2009-11-01

Neighborhood Taiko Concert

We performed a mini-concert in the backyard of my parents' house last weekend. Please come by our new blog to check out the pictures.

Raion Taiko Neighborhood Taiko Mini-Concert

2009-09-26

Earth Celebration - Part 3 KASA Tour and N. Ameican Taiko

The location of the Raion Taiko Blog has changed. Please visit our new home to read our latest entry, featuring thoughts and reflections from Kodo's Yoshikazu and Yoko Fujimoto during the 2009 KASA Workshop Tour.

Raion Taiko Blog - Earth Celebration Part 3

Please remember to update your bookmarks.

2009-09-12

Earth Celebration - Part 2

Updates on my location and the status, plus the second installment of my experiences at Kodo's 2009 Earth Celebration.
Earth Celebration - Part 2 - The Shiroyama Concert

Did you miss part 1 of Earth Celebration? No worries
Earth Celebration - Part 1

And be sure to check out pictures from Raion Taiko's debut in Japan:

Raion Taiko Pictures

2009-08-20

Kodo Earth Celebration - Part 1

Visit our new blog at our new website, www.michigantaiko.com to read the latest entry covering our trip to Sado Island for Kodo's annual Earth Celebration.

In part 1 I talk about Kodo's Sado Island Taiko Center and the workshop I took with my daughter, "Shin-chan Sensei's Taiko Experience". We both really enjoyed ourselves.

Kodo Earth Celebration - Part 1

2009-08-05

Matto Matsuri and more

New post: Matto Matsuri and finding a practice space when the studios are all full.
Come and visit our new website/blog location -

Great Lakes Taiko Center
Raion Taiko Blog

2009-08-01

New Blog Update: Matto Matsuri and New Taiko T-shirts

Our new blog has been updated with a new post. Please stop by our new website to read it. New T-shirts and Matto Matsuri

2009-07-30

Raion Taiko Blog is Moving

Raion Taiko is growing up a little bit. We are in the process of moving to a new website, where we have integrated our blog as a part of it. From now on, we will most likely be posting at the following address:

http://greatlakestaikocenter.squarespace.com/raiontaiko-blog

We are currently in the process of switching over our old URL, so this address might possibly change again. If it does, I will let you know, but even if the address changes again, the one above should still work.

Thank you for your interest in following our adventures.

2009-07-24

Exstasia 2009 - Well Done! Everyone

Yesterday we had our 打ち上げ (uchi-age) party for the staff who worked at Exstasia 2009. What is "uchi-age" in English? Actually, I had a brief discussion about this last night with Asano-san's daughter (who is a fluent speaker of English). Neither of us could think of a good, natural-sounding translation. If you look up the word in a Japanese-English dictionary, you'll probably find it means "launch". But if you call it a launch party, it sounds like something you do before the event. An uchi-age party is usually held after a large event is finished. It's sort of a celebration of the successful event and a thanks to everyone for all their hard work. My daughter had one with her ballet school after their recital last fall as well. Is there an English word for this kind of party? An after-event party? post-event party? job-well-done party? How about you? any body know a good translation for "uchi-age"? Leave a comment if you do.

Anyhow, it was an enjoyable party with all the staff, plus Hikari and Hono Taiko. The large taiko autograph board was set up in the ballroom so that everyone could see it also. I posted a picture of it the day before the concert in the previous post. But by the end of the concert, there was hardly any space left to write. Here is how it looked last night:


Sorry for the low picture quality. All I had with me yesterday was my cell phone camera.

This year I didn't get to see much of Exstasia, not even the dress rehearsal. I could go in and out a few times during the performance, but I mostly ended up seeing the same groups I had seen in rehearsals. Therefore, I don't have much more to say about the performances, other than what I already said in the previous post.

Well, in a few weeks, we will be attending another large taiko festival: Kodo's Earth Celebration on Sado Island. We won't be working as staff there, so we can enjoy all the events as concert guests and workshop participants.

Before that, though, we have two performances to look forward to. The first is with Jigen on August 2, next Sunday, for the Matto Matsuri. I believe this may be for the Matto Hi-Matsuri (fire festival) that I wrote about a looong time ago. The following week, we'll perform for another summer festival in a nearby town with Matto Yume Mitai.

August is certainly festival month in Japan. Tonight we are planning to go and watch some taiko at a festival. The group is Da-zoku, a semi-pro group from Komatsu with a heavy Kaga Taiko influence.

They have a video up on YouTube. The Kaga Taiko influence is not so obvious in this one, but... enjoy:

2009-07-18

Extasia 2009 - Taiko of Japan, Taiko of Tomorrow


Today is the big day: Exstasia 2009. I will leave for the concert hall in about an hour, there will be a dress rehearsal in the morning, eat lunch, and then the concert starts at 2:00 PM. When concert-goers enter the lobby when we open up the doors at 1:00, they will be greeted by the large, foam-board Odaiko cut-out you see in the picture above. It has been signed by all of the performers... well, most of them, and the rest will probably sign it this morning. Concert-goers will also be invited to leave a message on the board.

This year's Exstasia will be held indoors, unlike last year's which was held outdoors. It's a good thing, though, because the chance of rain is 80 or 90% all day. Although it is not raining yet. In fact, I was thinking of riding my bike to the concert venue until I checked the weather forecast.

Having the concert inside not only reduces the worries about bad weather, but it also means a lot less work in preparing the venue. Last year we had to spend several days putting up a temporary fence surrounding the whole amphitheater so that people couldn't watch the program without paying and there were many other jobs that had to be done. We were working every day for a week before the concert. This year, most of us only were asked to come the day before the concert (yesterday). I had to work in the morning, so I couldn't make it there until lunchtime. When I arrived, they told me that they'd finished work until 7:00 pm and I could go home until then if I wanted.

I stuck around for a little bit to watch some of the rehearsal because I won't get to see much of the performance today. I got to see about six of the 14 groups performing. Hopefully I'll get to see a few more today. Out of the groups I saw yesterday, the group that left the most lasting impression was Shiobara Ryo and Gokasen (塩原 良 & 御花泉). Gokasen is the name of the team, which is produced by Shiobara san. They feature four women playing Katsugi Taiko. If you can read the Kanji for the name, you'll know that it means "Flower Fountain". After watching their rehearsal yesterday, I think it is an appropriate name. Their playing (the women katsugi players) was very feminine, but in a powerful sort of way. There movement was graceful and smooth, especially their arms. Their name is "Flower Fountain" but think more of a fountain of flowers made of fireworks and perhaps you'll get a bit of an idea of what they are like.

Well, it's time that I get ready to go. I'm sure I'll have more to share after the concert.

2009-07-06

A Little Taiko Withdrawl

I think this could be a tough week. I'll only get to practice taiko on Tuesday and Saturday. Last week, on the other hand, was pretty intensive from the taiko standpoint. I had group practices on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday (with an extra one on Saturday, then we had the Exstasia campaign performances on Sunday. In addition, Mayumi and I rented studio time on Wednesday and Thursday morning so that we could work on some of our own songs. It was actually the first time in a long time that we were able to sit down and focus on practicing our own songs; songs that we wrote ourselves. We are currently trying to learn three songs. One of them we played last year at a friend's wedding, but the song has been changed quite a bit since then and needs to be re-learned. There is another song that I wrote about a year ago, but we never tried to play it together until last week. It is a fun song and I am looking forward to performing it. And recently I wrote a song for shime taiko, which we began working on together. Although I enjoy playing in the groups at Asano and the guidance we receive from our instructors is invaluable, it does feel really good and exciting to start to seriously focus on some of our own music. We have one, possibly two opportunities to perform our songs in August, so we need to work hard.

Anyhow, I am still a bit down about not having taiko practice very often this week. At least I'll have it tomorrow, and here's something else that will pick up my spirits: Before practice tomorrow I will stop by and pick up our four new Asano Shime Taiko! I'm so excited!

2009-07-05

Extasia Campaign #2

At the end of May, Yume Mitai (one of the groups I'm in) participated in a campaign to get the word out and sell tickets for the Exstasia taiko festival coming up in only two weeks! (July 19) Read here about Exstasia Campaign #1.


Yesterday (Sunday) we had Exstasia Campaign #2 for Yume Mitai. This time I played shime taiko instead of Nagado.

