There are two basic kinds of flutes, the transverse flute where the instrument is held to the side and the player blows into the side of the flute. The gakubue, komabue, ryuteki, Noh kan and shinobue are all examples of transverse flute. The other kind of flute is held vertically and the player blows into the end. The shakuhachi and hichiriki are examples of this type of flute (although the hichiriku is actually more of a reed instrument than a flute).

This flute is used in Mikagura, the native Japanese music preserved in Gagaku. It is 45.5 cm. long and is the longest flute used in Japanese music. There are six finger holes. With the exception of the mouth and finger holes, the entire instrument is wrapped in birch or cherry bark and then lacquered.

This flute is used in Komagaku, one type of music used for dances of the right in Gagaku imperial court music. The instrument is 36.8 cm. long and there are six finger holes. It is very similar to the kagurabue, but it is much thinner. In the 6th and 7th centuries, there were three kingdoms on the Korean peninsula, Shiragi, Kudara and Kokuri, in the Japanese pronunciation. The imperial court introduced music from these countries and in the Nara period, music performed by the Gagaku agency used the flute in music from Kudara and Kokuri, also known as "Koma." In the Heian period foreign music included music and dance from China preserved as dances of the left and dances of the right composed mainly of entertainments from Kudara and Kokuri. But the present length of the flute was not set until the end of the Heian period and it is thought that this is when the thinner flute was set as the komabue and the thicker flute as the kaburabue.

The ryuteki is used in Gagaku dances of the left, music from China. The standard length for the instrument is 40.2 cm. but there are also instruments slightly longer and shorter. The flute is thick and mouth hole has a diameter of 2 cm. There are seven finger holes. There are many famous ryuteki that have names, among them the Aoba no fue ("green leaf") carried by Atsumori and said to have been dedicated to Suma temple.

Noh kan:
This flute is used in the Noh ensemble and in the hayashi ensemble for Nagauta and other forms of kabuki dance music. In the early 15th century, Kan'ami and his son Zeami created Noh in its present form by transforming Dengaku and Sarugaku Noh. At first, the same music ensemble was used, but because the sound of the flute was very weak, the flute used in Dengaku was replaced by the ryuteki. In turn, various changes were made to the ryuteki to transform it into the noh kan. The instrument reached its present form in the Edo period, but it is not clear who made these changes.
The length of the Noh kan is 39.1 cm and it is 1.7 cm. in diameter. It looks very similar to the ryuteki, but the ryuteki uses a length of bamboo wrapped in birch or cherry bark which is then laquered. The Noh kan takes the same length of bamboo, but then it is split into eight to sixteen pieces which are then reversed, so that the skin of the bamboo is on the inside of the flute. This provides a very hard surface which creates the strong sound of the Noh kan. Then, a narrower tube is inserted inside the flute near the mouth hole. This creates the unique pitches of the Noh kan and when the player blows strongly into the mouthhole, it creates the strong, high pitch called "hishigi." Like the ryuteki, the Noh kan has seven finger holes.

Shinobue (Bamboo Flute):
The bamboo flute is used in the hayashi ensemble for Nagauta, background music for kabuki, Sato Kagura and festival flute and percussion ensembles. It is made from a length of bamboo. Usually it is not wrapped with bark like other flutes, but has the bare surface of the bamboo, or it is lacquered, or sometimes just the two ends are wrapped with bark to keep the dried bamboo from splitting. Like the ryuteki, there are seven finger holes. Other flutes are only in one length, but the shinobue must match the pitch of the singing and shamisen so an entire set is needed of different pitches.

Japanese name of the pitch Basic pitch of instrument Length
Sanbon (three) E 50.8 cm.
Shihon (four) F 48.3 cm.
Gohon (five) F# 44.0 cm.
Roppon (six) G 42.0 cm.
Nanahon (seven) A 40.5 cm.
Hachihon (eight) A 38.0 cm.
Kyuhon (nine) B 36.5 cm.
Juppon (ten) H 32.5 cm.
Juippon (eleven) C 31.0 cm.

Also, among the shinobue used in the hayashi ensemble for Kagura, there are some that only have six finger holes. It is thought that this flute was adapted from Meiseigaku.