditional instruments are placed on the left side of the altar alongside a bell bowl or suspended at the entrances of Buddhist monasteries.

 Wooden fish percussion instrument

Percussion instruments are played by striking with the hand, sticks, or beaters. They can also produce sounds by shaking. The wooden fish has two holes. One hole is for placing the thumb and the other for sound production. In traditional China, the instrument resembled a real fish, but modernity has introduced various shapes and sizes. The instrument is played using a stick that is struck across the handheld instrument to produce a rich tone. The intensity is hypnotizing and leaves one relaxed and serenaded.

Buddhist wooded fish instrument

The origin of the wooden fish is traced to the Taoist and Buddhist monks. The handheld instrument was played while chanting the sutras. A Buddhist monk played these instruments during ceremonies and special prayers. The instrument would be struck at intervals as a signal of a specific stage in the ceremony. These instruments were typical in funerals, rain prayers, and sutras chanting. In Buddhism, the wooded fish was struck while chanting Buddha’s name. The design included two fish heads embracing a pearl at the handle as a symbol of unity.

Wooden fish instrument Feng Shui

In ancient Chinese culture, Feng Shui is a practice that uses energy forces to bring harmony between individuals and their surroundings. Mu Yu in Feng Shui was played at funeral rituals. Priests would arrive at the deceased home for rites that would be accompanied by percussion music. The Mu Yu and drums were the basic instruments in these rituals. The chanting and music lasted all night. The chanting would either involve the high priest alone or all priests chanting in unison.


The wooden fish has found its way into many cultures including Latin America where it is called the güiro. This harmonious instrument holds special meaning in the Chinese culture as it is associated with rituals and ceremonies. While traditional versions were strictly wooden, modern designs have incorporated composite plastic. The hollow tone is diverse depending on the size and material of the wooden fish.

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