For this campaign we traveled down to the southern tip of Ishikawa, to Kaga city, where we gave two performances in the parking lot of a large shopping center. Other teams that performed were Hono Taiko, Hikari, Sasuke and Tedori Koryu Taiko. All of the teams that played yesterday (except for Yume Mitai) will also be performing at Exstasia.

We also did this same campaign last year. Last year, the bus broke down on the way there and in the afternoon, we had to deal with rain. The year before that (I wasn't there at that time) I hear that it poured rain the whole time. This year, everyone made it to the shopping center without any car trouble, the weather, although slightly hot, was sunny all day (I even got a slight sunburn) and we were able to set a record for number of tickets sold during this campaign. Compared with years past, everything went very smoothly.

The only thing that went wrong was that members of Hikari and Hono Taiko performed in bare feet. (Everyone else was wearing tabi shoes) I think everyone knows how hot an asphalt parking lot can get in 90 degree heat. Imagine having to stand on it barefooted for 20 minutes or so. I was watching their feet while they played and I could see how painful it was. They kept shifting their weight to different parts of their feet so they could lift up different parts to give them a break from the heat. In the end, though, they still burned the bottoms of their feet enough to get blisters there. (Hikari members mentioned it in their blog, if you can read Japanese) Not to worry, though, these girls are tough. The first time I saw them about seven or eight years ago, it was outdoors in freezing rain, barefoot and in tank-tops. I guess they have been used to playing in less than ideal weather for a long time now.
Here we are doing our little "Finale" to remind people that Exstasia is on July 19! (Notice the Hikari members - in bare feet - are all trying their best to stand on the white parking lines.)

2009-07-02

What I learned in Super Beginner Taiko Class with my Daughter


This past Monday was the last class of Kinoshita-san's (Hono Taiko) Super Beginner Taiko Course. (Read how I ended up taking this course here.) This course is intended mainly for people with very little, or no experience with taiko so Kinoshita-san started teaching from the very beginning: How to hold the sticks, where to place your feet, how far away to stand from the drum, etc.

Last Monday marked the 8th and final week of the course. This class does not participate in the Asano recitals, but we did learn a simple song as a part of the course. At the end of the class, we gave a mini-performance. Kinoshita-san told us we could invite guests to watch if we wanted to (friends/family) but come performance time, the only "guests" were my wife, son and the son of one other classmate. The song has three parts, sometimes in unison, other times playing different parts. This was probably a mostly new concept for my daughter. In her other taiko classes, the songs she played were almost all unison. So we were impressed how well she did. She has made a lot of progress. I, on the other hand, am still not happy with my form, especially when playing long sections of eighth notes. I think part of it is making adjustments to having longer arms than most taiko players. Here is the video of our performance:

So, how was it? Can you find my daughter's favorite section? It is probably hard to see, but she has a smile on her face at the last section. She really enjoyed that part.

The course may have been called "Super Beginner" but probably the only people who are really beginners would be those who turn up their nose at this type of practice (basics) as being beneath them. Having learned music (violin) since the age of seven, and coming from a rather musical family, I am well aware of the importance of practicing those basic exercises like scales, etudes, using a metronome, etc. every day. It is the same with taiko, of course. Sometimes there can be a tendency to want to get right into practicing songs, especially if there is a performance coming up. But I think that if you spend a good part of your practice warming up and practicing/reviewing basics, your songs will also get a lot better a lot quicker. (My daughter's ballet teacher also leads her lessons in this way.)

So, let's see, I don't want to get too far off topic. To get back to the title of this post, what are the things I/we learned from this taiko course?

1. Basic practice and review are extremely important parts of practice, no matter what level you are. In addition to the comments above, I continue to hear more and more about the practice methods of professional taiko groups. They seem to spend most of their time warming up, practicing etudes, stick control, accents, etc. Then, at the end of practice, they run through their songs a couple times.

2. Stop every so often and remind yourself to relax, especially in your shoulders. During this course, every few minutes we would stop and shake out our arms and loosen up our shoulders. New players especially tend to tighten up as soon as they start playing taiko, but even experienced players can tend to tighten up. It never hurts to stop, shake out the stiffness and remind yourself to play in a relaxed and loose manner. I don't think it is possible to relax your arms and shoulders too much.

Actually, the more you think about this, the more you notice how many daily activities contribute to the stiffness. For example, right now, as I type this at the computer, I keep having to remind myself not to lean to far forward and let my shoulders stiffen up. I also noticed how often my shoulders move forward and stiffen up while I am at my desk at work and while I am driving also. These days, whenever I notice my shoulders starting to tighten up, I'll shake them out a little bit and remind myself to push them back, sit up straight and push out my chest. I have a tendency to do these shaking out movements wherever I am, and the other day some of my students noticed me doing some strange movements with my shoulders as I walked down the stairs and they ran away tittering like Japanese school girls (um, wait... they are Japanese school girls). Anyway, keep your shoulders and arms loose.

3. Learning something together with your son or daughter is a lot of fun. This class was a little past my daughter's bed time. It ran from 7:30 - 8:45. By the time we got home, she was up later than usual. So we always had a bath before we left, packed up the pajamas, which she changed into after class, then she would fall asleep on the way home. It was some extra work, but it was really enjoyable daddy-daughter time. We had 30 min in the car each way to talk, during the week, we took time sometimes to practice and review our parts together and during the class it was fun to be there and work together.

Well, today is the first Saturday I haven't had to work in more than a month, so I'm going to go and enjoy it!

2009-06-25

Another Taiko Blog and KODO: Behind the Scenes Video

KODO: Behind the Scenes

It has taken me twice as long to eat my meals in the past few days. I'm not eating more, probably I'm eating less. Why is it taking me so long? Because I am using my left hand to eat. (I'm right-handed, by the way). Using a fork and spoon with your non-dominant hand is one thing, trying to use chopsticks with it is another story. For many westerners, using your dominant hand to eat meals with chopsticks is challenging enough. I am also trying to brush my teeth with my left hand. I'm starting to get used to it, but at first, even as I brushed with my left hand, I couldn't keep from moving my right hand in a brushing motion. It must have been amusing to watch my spastic tooth-brushing ritual.

Using your left hand isn't a new idea. I've heard of many athletes doing the same thing in order to strengthen the non-dominant side of their body. That's what I'm trying to do as well. For taiko beginners, it is always painfully obvious that one of their hands/arms is stronger than the other. Over the past few years, I've watched several new people join the taiko groups I'm in, and almost without fail, during the first lesson, the instructor will say something like, "You're right-handed, aren't you. Your left hand is too weak."

Having one hand stronger than the other usually causes uneven beats, speeding up or slowing down and asymmetrical form when playing. There are several ways to even out your hand and arm strength. One is to practice exercises and etudes starting with your non-dominant hand (as I mentioned in a previous post about practicing shime taiko.) But using your non-dominant hand for everyday activities, like teeth brushing and eating with chopsticks, is another way to work towards becoming ambidextrous.

Although it is not the first time I've heard of this method of training, I was reminded of it in this excellent video about what it is like to be an apprentice with the Kodo Drummers on Sado Island. Apparently, one of the first tasks for new apprentices is to make their own pair of chopsticks and make their own pair of bachi (drum sticks). Then they must eat only using their non-dominant hand. If they can't do it, they go hungry until they learn how.

With a job and a family of four, many of the KODO training techniques are not feasible. After all, they are on a remote island cut off from family, friends, technology and all they have to think about is taiko. But using my non-dominant hand to eat with and brush my teeth, well, that's something I can do without too much trouble. I have found that I don't asks for seconds as often, though, just because it can be so tiring to eat that way.

Well, you probably want to see the video. Here it is. KODO Apprentice Video. Sorry, I can't embed it, so you'll have to go to YouTube to watch it. It is worth the time, though.

Another Taiko Blog

Where did I find this interesting video? I found it at the TAIKOHANA Blog. The owner of the TaikoHana blog wrote to me a week or so ago asking if I knew of any places to practice taiko in Fukuoka. (See my answer to her question here: Where to Practice Taiko in Japan.) I discovered that she also kept a blog about taiko and read through it in one sitting. Perhaps I found it interesting because her story is similar to ours in some ways. At any rate, in the interest of providing all those English speaking taiko enthusiasts out there more reading material, I thought I would recommend it to you.

