大掃除 - "Spring" Cleaning

I went to Asano Taiko today, but not to play or practice taiko. They are actually closed for the winter holidays. Not Christmas, but New Year. One of the Japanese traditions leading up to the New Year is to have a big house cleaning, or business cleaning. It's called "Osouji". It's religious background has to do with creating a clean space to welcome in the New Year spirits. I suppose it has psychological symbolism as well. Practically, it is an excuse to clean all of those places and objects that usually get overlooked. In the US, at least, most of us probably do this type of cleaning in the spring time. In Japan, however, it is done sometime during the week leading up to New Year's Eve.

Today was Asano's Osouji day. Whoever had a couple free hours headed over to Asano to help out with cleaning windows, polishing taiko and sweeping up all the places that usually don't get swept. My job was cleaning windows. I brought my daughter along in hopes that she could help out, but there wasn't much work for her to do. So she became my photographer.


Kaga Taiko Recital Videos

It's Christmas Eve Day here, in Japan and we are sure busy. You see, Christmas is not a holiday in Japan and most people have to work today and tomorrow and the next day. Thus, for those who wish to celebrate Christmas in a major way, like in Europe or the States, it is a challenge to get everything ready because you are often working right up to, and through the holiday. It's rather depressing, actually. At least working at a school, the winter holidays cover the Christmas holidays so I have never had to work on a Christmas in all my years of working in Japan (well, it's only been four years I guess).

Anyhow, before I spend too much time writing, I just wanted to post videos of our most recent taiko recital. This past Sunday we had our Kaga Taiko recital, which was held at an Onsen (Hotel Suiko) in Katayamazu, near Komatsu Japan. Here is a link to the Hotel Suiko website, in case you want to see pictures.

It was much different than last year's Kaga Taiko Recital, and not just because it was in a different location. This year, we had both our children with us and as a result, we were unable to see many of the other performances. A two and half year old can only sit still for so long, even if he does like taiko. Also, last year's recital featured only Kaga and Fukui style taiko (traditional styles, dating back nearly 400 years), but this year there were also groups that would be considered "Sousaku Taiko" (創作太鼓) which is the more modern form of taiko that most of us probably are more familiar with. On personal level, it was also much different because my wife and I felt much more confident in our playing. I don't know that you can see a whole lot of difference between the technical difficulty of what we played this year and what we did last year, but (at least I like to think) our stage presence is slightly more confident than last year.

Anyway, here is where I will post the videos of this year's and last year's recitals, and you can decide for yourselves. (Please feel free to leave your comments, positive or "constructive")

We'll start with me (Brian)
Last year's recital (2007):

This year's recital (2008):

And now Mayumi's...
Last year (2007):

and this year's (2008):

And I'll just say goodbye with a little bonus video. My son, Kenji, seems to really be starting to "feel" taiko and he will pick up bachi (sticks) any chance he gets and start "playing" the couch, cushions, whatever he can find. The interesting thing is that when you watch him, he has a very serious, focused face, and he seems to be doing more than just "hitting". If he is playing a real drum, this is even more apparent. I was telling my mother this the other day, and she said it was the same way with my older brother (who is now a professional musician). He started learning piano at 3 years old, and although he wasn't necessarily playing songs right away, my mum said that what he played, although random notes, it was very musical. Anyway, decide for yourselves. Here is video of my son playing a cushion. You may think that my judgement is clouded by being a parent, but even if that is so, it is still kind of cute to watch...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
From Raion Taiko


Can Playing Taiko Drums Cure the Common Cold?

I caught a cold earlier this week. It isn’t so bad, but there were a couple days of a sore throat and now it has moved on to my nose. No matter how many times I blow it, there always seems to be ... well, leftovers. So I was looking forward to my Kaga Taiko class yesterday (Thursday). Why is that? Because taiko always seems to help my ailments. Whether it is a small cold, or the flu, if I have enough energy to drive myself to taiko practice, taiko is the most effective medicine I have found. Without fail, playing taiko will clear up my nose, lower my fever, soothe my sore throat, not to mention the inherent health benefits which come from the exercise.

Last Sunday I discovered that I was not the only person to feel this way. I visited Ichikawa Juku, a “school” in Komatsu where you can learn Kaga Taiko. It’s a very interesting place and sometime I will have to write extensively about what it is like to learn there, but not today.

A significant amount of time there is spent not playing taiko, but talking (which is actually part of learning Kaga Taiko). The head teacher asked me what jobs my wife and I did in the States and I was telling him how my wife had studied music therapy and was hoping to do something with music therapy and taiko when we return next year. He was a little skeptical about whether taiko could be therapeutic until I began sharing with him all of the research I've read about how drumming has been shown to increase antibody levels in your immune system, and how drum circles have been shown to be effective in helping people recover from addictions or strokes and so on. (Want to read those articles too? Here are the links: Sound Healing, Drums, not Drugs, Should Drums be Sold in Pharmacies?)

I guess it sort of made a connection in his head somewhere, because he then said, “Come to think of it, playing taiko always seems to cure my colds too. I’m in my 50s now and have been playing Kaga taiko since I was in my early 20s. Whenever I got sick, I hardly ever went to the doctor, except for major ailments. I found that playing the taiko always cured whatever it was that I had.”

Last Thursday was the final class of this year's Kaga Taiko course, and Sunday we will have our recital. This year we will have it at an Onsen (Hot Springs Resort), which is kind of exciting because that is the type of place where this style of taiko playing was traditionally peformed. Besides, we'll get to eat nice food and have a good bath. It will probably be a lot different than last year's recital, which included a lot more guests. Still, we'll try to get some videos, at least of ourselves, and we can post them and we'll see if you think we've improved since last year.

In the meantime, I'm curious about the rest of you taiko players out there. What types of experiences have you had with illness and taiko? Does anyone else find that playing taiko helps your colds get better more quickly? Leave a comment below and share your own stories.


A New Way of Training for Taiko

Professional taiko teams are well known for their rigorous exercise and training programs. Some of you may have even heard the story about Kodo running the New York Marathon and then performing a concert on a stage at the finish line. I've never run a marathon, but from what people who have, have told me, performing a physically demanding taiko concert at the finish line is probably not the first thing they would want to do. Nevertheless, performing taiko is a physically demanding activity and anyone who doesn't want to be huffing and puffing on the stage ought to engage in some sort of regular physical exercise.

Since we have set our aspirations on creating a premier taiko group in the Mid-West, we have also tried to keep to a fairly regular exercise program. It's not always easy when you have a full-time job, two small children and practice taiko 3 or 4 times a week in the evening, but we try to do it whenever we can. Sometimes we run, swim, bike, do dumbbell workouts, sit-ups, push-ups, stretches and so on.

Yesterday, my wife discovered a new, challenging and effective way of doing push-ups. As she was doing a set of push-ups yesterday, our two-year-old son came into the room. He said, "Wait, Mama, I'm getting on," and before she could do anything else, he was climbing onto her back. As she finished out the set with him on her back, he kept saying, "Wow! Mama, that's great!"

So, if you don't have a two-year-old, I suggest that you go out and get one as soon as possible so that you, too, can try this new, innovative way of physical training for taiko!