Daihachi Oguchi 大八小口 R.I.P.

I learned the sad news this evening as I opened my Internet browser and saw the headline on Yahoo: "Master Japanese drummer, Oguchi dies".

All of us who play and perform taiko today owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Oguchi, the grandfather of modern taiko. Oguchi is credited as having established and developed the style of taiko performing that most of us practice today. Without his work, taiko would likely still be secondary percussion instruments, limited to use in shrines, temples and local festivals.

Daihachi Oguchi, a jazz drummer, laid the foundations of modern taiko performance styles back in the early 1950s. He also helped to establish several top taiko groups, including the San Fransisco Taiko Dojo, the very first taiko group in the US.

For my wife and I, taiko has given us an incredible amount of happiness, joy, energy and more. Without Mr. Oguchi, we likely never would have known the wonders of taiko. We are truly grateful. We wish to express our condolences to his family and those who knew Mr. Oguchi. May he rest in peace.


A Practice Space

Because of the noise, practicing taiko in your home is always a challenge, especially in Japan. In fact, other than patting out rhythms on your knees with your hands, there is not much you can do, without bothering the neighbors. It has, therefore, been a challenge for us to find a time and place to practice our own music. We do go to Asano three times a week, but we cannot practice our own music then. My wife's parents have a studio in the basement of their company, but it is all concrete (which makes it quite loud), and there is a juku (cram school) right next door. We practice at the studio occasionally, but we always have to be careful about how long and how loud we practice.

Several months ago, I learned about another option. I asked a friend, who used to have a band, where bands in Japan practiced (or at least bands in Ishikawa) because you certainly could set up in your garage or basement here, since most houses don't have a basement, and garages are either too small, or merely a carport. She told me about a place here called Kanazawa Citizens Art Village, where they have several studios available to rent. I had been to the Art Village many times, but I didn't realize you could rent studios there. (When I say "studio", I actually mean large practice room) And it turns out that one of the studios even has four taiko to use. Here it is:

What's more, the price cannot be any better. For a two hour reservation, you only pay 315 yen. That's only about $3!

Since we learned of this option, we have been trying to line up our schedule so that we could go and see what it was like to practice there. Yesterday, about four months after we first learned of this option, we finally got everything to click just right, and were able to get in a good two hour practice from 7 - 9 in the morning. It was the first time we had a real chance to work through our first original piece, Raijin, which I wrote back in December. Before that, we hadn't really known what it would sound like on drums. (It sounds pretty good, by the way, and we are supposed to actually perform it for a small group of friends in a couple weeks)

This actually wasn't the first time we tried to practice at the studio at the art village. Last week we had a bit of free-time in the evening and the studio happened to be open, so we went to try it out. There was no one to watch our children, however, so we decided to take them with us and see if they could play quietly while we practiced for an hour or so. We packed up our drums (we brought our new shime taiko along) and brought some legos with us so they could play while we practiced. For the first 10 minutes or so, they were interested in playing the drums with us, then for about 5 minutes, they played with the legos, and after that it was constant whining, "I'm bored, I want to play outside, Can we go outside? I want to go home". Now a five year old (my daughter) is able to understand things like, "Mama and papa need to practice a little bit, can you just play by yourself for awhile?" But it is pointless to try and reason like that with a two year old (my son) who eventually just sat down and cried. In the end, I took the kids to play outside, while my wife practiced on her own for a half-hour or so. Needless to say, it was not a very productive practice, and we have decided that unless we can find a babysitter, there is not much point in trying to practice there.

But it is still a great discovery. We can practice there for minimal cost, without worrying about making too much noise, and I'm sure that we will be back in the near future... assuming we can find a babysitter.


New Drums

We were able to order a couple new drums over the past two months. Unfortunately, they are not Asano drums. They are only a tenth of the cost of Asano, but they do allow us to practice on or own, so for the time being, we are satisfied to use them. They are two shime taiko, the small, high pitched drums that one often sees being played in taiko groups. Here are a couple pictures of them. (At least the sticks are from Asano)

Actually, this puts us slightly ahead of our goals for buying drums this year, and there is only one more that we planned to buy before the end of 2008. So we have about six months to save up the money for that.