Marie Ayabe is the writer of the blog. Marie was born and raised in Hawaii. She began learning taiko in the summer of 2007 at the Taiko Center of the Pacific. She enjoyed it so much that she decided to start a group at her college, which is called AIKO. This fall she will go to Japan as a JET teacher and hopes to continue her taiko studies there. She hopes to eventually be able to perform with a professional group and teach taiko to other people as well.

She will probably be busy getting ready for her move to Japan this summer, but once she gets settled in, I imagine she will have lots of interesting posts about her own taiko journey. So please check out her blog:
TaikoHana Blog

2009-06-20

Where Can I Practice Taiko in Japan?

Every now and then I get an interesting question about taiko by email. I can't claim to be an expert on taiko, but if I don't know the answer to questions, I often know how to find them. That was the case today. I got an email from a taiko enthusiast who is moving to Fukuoka, Japan this fall and she was trying to find a group to practice with there. At first I was going to send her my apologies and tell her that I couldn't help her. After all, Fukuoka is pretty far from Ishikawa. Then I remembered TAO. Some of you know TAO, don't you? They are a group that tours around the world. I've never seen TAO perform, but apparently they're pretty, um, crazy. For example, Yamato (one of my favorites) has a pretty intense training program. For the most part, they run 10 Km just about every day. That's probably a good 45 - 60 min. run everyday. Well, I read an article last year about TAO that said they run a half Marathon everyday! That's 20 km, (13 miles). Not to say that a regular running program isn't an important part of playing the taiko, it certainly is. I do wonder, though, if 20 km a day (and very little sleep) isn't overdoing it just a tad.

Anyway, I'm getting off track. I knew TAO was based somewhere in Western Japan, so I looked them up and as it happened, they are based in Fukuoka Prefecture. I don't know if they offer much in the way of classes, but it seems that they have a few workshop offerings. I also discovered from their website that they are planning a North American Tour starting in January 2010. It looks like they'll be around the Midwest in March. I haven't seen them before and we ought to be back in Michigan by then. I suppose we'll have to check them out, maybe invite them over for dinner (start planning the menu, mom.)

I don't know how useful TAO would be in finding a place to practice taiko in Japan. I am sure they are quite involved with their own training and practice. It was while I was poking around the TAO website that I thought of the most useful place for all you taiko enthusiast moving to Japan for a summer, or a year or even longer. It's the Japan Taiko Foundation (Nippon Taiko Renmei). I looked them up. They have a Japanese and English page. As is often the case, the information on the English page is much more limited. The truly useful info is on the Japanese page. On the Japanese page, they have lists of taiko groups by prefecture. I suppose it is not a comprehensive list of taiko groups. There are probably groups that are not registered with the taiko renmei, but for someone who has nothing to go on, it's probably a good place to start. So finally, I come to the useful part of this post. Here are links to the pages for each prefecture in Japan. The link offers a list of taiko groups, a contact person and a contact number. If you don't read Japanese, you could print out the page for your prefecture and bring it to someone who does and ask them to help you get in contact with one of the groups.

Well, I intended to link each prefecture to the page listing the groups for that prefecture, but they have their website set up so you can't do that. Wait... This is ridiculous, their whole website is the same URL, I can't link to any individual pages on their site. Okay. Let's see here. This will be a lot easier if you read Japanese, if you don't, you can still do it, it will just be a bit more of a challenge. First, go to the Taiko Foundation Website. On the left is a menu bar. Try to find the heading that looks like this: 支部・加盟団体 underneath that, there is a menu item that looks like this: 加盟団体一覧 Click on it. If you know the Kanji for your prefecture, look for it and click on it and the list of taiko groups in your area should come up. If you don't know the kanji for your prefecture (you really should learn it, if you don't) Maybe this list can help you to find it:

Hokkaido East 北海道・道東支部
Hokkaido West 北海道・道西支部
Hokkaido North 北海道・道北支部
Hokkaido South 北海道・道南支部
Hokkaido Central 北海道・道央支部
Aomori 青森県
Akita 秋田県
Yamagata 山形県
Iwate 岩手県
Miyagi 宮城県
Fukushima 福島県
Niigata 新潟県
Toyama 富山県
Ishikawa 石川県
Fukui 福井県
Ibaraki 茨城県
Tochigi 栃木県
Gunma 群馬県
Saitama 埼玉県
Tokyo 東京都
Chiba 千葉県
Kanagawa 神奈川県
Yamanashi 山梨県
Shizuoka 静岡県
Nagano 長野県
Aichi 愛知県
Gifu 岐阜県
Mie 三重県
Kyoto 京都府
Nara 奈良県
Osaka 大阪府
Hyogo 兵庫県
Okayama 岡山県
Hiroshima 広島県
Shimane 島根県
Tottori 鳥取県
Tokushima 徳島県
Kagawa 香川県
Fukuoka 福岡県
Saga 佐賀県
Nagasaki 長崎県
Oita 大分県
Kumamoto 熊本県
Miyazaki 宮崎県
Kagoshima 鹿児島県

Sorry, no links for: Okinawa (沖縄), Kochi (高知), Ehime (愛媛), Yamaguchi (山口), Wakayama (和歌山) or Shiga (滋賀). I don't know why. I am certain there are taiko groups there. Perhaps they are just not members of the Taiko Foundation...

Well, I hope this helps. Good luck.

2009-06-17

Asano 400th Annivesary Opening Concert



I guess it was nearly three weeks ago, but on June 5th, we were able to attend the opening concert for Asano Taiko's 400th annivesary. It was quite an amazing concert featuring some of the taiko world's most famous artists. There were many people and groups whom I have seen perform in the past, such as Hono Taiko, Yamato, and Miyake Taiko, but there were also many groups I saw for the first time, like Tiffany Tamaribuchi, Tokara, Hachijo Jima and current/former members of Kodo and Ondekoza: Imafuku Yuu and Fujimoto Yoshikazu.

The concert venue was the Matto Gakushu Center Hall, which is a small hall attached to a city library. I can't imagine that it would hold much more than a few hundred people, but it was standing room only. One of the benefits of the small theater, though, is the intimate feel it creates. We got very intimate seats in the second row! The mood on the stage I felt from the performers was relaxed (not in a lazy way) and celebratory. Everyone, the performers and the audience, seemed to really enjoy themselves.

Miyake Taiko was powerful and impressive, (as it always is). The groups from outside of Japan, or featuring members from outside of Japan (Tiffany Tamaribuchi and Tokara) had a slightly different feel about them. In a subtle sort of way, they were more light-hearted, they almost had a more optimistic way of playing, if that makes sense to you. Not to say that they were better or worse than any of the other groups, they just had a different, can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it feel to them. I do remember reading somewhere, though, that one of the Asano brothers commented once on how much N. American taiko players really seem to enjoy themselves while they are playing taiko.

Yamato also certainly seems to enjoy themselves on stage, but in a slightly different way. Yamato began Ogawa-san, the leader, thanking Asano Taiko for all they've done. He said, "If Asano did not exist, Yamato would not exist." This is probably true for most of the groups there that evening. Whether groups use Asano drums or not, Ondekoza/Kodo is probably one of the main reasons for the spread of Taiko around the world, and they have always played Asano drums. Yamato performed their song which features Katsugi Oke Taiko, "Rakuda". It's one of my favorites of theirs.

Another performance that I particularly enjoyed (as did my daughter) was from Imafuku Yuu, a native of Shimane prefecture and former member of Ondekoza (I think). Imafuku san uses elements of Kagura music in his taiko performance, which include singing and dancing. (There is a short clip on his homepage, it should play automatically) For this performance he used a small nagado and was accompanied by a shime taiko played with take bachi (bamboo sticks). He played and sang (he has a wonderful voice) a song about blessings and fortune and good luck. As he played, another performer came out, dressed as one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan, Ebisu. Ebisu is: The God of Good Fortune, the Ocean, and Fishing Folk
Also Deity of Honest Labor & Patron of Laborers. He looked something like this. Anyhow, Ebisu danced around on stage and pretended to go fishing. First he reeled in an old boot, which my daughter found amusing (well, okay, I did too). Then he finally caught a Red Snapper, or Sea Bream fish, which is symbolic of congratulatory wishes in Japan, appropriate for Asano's 400th annivesary.

