Riley Lee first went to Japan in 1970 to work at the World Expo in Osaka. He began playing the shakuhachi in 1971. He is the recipient of two of the oldest and most venerated lineages of traditional shakuhachi, which can be traced back to the Zen Buddhist komusô, or "priests of nothingness" of the Edo period in Japan. In 1980, he became the first non-Japanese to attain the rank of dai shihan or Grand Master. Riley is a consummate teacher, performer and collaborator with other musicians of all genres.