Taiko Practice and Sato Kensaku (佐藤健作)

Yesterday was a productive day from a taiko standpoint. I woke up early enough to go jogging. Unfortunately it's been too long since I have been running. I hope to get back into the habit of going three times a week, but we are just heading into the rainy season, which means nearly daily rain showers for a month or more. Not that a little rain will keep me from running, but if it is heavy, I likely won't go. At any rate, I pushed myself a but harder and ran all the way to the top of the "mountain" that I usually only run halfway up. (Read about my running route) It actually only added about 5 minutes onto my total time. It was good to go running, though, after not going for so long.

Yume Mitai has a small performance coming up at the start of July for Extasia promotion and for this, they added an extra rehearsal yesterday afternoon from 1 - 2:30. This was in addition to the Jigen practice we already had from 2:30 to 4. So altogether I was able to practice taiko for 3 hours yesterday. It felt good, but my fingers were starting to hurt by the time we finished. If we are lucky, we'll have an hour or so this afternoon to practice some of our own music.

On Friday evening, my wife was able to go and see a taiko concert. I was unable to go because of work. The concert was given by Kensaku Sato and Hono Taiko played one song (Mitsu Uchi) as a special guest. I had known about this concert for sometime because one of the other Odaiko players in the groups I play with is a big fan of Kensaku Sato, and he has been talking about the concert for about the last three months or so. Yesterday he was telling us a bit more about him. Apparently he had an Odaiko specially made (by Asano Taiko, of course) just for this tour, called The Fuji Tour (不二). Fuji is the name of the Odaiko. (Many particularly large Odaiko get their own names) Fuji is over 4 shaku, which means it is over 120 cm. You can get an idea of the size from the picture posted on his website. He also had Asano construct some sort of special stand for it as well. All together, it cost around $400,000. If the price was not surprising enough, we learned that once he completes this tour, he is going to "offer" the drum to Mt. Fuji. I don't know exactly what this involves, but we were relieved to hear that it would not be burned. After it is offered to Mt. Fuji, however, it will not be played again.


Two Birthdays

I forgot to bring my music to Yume Mitai practice yesterday. It wasn't a big deal, because I have most of it memorized, except for the brand new songs. On the other hand, it sort of was because there was also a piece of music that I was supposed to pass on to another member, who is in Jigen and Matto Bayashi with us as well. Since he is also in Matto Bayashi, and we practice on Tuesdays, I told him that I would bring it for him then (the next day), but he told me that he won't be at Matto Bayashi practice this week. Why? Because the whole company, or nearly the whole company, is traveling today to Mie prefecture to visit a famous shrine, Ise Jingu. They are going to this shrine to pray for blessings for a good year as they approach their 400th anniversary. You see, as of yesterday (June 2) Asano Taiko is 399 years old.

Do you know what this means? It means that our son was born on the same day that Asano Taiko was "born". No wonder he enjoys drums and taiko so much. The stars certainly seemed to be aligned in the right spots for him to be a taiko drummer. Anyhow, he is two years old (a bit younger than Asano Taiko) and for his birthday present we got him a Winnie the Pooh drumset. He seemed not quite sure what to make of it at first, but once he figured out what to do, we could barely pull him away from it.

I remember my dad had one of these kiddie drum sets and he used to get it out for us to play with sometimes on weekends. I can't be certain, but it must have been from when he was a kid, and I bet he still has it somewhere. Then I think my younger brother had one too (correct me if I'm wrong, Mark). I wonder if that one is still around somewhere. It is impressive that my dad's kiddie drumset was sturdy enough to still be available for us to play with when we were kids. Unfortunately, the use of plastic has significantly increased since the days when my pop was a child and I worry that this drumset will last until me son is 3. We'll just have to be careful. Anyway, here's a picture of him rockin' out with Pooh!