Imafuku-san's nagado taiko was actually quite interesting. On one of the heads, there seemed to be a drawing of some sort. Although I was in the second row, I still couldn't figure out what it was supposed to be. My best guess was a pig. After the concert, I was backstage and Imafuku-san happened to be there with the drum, so I asked him about it. As it turned out, the picture wasn't a picture at all, it was very artistically written arabic. Someone had written it for him as a gift when he was in ... I think it was somewhere in Northern Africa. It said something like "Playing the drum is joy." (note to self: start writing stuff down that you want to remember).

Anyhow, it was a great concert, the performances, the atmosphere, everything. And it only cost 1000 yen. At the end of the concert, Asano Senmu (Akitoshi) stood on stage beaming with happiness, with his eyes glistening looking as if tears of joy were about to overflow. He expressed his thankfulness to all the performers and how wonderful the concert was. Just before he thanked everyone for coming and wished us a safe journey home, he said "I can't wait for the next 400 years!"

2009-06-16

Thanks to all our "Investors"

That was quick. On Sunday evening I made a quick post inviting any one interested to invest in our project by funding our Lending Club loan of $5000. 92 people stepped forward within 2 1/2 days to fully fund our loan, with an average investment of around $50. Crowd funding is great, isn't it? I don't know if anyone who was a regular reader of this blog contributed, but thanks to all who did. We will be using the money to help off-set the cost of drums for the classes we will offer when we return to Michigan.

Thanks for believing in us. We won't let you down.

2009-06-14

Invest in Our Dreams!

A long time ago... well, about a year and a half... I naively asked for donations to help fund our project of bringing taiko drumming to the people of Michigan. There was not a signal donation. I don't mean to sound ungrateful. We have received tremendous amount of help from family and friends with unbelievable amounts of moral and financial support, but soliciting donations from online "strangers" just didn't work out. I understand. I, too, would be awfully hesitant to donate money to someone I didn't personally know.

I guess 18 months later I am a bit wiser to the ways of the world, but that hasn't changed the fact that we still need to raise some money in order to make all this happen. So here I am, back again with my hat in my hand, trying to raise $5000 before the end of June. But this time, should you choose to offer us some financial assistance in making our dreams a reality, I can offer you something in return.

If anyone is interested in investing in our dream of "the Great Lakes Taiko Center " (that's us) we have been approved for a loan through lendingclub.com. Lending club is a "crowd funding" site, which lets investors fund loan requests of individuals who have a high credit rating. You can read more details about it here: Lending Club FAQ
In a nutshell, you would loan us money, and within three years, you'd get whatever you loaned back, plus interest.

The loan just went "live" less than 12 hours ago and from the way things are going, I don't think we will need to recruit any extra help to get the loan funded. But I thought that there might just possibly be a few people out there who have an interest in our project and just might want to help out.

If you're interested, you would need to sign up to be a lender (I think you'd have to be a US resident as well). I am told that if you sign up through this link, you will get a $25 credit to get started.

Anyway, sorry to ask for money. I know people don't have much of it these days (especially folks in Michigan), but I thought there just might, possibly be the small chance that there are a few people who would like to support us in this way. Thanks for considering.

Oops, I forgot to post the link to our own loan request yesterday. Here it is, if you're interested:
Loan to Purchase Japanese Taiko Drums

2009-06-10

Miyake Taiko Workshop

There are so many things that happened last weekend at Asano Taiko's 400th Anniversary celebration. I learned so much, met so many new people, thought about a lot of things in a new light. If I tried to sum them up in one post, it would probably be either reeeaaaallllyy long, or too much information at once. Therefore, I will just try to write short reflections on the experiences and what I learned, as I have time and as they come to mind. Hopefully I can get down my most significant experiences before they slip my mind.

Today's topic: The Miyake Taiko Workshop with Mr. Tsumura and his three sons.


The above is a picture of me (the tall, white guy in the middle) along with the Tsumura family and on the left is Odaiko player, Yamabe Taishi, from Kurashiki Tenryo Taiko in Okayama ken. For some reason, all the women taiko players that I know get all dreamy-eyed and giggly when they are around these guys. From what I hear, they find them rather attractive.

Sunday was my second time to take this workshop from the Tsumuras. I also took it last year during Golden Week (first week of May). I wrote about it extensively in that post. Seeing as the content was pretty much the same, I won't spend a lot of time writing about it again. If you're interested, you can read about it in last year's post.

This year there were significantly more people in the workshop. This limited the amount of time we had and everything took a little bit longer. Last year, we had enough time to work on a variation in the ji-uchi (base rhythm) and also work on the "agari" (speeding up) at the end. This year, however, Mr. Tsumura gave a quick introduction on the correct form - leg positioning, movement of arms, proper grip of the sticks, etc. We each took a turn playing the ji-uchi and the melody four times through, stopping between each set to rotate players. After everyone played one set, Mr. Tsumura gave some general advice and suggestions before going on to teach us how to rotate from player to player without stopping. Last year the switching between players was kind of a challenge for me. I could never quite get the ji-uchi right. This year it seemed to be no problem, though.

After we had learned how to switch between players without stopping the music, we played the song continuously for about 45 minutes, rotating around the room. Mr. Tsumura and his three sons were at various spots around the room and would give advice to the workshop participants as they came around. At the end, we did some cool down stretches and that was it.

I think my muscles (legs especially) were a little more sore than last year. Last year I spent more time exercising so that my legs would be strong. Not that I haven't been exercising, but I haven't been spending much time on the muscles needed for Miyake, so the next day, they were a little sore.

With the increased number of workshop participants, Mr. Tsumura's strictness also came through a little bit more. Unfortunately, it had to come out at the expense of a couple of the younger attendees. It wasn't a type of strictness in the sense that he came across as a mean old man, but more that he was strict because he is very serious about learning and teaching taiko.

For the workshop there were four or five taiko set up. Since there were 20 or 30 participants, we had to be split up into groups. At one point, there were three young girls (8 or 10 years old?). Mr. Tsumura said, "One of you go over to this group." The three girls looked at each other and hesitated for a minute. Then they began playing "rock, paper, scissors" to decide which one of them should go (the loser would go). This is actually a common way to make decisions in Japan. In fact, I think they use it in Parliament fairly often, when they can't come to a consensus. Anyway, when they started the "rock, paper, scissors" game, Mr. Tsumura said, "No, no, no, we don't have time for games, just one of you move to the other group. Hurry up and do it, you're wasting time." After another short hesitation, one of the girls moved. Before moving on, Mr. Tsumura told everyone, "If you don't want to do what you're asked, or you don't want to be split up from your friends, it's okay. You don't have to take the workshop. You're welcome to sit and watch because there are a lot of people who wanted to take this workshop and weren't able to. I'm sure they'll gladly take your place. That kind of thing just wastes time and is a nuisance to everyone else."

Although I felt a little sorry for the girls, that they had to be "the example", I completely agree with what Mr. Tsumura said. If the teacher asks you to do something and you don't want to do it, or you make a fuss about doing it, you are just bothering the other people who are there and who are serious about practicing taiko, or basketball or music or whatever you might be learning.

At another point in the workshop, a young boy (4th or 5th grade?) was quietly tapping on the rim of one of the taiko while Mr. Tsumura was talking. He stopped and said, "Who's playing the drum? Who's making that noise? Whoever it is, stop it. These aren't your drums. You are borrowing them. You shouldn't play them until you are told to play them."

Like for the girls, it may have been slightly traumatic for the young boy, but Mr. Tsumura is correct again. I think it is especially important to make a point to young children about when it is appropriate and inappropriate to make noise on the drums. Small children are just naturally attracted to playing the drums. They can hardly resist playing them, but when someone is talking, it is certainly inappropriate. If small children are not taught to keep quiet (don't play) while the teacher is talking, it is nearly impossible for the teacher to teach. Have you ever tried talking over 10 or 20 drums? I've seen teachers try to do that before and it is painful to watch.

Once again, a "short" summary of a workshop is turning into a term paper. I guess I had better stop before things get too out of hand.

Check back soon for more stories from the Asano Taiko 400th Annivesary Celebration.

Oh, and if you live in Michigan and you haven't taken our survey yet, please do so, it is very helpful to us. If you have taken it, please tell a friend about it and ask them to take it. Thanks for your help.

