Happy Halloween - Gojinjo Taiko

Happy Halloween. We took a little road trip last weekend. We had been hoping to travel to the Osaka/Kyoto area, but it did not work out, so we stayed closer to home and traveled up into Ishikawa's Noto Peninsula to Wajima. This is the town where the group, Koshu Taiko, which played at our school festival is from. It is a small town right on the Sea of Japan. It is known for it's morning outdoor market, which is nearly all fish related products.

Although unintended, the trip turned out to have a bit of a Halloween theme. Noto is mainly countryside and the people who live there are probably either fisherman or farmers. We drove up on Friday evening, after it was dark, so we could not see much of the scenery, but on the way home it was light. One of the most frightening things I saw was in a rice field. A farmer had set up two scare crows in his field, but instead of making a traditional looking scarecrow, he had used two fashion mannequins! It was rather surprising, a little scary, and I was glad I wasn't walking past them at night.

The other Halloween themed event we attended was planned. The Wajima area is well known for a certain style of taiko playing called Gojinjo Taiko. There is a performance of this style nearly every evening in Wajima in a small theater on the second floor of what used to be the Wajima train station. This style of taiko drumming uses only one drum, and there are about 5 players. For most of the performance, there are only one or two people playing at one time, at the most, three. One of the most unique points about this song is that the performers all wear masks of demons, or what are meant to be ghosts of the deceased. Most of the masks also include long, straggly hair, which was originally made out of dried seaweed. While one performer plays a base rhythm of straight eighth notes, the others take turns striking menacing poses and playing sporadic rhythms on the taiko. For the majority of the piece, there are only two players on the stage at a time, but for the climax at the end, all the players come out on the stage, each playing a measure or so before moving out of the way for the next player.

This is a well known style of taiko in this area and this was probably the third time I have seen it performed this year. Of course, there is some history and a story that is behind this piece. The original performance of this piece was actually more of a military defense tactic, than an entertainment event. Back in 1576, the village of Nafune, on the Noto Peninsula was under the threat of attack from a warlord named Kenshin Uesugi. The townspeople, realizing they were at a large disadvantage, decided to attempt to frighten away the army. Some of the villagers were able to sneak behind the enemy lines in the middle of the night. They brought with them a taiko drum, and frightening masks made of bark and seaweed for hair. They began playing the drum in the manner described above. The opposing army, being awoken from their sleep by the sound of a war drum, and subsequently seeing the “unearthly beings” who were playing the drum, were thrown into confusion and fear and fled, and the village was saved.

I intended to take a video of this performance and post it. I even brought my video camera with me. When I went to set it up, however, I realized that I had forgotten the battery, as well as the wall outlet adapter. I did attempt to take a short video on my cell phone, but the quality is so poor, it would be worthless to try and watch it. I was able to find someone else’s recording of another performance on youtube, though. In my opinion, this performance is not as well performed as what we saw, but perhaps it is just the recording and/or editing. At any rate, you can get a better idea of what the piece looks and sounds like. There are two parts.

Finally, following the performance, there was an opportunity to take pictures with the performers. My wife took our two children up, while I prepared the camera. Both of our children (4 years and 1 year) watched the whole performance, with the scary masks and all, without any indication of being scared, so we figured they would be fine for a picture. As my wife went up on stage to stand next to one of the “demons”, he reached out, to hold our son for the picture. I guess this was a bit too much for our son because he began to cry. My wife offered to take him back, but the “demon” just asked, “Where’s the camera?” I suppose he is used to that kind of thing. Also, the Japanese tend to think it’s cute when little kids get scared. We snapped the picture quickly. You can see how unhappy he is below. But he cheered up very quickly, as soon as he was back in his mama’s arms.


Marlene said...

Goodness, I can't imagine why your son was scared of the man in the mask; I mean, it's so natural looking....

Did you get a picture of the 'scarecrows' in the field? Those would be awesome to see!

Happy Halloween.

Marlene the Pug's Mom

sadbaby said...

brilliant videos

i study taiko here in the UK and i was just learning Gojinjo this week - I need to work on my inner demon!

thanks :)

Raion Taiko said...

Glad you enjoyed the videos. What UK group are you in? Is it Mugenkyo?