Click Here to take survey

2009-06-09

Thank You, Wadaiko Yamato

On Saturday I went over to Asano Taiko to take part in the 400th Annivesary activities. Wadaiko Yamato had performed at the Friday night opening concert and I knew they would be at Asano on Saturday as well. I thought I would wear one of my Yamato t-shirts, so I chose one from their 2001 (?) tour. I have worn the shirt quite a bit and it shows. The image is in pretty rough shape and the color is very faded.

After arriving at Asano, I saw some of the members. I greeted them and told them I had enjoyed their performance the night before. Then one of them looked at my shirt and said, "Brian, what are your wearing? How old is that thing? Don't you have a newer one?"
"It's not so bad," I said, "It's just been well-loved."
"Brian, we'll send you a new shirt. What size is that?"
"I think it's XL, but it's a little big," I said.

It wouldn't be the first time they have given me t-shirts. But I thought they meant the next time we visited them in Asuka mura, or perhaps the next time we come to one of their concerts. Yesterday, we got a package in the mail. It was five, brand new Wadaiko Yamato T-shirts, Size L.



Thank you, again, Wadaiko Yamato, for your generosity and kindness to us.

2009-06-07

What Did We Buy at the Asano Taiko Sale?

Unfortunately, we didn't have any luck in the Asano Taiko drawings this weekend. We got about 10 raffle tickets, but we didn't win anything. A couple people I know did win 10,000 yen gift certificates, though.

We might not have had any luck in the drawings, but in another sense, we did have some luck. We had a certain budget for the drums we could purchase and it so happened, that there was an Ohirado Taiko that didn't go over our budget too much. For the Odaiko of our group, we had decided on getting a large Oke daiko. It is the type that is tightened with ropes and is much lighter, compared to an Ohirado Taiko. There were two reasons we had made that decision. One was price and the other convenience. The price was half of what a Keyaki Ohirado would cost, and since there are only two of us at the moment, we thought it would be easier to move it around. But when we saw this Ohirado on sale for just a little bit more than the same size Oke daiko, we couldn't pass it up. Here it is. Our very own Ohirado Taiko.

It's 3.5 Shaku. 1 shaku is about 30 cm, or 1 foot, so that makes this drum 105 cm, or about 3 1/2 feet in diameter. It's just the size I wanted. Of course, it looks cool to have an even bigger one, but anything much bigger than this starts to get impractical. It's too heavy to move around, you need a bigger truck to transport it and sometimes it won't fit through doorways. So this is just right for us.

One reason it was so much less than we had expected is because it is not made of keyaki (Zelkova), the preferred wood for taiko drums. Most Odaiko, or Ohirado Taiko are made out of either Keyaki or Bubinga (from Africa). The one we are buying happens to be made of Bubinga. Actually, it is hard to even find Keyaki trees large enough to make the really big Odaiko. Besides, I honestly like the grain of Bubinga wood a little better than the Keyaki for this type of drum. Just look at the beautiful patterns:

Right now we don't have any place to store it so Asano is holding it for us until we can clean out our closet. (Oh yes, and until we pay for it, also). So I guess we were lucky enough this weekend. I'm sure I'll write more about the various events and workshops in the days to come. (but first I have to finish my taxes.)

2009-06-06

Katsugi Oke Taiko Workshop with Hayashida Hiroyuki

Today (Sunday) is the last day of the 400th Anniversary Celebration at Asano Taiko. Today I will take the Miyake Taiko Workshop, and a singing workshop with Yoshikazu Fujimoto, one of Kodo's oldest members. He'll be teaching the song "Kiyari" which is sung along with Miyake Taiko.

Yesterday I had one workshop and my wife had two. My wife took a workshop on Hachijo Jima Taiko and a Chappa (cymbal) workshop from Ryutaro Kaneko (a former Kodo member). My workshop was with Hiroyuki Hayashida, also a former Kodo member.

From the picture, perhaps you can guess that he is known for Katsugi Oke Taiko playing. In fact, he is one of the first people to play Oke Taiko in that style and is credited with developing and refining Katsugi Oke playing. I took the basic/beginner Katsugi Oke Taiko workshop from him, seeing as I have not really played or learned that style before. We actually didn't get to play that much, but I was impressed with his teaching and I could tell that his philosophy about practicing is very similar to mine. For example, some of the advice he gave us: practice a lot of drills like stick control drills, accent drills, paradiddles, and so on. In fact, he said that you should spend most of your practice time on drills, not on practicing songs. (I completely agree) He also scolded taiko players (in a friendly way) who do not use a metronome during practice. He said the metronome is your best friend. Also, in some of the handouts he gave us, it had more good advice, like "practicing 30 minutes a day is better than practicing three hours once a week." Of course, if you grew up taking music lessons all this is common sense. But one of the nice things about taiko is that it tends to attract a lot of people who do not have much of a musical background, so perhaps it is good to remind people of it from time to time.

The workshop was scheduled for 90 min, but it ended up being more than two hours. Hayashida san said usually his Katsugi Oke workshops are seven hours! So he was challenged to try to fit all of that into 90 minutes. We didn't get a lot of playing time, but I still feel as if I learned a lot. Not only about playing Katsugi Oke, but about the care and treatment of the drums as well. What was the biggest thing I learned? That I need to practice a lot more before I will feel comfortable playing Katsugi Oke Taiko.

Today, my wife will also have a Katsugi Oke workshop from Hayashida san, but she is taking the intermediate level. My workshop was for beginners.

2009-06-04

I Wonder How Lucky I Am?

Tomorrow is the big day. Tomorrow morning at 9 AM Asano Taiko will kick off their 400th anniversary celebration. It is three days of taiko workshops, live performances, and a huge sale, 400 years in the making! Well, maybe not 400 years in the making, but it's a pretty big deal, especially because sales at Asano are pretty rare.

It was 400 years ago, back in 1609, that the Kaga clan, invited taiko maker, Saemongoro from Harima (Hyogo Prefecture) to found Asano Taiko in Fukutomi, Ishikawa Village, which is now called Fukudome Town in Hakusan City. Since then, Asano has been producing top quality, hand-crafted taiko drums and other traditional products. (Read a short history of Asano Taiko)

What else was going on in the world in 1609? Well, not a whole lot of significant events. But the children's rhyme, "Three Blind Mice" was published in London. That's worth something.

Anyhow, we have been looking forward to this event for quite some time. It couldn't have come at a better time for us. We will start by attending the concert tomorrow evening, which is full of world-renowned taiko performers and tickets were only 1000 yen (about 10 USD). It's an amazing deal! Saturday we will continue with workshops in Katsugi Oke Taiko, Hachijo Taiko and a chappa workshop. There will be several 30 minute mini-live concerts interspersed during the day. Sunday, we'll continue our workshops with Miyake Taiko, taught by the original creators of Miyake, Mr. Tsumura and his sons, more Katsugi Oke and finish off by learning the song, "Kiyari", which is often sung before playing Miyake Taiko. Sunday will also feature short live performances throughout the day. The workshops are also an amazing deal. Almost all of them are only 1000 yen. So I will get three workshops which would normally cost 3000 - 4000 yen each, for only 3000 yen (about 30 USD).

But it's the sale that is the most timely for us. Regular readers of our blog know our plans to start up a taiko group in Michigan sometime in the beginning of next year. Of course, you can't have a taiko group without taiko and if you're going to buy Asano drums, there probably will be no better time to buy them than this weekend for the next 400 years. Several hundred taiko drums will be on sale for 10%, 20%, 30% even 35% off the normal prices. When you're talking about drums that are at least 1 or 2,000 USD for even the cheapest ones, even 10% or 20% off is saving a huge amount of money.

Today I learned another juicy tidbit, though. It's not just going to be a weekend of live performances, workshops and a sale. There will be drawings too. Each day, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, anyone who bought something will be entered into a drawing at 3 PM of that day. Apparently, there are some pretty nice prizes. There will be two drawings a day: one for people who spent less than 50,000 yen, and one for people who spent over 50,000 (about 500 USD) There is even the possibility of a prize of a ....are you ready? ... 3.5 shaku Ohiradaiko!!!! That's a 105 cm "flat" Odaiko! Here's a picture of what I'm talking about:

These things are not cheap. We originally were thinking of buying one, but they are extremely heavy. It takes at least 3, preferably 4 people, to move one around. And they are extremely expensive. Just for a 3.5 shaku drum, costs around 35,000 USD!!! Add in the stand and case and it could be another 7 or 8,000! The combination of the weight and the cost convinced us to wait on purchasing one of these. Although a few weeks ago, I had a chance to play on an extremely nice one, and I again toyed with the idea of getting one anyways, but in the end, the cost was just too much.

BUT ...

Now there is a chance that I could win one. We'll definitely be spending more than 50,000 yen this weekend, so we ought to have at least a chance to win it. And that is why I wondered in today's title, "How Lucky I Am?" Obviously, it's not the kind of luck, like having a loving family, having a job, enough to eat, being healthy, etc. I know that I am "lucky" in those respects. I am talking about pure luck, pure chance. It is a raffle and the next guy who spends 50,000 yen at Asano will have just the same chance that I have to win that beautiful drum. I sure hope it's me, though. Oh, I would so much love a drum like that!

2009-05-31

Exstasia Campaign #1

Yesterday (Sunday) we had this year's first Exstasia Campaign performances. For those who don't know, Exstasia is a big taiko festival sponsored by Asano Taiko, the city of Hakusan and various other groups and companies in the area. I've written about it the past couple years: 2007, 2008.

Anyhow, around this time of year, the groups that practice at Asano Taiko are sent out to do short performances on the weekends at local shopping centers and malls. We perform for about 30 minutes and then observers have a chance to buy tickets for Exstasia at the end of the performance. Yesterday's groups were Sasuke, jr., Yume Mitai, some members of Shin Matto Bayashi Hozonkai and Hono Taiko. By the end of the day, we had sold 13 tickets (8 adult and 5 child). They told us it was a pretty good result.

I was playing as a member of Yume Mitai yesterday (although I am also in Shin Matto Bayashi). Usually there are about 15 of us, but yesterday, there were only 7. Furthermore, I was asked to switch parts the Saturday night. Considering the last minute switch, having no chance to rehearse the new part before the performance, and our small numbers, we did pretty well. There was only one spot where I screwed up. There is a part in the song where everyone crouches down, extends their right bachi (stick) to the left and slowly turns back to the center. I have been playing the shime part since last fall, so I had not done this crouching part for quite a while. I forgot which way to turn and turned to the right instead of the left. Senda san, who was playing on my right, was quite surprised and we nearly crashed into each other. I quickly adjusted my movement to the correct side, but it must have been amusing for the observers to see the surprised look on both our faces. Needless to say, it only happened once, and the next two performances were free from any major, noticeable mishaps.

Last time I said I might have some video to post, but it didn't work out that anyone could take video for me. All that I got was some pictures. Enjoy...


Time for a break.


Lunch time.



Preparing to start the final performance of the day. Hono Taiko wearing Happi coats designed by Kansai Yamamoto for their recent performance in Bali.

And a couple pictures of Yume Mitai (1/2) performing.




I always see something I don't like, or I want to fix when I see pictures/video of myself. For example, looking at these pictures, I notice how my arm is still not as straight as I would like it to be. First I thought of the excuse, "well, my arms are pretty long, if I extend them all the way, I will get behind the tempo." But then I told myself, "No excuses, if your arms are longer than everyone else, you just have to learn how to move them more quickly so you don't get behind." That's right. Instead of thinking of excuses why you can't do something, you must figure out a way to do something that seems difficult.

I guess I did alright, though, because after the last performance of the day Mrs. Asano-san said to me, "You're getting pretty good at performing, aren't you."

2009-05-29

Exstasia Campaign Performances This Sunday

A few weeks ago tickets for 2009 Exstasia went on sale. That means it's time for the Asano taiko groups to get out, "drum up" (sorry) some interest and sell some tickets. What that usually involves is traveling to a large shopping center or mall on the weekend and playing for about 30 minutes finally reminding everyone when and where Exstasia will be and giving them the opportunity to purchase their tickets right then and there.

It was slightly last minute, but it turns out that our first "Exstasia Campaign" performance is this Sunday (May 31) ... and our second and our third performance as well. Yes, three performances in one day. And guess what, they are at three different locations. We will perform first at 11 am, next at 1:30 pm and the final performance at 4 pm. That means loading and unloading 4 times! I need to find a back brace! But this probably sounds a little worse than it actually is. The performance is around 30 min, but there are several groups performing and each group will probably only play one song and then finale.

I'd like to write some more, but I, unfortunately, have to work today. (I really hate working on Saturdays. I feel like it is time stolen from me.) Anyhow, hopefully I'll have some nice pictures... and maybe video? from Sunday's performances.

2009-05-23

Where can I buy some taiko drums?

I recently received an inquiry as to how much a "moderately priced" taiko would cost. I've been looking into this a bit myself lately, since we are preparing economically (as well as mentally) for purchasing our own taiko drums in just a couple of weeks. We plan to get the drums at Asano Taiko's 400th Anniversary sale in a couple weeks. It is a rare opportunity to get top of the line Asano drums at prices 10 - 30% off the regular prices. Still, it will probably cost almost as much as a college education and we are really starting to feel the mental weight of this decision. It's kind of like a point of no return. Once we have invested this much money in this project, we had better follow through with it. It sure is feeding the worries and doubts in the back of my head, though. More on that another time.

Anyhow, I thought several people out there could be interested in the answer to the question about the cost of taiko drums, so I will share my response.

***** My Response (with some edits) *****

The best taiko drums money can buy are made by Asano Taiko and for your average sized Nagado Taiko (about 17 in. (42 cm) diameter) you are talking about nearly $5000.
http://www.asano.jp/blog/english/nagadotaiko/

Asano does make a "education" line of drums, which are slightly cheaper http://www.asano.jp/wa-taiko/kyouzai/post_1.html#more
For the same size nagado from that group, it is about $4000.
Those prices only include the drum, no case, no stand, etc. Shipping within Japan would be included in the price, but I doubt international shipping costs are in that price. Getting the drum from Japan to the US would have to be covered on your own.

Most people probably cannot travel to Japan to buy drums. I do believe you can get Asano drums through the Rolling Thunder Taiko Website

Although Asano drums receive my highest recommendation, unfortunately they are not a realistic option for most taikoists in the US (other than perhaps a shime taiko, which is small enough to take home on the plane with you and only costs around $2000.) So in the interest of providing some practical info, here are several "home grown" options available in the US (in no particular order):

Miyoshi Taiko based in Northern CA
http://www.miyoshidaiko.com/nagado.html
Nagado starting at about $1000 for a 12 in diameter


Mochizuki Taiko
Based in Texas
http://www.taikorus.com/
ca. 18 in diameter Nagado - $3500 (Free Shipping)

Taikos.com
Colorado based taiko maker
http://www.taikos.com/
16 in diameter nagado taiko $1,150

Carrie from the All Things Taiko Blog is full of useful information, and in a recent post, she introduced Kato Taiko, another N. American taiko maker, who will also be in attendance at the North American Taiko Conference, this August.

Kato Taiko
http://www.katotaiko.com/
Another CA based taiko maker
I learned about from a recent post on the All Things Taiko Blog
16 in Nagado $900 - $1000

Finally, a lot of people in the US like to make their own taiko using wine barrels, whiskey barrels, even old tires and duct tape can create a practice drum. Carrie, from All Things Taiko, was kind enough to share some info and resources for those who are interested in making their own taiko drums (like I said, full of useful info) Here are her comments left on our blog post, "Taiko Drums Cost How Much!?"

"I checked with the group in Ohio and the one starting up in Kalamazoo, MI and they both order wine barrels from:
The Barrel Shop, Inc.
570 Napa Junction Road
American Canyon, CA 94503
(707) 553-9807 Phone
(707) 556-9772 Fax
I heard that barrels from The Barrel Shop have tripled in price in the last 5 years (about $400), but the quality is superior.

I found this website I thought would be helpful if you're looking to make a few drums or have more questions: http://users.lmi.net/taikousa/FAQs.html

There are additional options for places to order drums and other supplies from listed at the bottom of that page."

******

If you live in the US, are looking for a place to purchase taiko drums and have a few thousand dollars to spend, I hope this info gives you a place to start. I would imagine there are more places out there selling taiko drums. If any of my readers know of any, or if you make and sell taiko yourself, please feel free to leave the info in a comment.

2009-05-16

Introducing Our Official Logos!

Here they are! After several weeks of brainstorming, meetings, debating over colors, positioning and numerous other finite adjustments, they are ready. We now have our very own official logos. For the time being, we have two. The first is for the "Great Lakes Taiko Center", a learning and resource center for taiko. The second is for Raion Taiko, the name we have chosen for our performing group, currently made up of only two members, myself and my wife. (We hope to increase our numbers after we return to Michigan). The name "Raion" uses the Japanese characters for the words "thunder" and "sound". By chance, it is also the way one would say "Lion" in Japanese. And by chance, we also have an NFL team by that name in Michigan. Although I hope we will find more success than the Detroit Lions.

So here are the logos...(click on the image for a closer view)

Great Lakes Taiko Center Logo:


Raion Taiko Logo:

2009-05-12

How I spent my Japanese Goverment Stimulus: Temple Bowls

About 10 years ago my older brother (a professional drummer/percussionist) visited me in Japan for about a week. One of the souveniers he bought during his visit was a temple bowl. They come in all different sizes and they have a beautiful sustained ring that goes on and on. Buddhist temples usually have a fairly large one (one or two feet in diameter, maybe) and people who have a little Buddhist shrine in there homes have a small one, a few inches in diameter, which they will ring as part of the ritual of praying and burning incense, etc. (Sorry if I have that inaccurate, I am not an expert on Buddhism)

Anyway, my brother is not Buddhist, he just enjoys the sound and thought he might be able to use it as a percussion instrument. Since that time he has collected a couple more. My wife and I also enjoy the sound of these bowls, so we have it in our heads to collect a whole "set" of these, from small to large and use them in a taiko concert, perhaps as an introductory or transitional piece. We are imagining them as a sort of accompaniment to a slow flute piece.

When I recently calculated the cost of the different sizes we hoped to get, it was around 2000 USD. So when I got 20,000 yen (about 200 USD) from a Japanese gov't stimulus plan, I decided to take some of it and start collecting these bowls. Right now we have three and we still need to get a lot more. Here is a short video of my kids demonstrating the bowls so you can get an idea of how they sound.



(Yes, mom, those are the new clothes you sent them.)

2009-05-11

How I Ended Up in the Super Beginner Taiko Class

This week I will have taiko practice/lessons on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Since the end of April, my wife and I (and my daughter) enrolled in two new taiko classes that will continue until the middle of the summer, which added to our already busy taiko schedule.

A month or so ago, I went to talk with Kinoshita san of Hono Taiko. She teaches most of the beginning level courses at Asano. Since I imagine that most of our students when we return to Michigan next year will probably be "beginners" I wanted to talk with her to get an idea of what and how she teaches the beginning courses. Actually, I have never taken a beginning/introductory taiko course, even though I have been practicing it for more than two years. To a certain degree, I was able to pick up the correct techniques, movements and so on just from playing with and watching the people in the other Asano groups we play with. What I didn't notice myself was usually corrected by Yamada sensei. So I thought it would be good for me to get an idea of what goes on in a beginner class, what are the objectives, teaching methods, etc. and that's why I went to talk with Kinoshita san. During our meeting she invited me to come and watch either her "Super Beginner" course on Monday evenings, or her "Basic" course on Tuesday evenings.

I hadn't planned on joining either class. Actually, until recently, I always had Yume Mitai taiko practices on Mondays. But because the beginner class was moved to Mondays, Yume Mitai practices were changed to Thursdays, so my Monday evenings were open. Then I remembered my daughter (6 yrs in June). She had been enrolled in Asano's "Taiko Kids" classes on Sunday mornings. Her class was from 9 - 10, then we would jump in the car and race to church for the 10:30 service. After our recital in March, Karen (my daughter) was promoted from the kids beginner class up to the kids intermediate class. I think she was pretty excited and happy. She even got a new headband (new color) to write her name on. Unfortunately the time was from 10 - 11:30, which means we would have to miss church. Because of our own personal priorities, we were forced to "take a break" from the kids taiko classes.

As I talked with Kinoshita san, and she invited me to observe the class, it dawned on me that I could join the class with Karen. It was a "super beginner" class, meaning it was geared towards people with absolutely now taiko experience. I figured Karen should be able to handle that. And besides, as I mentioned, I had never had a beginning taiko course, so it might do me some good as well. It has been a great experience, by the way, but more on that next time.

So, Karen and I signed up to join Kinoshita san's Super Beginner class. We are having some great daddy-daughter time and both are learning a lot. I'll share more about the class and what we are learning next time. right now it is time for me to go to work...

2009-05-06

Asano Taiko Golden Week Day of Taiko


I didn't think yesterday was all that strenuous. We didn't have to show up at Asano until noon, we toned down our outfits to black t-shirts and pants and we only had one quick performance (about 5 min) and then we could enjoy the other events going on in the afternoon. But for some reason, I felt so tired when my alarm went off this morning. I don't know why. I'm awake now, though, and ready to go back to work (not ready, actually, but I have no choice).

Yesterday (May 6) was a half-day taiko event at Asano Taiko. They named it the G.W. (Golden Week) Day of Taiko and it was billed as a "Pre-Event" for the upcoming 400th anniversary celebration June 5, 6 and 7. The day featured two short taiko performances by different Asano groups. The first one at the start and the second one to close things up. The Asano Kids classes , Jige san's (Hono Taiko) parent-child group, Kojira, JIGEN (my wife and I are in this group) Sasuke, jr, Sasuke and Hono Taiko all played at least one song. In between the performances there was a basic taiko workshop (pictured above), a "Make Your Own Teeny Tiny Taiko Key chain" workshop, which both my kids did. Here's a picture of that:

Then there was the Odaiko Volume Contest in which about 15 children and 15 adults competed to see who could get the loudest sound out of the "Yamato" Odaiko (6 shaku? about 180 cm diameter) housed in Asano's taiko museum.

Both my son and I entered this contest (my son with "Yamato" in the picture above). Each entrant waited his or her chance for one hit to the drum with a "bat" bachi (a sort of large, heavy, bat shaped stick). No warm ups and no do-overs. The sound was measured with a decibel meter so there would be no question about who had produced the loudest sound. The contest was divided between adults and children and there were around 15 to 20 participants each. My son was part of the children's competition. He was by far the youngest (at nearly 3 years old) and fittingly produced the quietest sound in the group. It was around 83 dB, if I recall correctly. Of course, being his dad, I was proud of him for just getting up in front of so many people and giving it a try. He, on the other hand, probably had no idea what the contest was about and was probably just motivated out of getting a lollipop for trying.

Anyhow, my turn came along. I stepped up on the small platform in front of the drum, which was a little unstable and I didn't really need the extra height. It was also small and too close to the drum for me. I checked behind me to make sure that I would not hit Takebe kun, who was holding the decibel meter, extended my arm and swung it forward. "DON" The sound echoed through the museum and slowly faded away. "123.5 decibels," Takebe kun announced. Not a bad hit, but I knew I could have got in a better one, no that I had my bearings. Unfortunately, one person = one try. Here is the video of my attempt.



It is rather hard to get a feel for the loudness on a YouTube video. Besides that, the video was recorded on my digicam, which probably only has a simple recording mic. As simple as this video is, I actually was able to learn something from watching it. In the past, I have written about the benefits of video taping yourself as you play and this is why. I noticed from this video that annoying habit I have of tilting my head to one side when I play. Do you notice that as I hit the drum, my head tilts to the left? I've been "warned" about this several times from Yamada sensei, my wife and most recently by Kinoshita sensei, but apparently I haven't fixed it yet. Seeing it on video and how "silly" it looks may be just enough to remind me not to do it. At any rate, it didn't seem to effect how loud I played the drum because when all the contestants had finished, I had the top score! I was hoping that the prize for winning was the "Yamato" Odaiko, but everyone laughed when I asked if that was the prize. I got something almost as good, though. I got my very own Asano Taiko towel and a keyaki (zelkova) massage tool.

2009-04-30

Quick Updates

Has it really been ten days? I apologize. It really has been too long. Recently, I've been hit with several things that take up a lot of my time that I usually use for writing blog posts. One being income tax... yes, it's after April 15, but when you live overseas, you get an extra two months to file.

Unfortunately, today I cannot write much either, but just to let any of you loyal readers know that I am still here, I'll just make it a quick update. Let's see, maybe I'll do this in a list form.

Got $300 plus from the Japanese govn't for their form of a stimulus payment. Technically we're supposed to spend it, not save it, so I guess I'll be making a trip to the Asano Taiko shop to pick up some bachi, chappa, and so on.

I joined Kinoshita Chieko san's (Hono Taiko) Super Beginner class with my daughter two weeks ago. I joined it because my daughter is only 5 (almost 6) and might have trouble on her own, but as it turns out, it is a great learning opportunity for me as well on many different levels.

Mayumi (me wife) also joined a new class with Kinoshita san as the instructor. It is called "Basic" and is also kind of intended for beginners, but there are still a lot of experienced players in the class. As the name suggests, it focuses on learning and polishing up basic skills. Mayumi will likely be working on her Odaiko basic skills.

This Wednesday, the last holiday of Golden Week, JIGEN will get to play at Asano's 400th anniversary pre-event on Wednesday. (Here's my blog post about it, and here's a link to the Asano flyer about it) I'm not sure if we are playing once or twice, but the live performances are at 1:30 and 3:00. We'll be playing the song, Raigun (雷郡) at one or both of them.

I'd like to write more, but now I need to get ready to go to work. After tomorrow I'll have four days off, though, so I suppose I'll be able to find some time to write a proper entry at least once during that time. Until then...

2009-04-19

Taiko at the Nursing Home

On Sunday, I visited a nursing home in Komatsu along with several over students from the Ichikawa Kaga Taiko Juku.

I think everyone enjoyed themselves quite a bit.

When we return to Michigan, I hope that we can visit some nursing homes and share taiko drumming with the people there. I imagine it will not be quite the same, though. Elderly Americans will probably not have the same memories and associations with taiko that elderly Japanese do. Still, my own grandmother, who is 94, loves taiko drums.

I talked with a friend, who sometimes plays taiko at nursing homes here a while ago and she had told me a little bit about what it was like. She said that sometimes there were people who complain that it is too loud and just seem to be annoyed at first, but they often come around and enjoy it by the end of the visit. She also said that hearing taiko can be emotional for a lot of them. The taiko drums seems to bring back a lot of memories of festivals and other events from when they were younger and for some, it even moves them to tears. Actually, I did see a few tears on Sunday as well.

We began our show around 2 PM and finished about 3:30. First five of us took turns performing Kaga Taiko. (Here is me performing)

A little karaoke time followed. Some of us (not me) took turns singing old, Japanese enka songs on the stage. I enjoy singing karaoke, but there were not any songs that I was familiar with. Apparently, the most recent song they had available was from around 30 or 40 years ago.

After that, we let the nursing home residents have a chance to play the taiko a little bit.

Some of them came up on the stage, and for those who were in wheelchairs, we had a small taiko, which we carried around so they could play it. There were a few folks who seemed to have no interest in playing, but most were quite happy to have the chance. There were even some, who we could hardly get to stop playing, once they began.

We ended the afternoon with a few more taiko performances. It was a good time. I always enjoyed it in college when we visited the nursing home to play folk music and I enjoyed myself this past Sunday as well. It is a nice feeling to bring so much enjoyment to people in such a simple way. I do hope that we will be able to put on similar events when we return to Michigan.

There was one "happening" (as they say in Japanese) that really made me smile. Of course, being the only non-Japanese in the group, and playing a very traditional style of Japanese drumming, I was some what of a novelty. So the MC made kind of a big deal out of introducing me...

MC: Today we have a special guest all the way from America!
Residents: Oooooo.
MC: He comes from Chicago. Do you know where Chicago is?
(We decided on Chicago because the MC figured they were more likely to know its location than Michigan or Detroit)
MC: His name is Brian. Can you say that?
Residents: Bu ri an
MC: Good. Let's have him play some taiko for us.

I played my one or two minute taiko thing.

(applause)

MC: Wasn't that good? Did you enjoy that everyone?

(a little more applause)

MC: Now, do you remember what his name is?
Lady in the front row: (confidently) I know! It's Gonda!

From "Brian" to "Gonda". Well, I guess I have a stage name now.

Signing off until next time,
Gonda

2009-04-18

Golden Week Day of Taiko

I meant to add this to yesterday's post, but it turned out longer than I expected, so I saved it for today. This is mostly an FYI for anyone who lives in Japan, especially in the Hokuriku area (Ishikawa, Toyama, Fukui).

In anticipation of the big, three-day celebration coming up in June for Asano's 400th Anniversary, Asano is presenting a day of 400th Anniversary "Pre-Events" on the Wednesday of the Golden Week Holidays. You can find the flyer (in Japanese) here, but for those who do not read Japanese, here is a break down of the events:

1:30 PM - Performance, featuring Asano Kids and others

2:00 PM - Choice of two workshops
1 - Making a teeny-tiny taiko key chain (500 yen)
2 - Taiko drum circle (no cost)

2:30 PM - "Yamato" Volume contest - Who can get the loudest sound out of the "Yamato" Odaiko (about 180 cm diameter), housed in the Asano museum.

The winner gets a prize (I plan to try my hand at this, but don't expect to win)

3:00 PM - Second performance featuring the songs "Daichi no Arashi" 大地の嵐 written my Asano Machiko and "Sore Take no Bushi" それ竹の節 by Jige Akemi of Hono Taiko.

Please come on out if you'll be in the area

2009-04-17

Training for Yamato

I've started training to join Wadaiko Yamato. Well, actually, I cannot join them, I am, unfortunately, too old. Thankfully, they do not have an age limit on their workshops. Last fall they offered a two day workshop called the "Yamato Course Workshop". Those who participated went through two days of training and practice in the same way that the performing members of Yamato do. That means starting with a 10 Km run through the hills and mountains surrounding Asukamura, followed by strength training (sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, etc), then breakfast and taiko practice until late in the evening. Look here, under Nov. 22 - 23, 2008 to read about it.

My wife, who spent 4 months as a tour assistant with Yamato in 1999, has always said that she wishes I could experience Yamato's training and practicing. Last year, I had hoped to join in the Yamato Course Workshop, but as it turned out, I had to work that weekend and could not go. Since then I have been hoping that they will offer a similar workshop again, before we return to the US late this year.

Several weeks ago, I happened to be in Asukamura (Nara Prefecture), where Yamato is based, and stopped by their house to say hello. Most of them were in Europe on tour, but the leader's wife was there and I had a chance to talk with her a bit. I mentioned my interest in participating in another Yamato Course Workshop and asked if she knew of any plans to offer one this year. She wasn't sure, but she warned me about how tough it was. In particular, she said that the 10 km they run is more strenuous than one might think because the course is not all flat, but rather goes through the hills and mountains.

No one wants to be the one guy (or girl) who can't keep up, so I thought that I should start training harder if I really want to do that workshop. Actually, I have been training since I came to Japan, but I rarely run for more than 45 min, and usually it is around 35 or so (but it does include a rather large hill). Anyhow, I figure that if I want to keep up with Yamato on their 10 km run, I had better be able to run for an hour through the mountains. Luckily, the mountains are quite close to my house, so finding a challenging course is the easy part.

Last Friday after work, the weather was beautiful, so, I picked a course that I thought would take me about an hour and started running. I ran uphill for 30 min, and then back down for 30 min, one hour through the mountains, and I did it all without stopping (a major accomplishment for me).

Much of the course takes me through small neighborhoods, and a large section passes through Kanazawa's largest graveyard! But for about 2 1/2 Km along the top of the "mountain", it is fairly isolated with only bamboo groves, pine forests or fruit orchards on either side of the road. There isn't much traffic that travels this road, so I could see some wildlife as I jogged along. I saw a pheasant and even what is called a Kamo shika in Japanese (Japanese Antelope?).
Photo credit

There are also signs warning of bears, though, so I don't know that I would want to run this course too early in the morning. I'm not too keen on meeting a bear all by myself.

Yesterday, I measured the course length with my car and it turned out to be about 9.5 Km. Just about the right length. I was pretty exhausted the next day, though. I am pretty sure that it was the first time that I ran for a whole hour without stopping, and through the mountains, no less. Unfortunately, I don't have time to run for an hour every morning before school, so I am planning to try to work in this long run at some point on the weekends, either Friday, after work, or Sunday mornings. The other two runs during the week I will keep running between 30 - 40 min.

While accomplishing a strenuous run like this is a big step for me, it is only a small step in preparing for the Yamato Course Workshop. Remember? After running an hour through the mountains, they go right into the strength training.

 
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