Learning Kaga Taiko at Ichikawa Juku

The exit off of the highway is barely noticeable. There is no sign, and hardly any deceleration ramp, just a narrow street that quickly disappears underneath a bridge as soon as it leaves the highway. You follow that street through a small group of houses clustered together, then you come out into an open space with mostly rice fields on either side of the road. On the left is a slightly run-down textile factory, which also happens to be our destination.

We park in front of the building and enter through the side door. It leads into a large room with about 6 desks pushed together in the middle of the room covered in papers, coffee cans filled with pens, ash trays and so on. The walls are decorated with several posters of swimsuit campaign models from the mid-90s for tool companies and beer.

The room behind the door in the back of the office has only a table pushed into a corner, and a few chairs lining the wall. The windows have been covered with thick polystyrene and then covered again with sheets. In the center of the room is one large naga-oke taiko and about 6 nagado taiko.

This is Ichikawa Juku in Komatsu, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan. It is one of the few places where you can learn Kaga Style Taiko, the 400 year old traditional style of taiko drumming unique to this area. We decided to attend this school as often as we could, following our December Kaga Taiko recital.

The Kaga Taiko courses we had taken only lasted from September to December. After the classes finish in December, we didn't have any opportunity to practice this style of drumming. In comparison to modern, sousaku taiko (what most of us probably are playing) Kaga Taiko is much more difficult to play and master. Therefore, if we want to continue it after we return to Michigan, we figured we needed to learn as much as we could.

Ichikawa Juku holds classes on Sunday afternoons, starting at 1 PM and lasting until...well, until the last person leaves, I suppose. It's a tough schedule for us. It probably takes 40 or 45 minutes to drive there and Sunday afternoons, there tends to be a lot of events that come up. In spite of this, we decided to attend as much as we could, at least until November or December, when we are hoping to return to Michigan.

The style of drumming and the style of teaching is much different than what we have been mostly doing/learning here. It is very complicated, challenging and interesting. And unfortunately, today, I don't have time to get into it all, so I must save it for next time. Come back soon to check for the update (with video!)


Joy said...

You called modern drumming "sousaku taiko", which isn't a phrase that I've heard before and isn't something that I was easily able to find via search. Can you explain what it means or give me a link to something that does?

Of course, I'm also eager to hear more about Kaga-style taiko, but you've already promised more on that ....

Raion Taiko said...

Here's the short answer: Sousaku Taiko basically refers to modern taiko drumming, Kodo, Yamato, and what probably 99% of the taiko groups outside of Japan practice.

The longer answer: Sousaku Taiko (創作太鼓) loosely means "created taiko". Modern taiko is sometimes refered to in this way because of its short history. The modern type of taiko drumming, on a stage with many members, exciting, dramatic, etc. has only been around since the 1940s or 50s. And it didn't really gain much exposure until the 70s.

Modern taiko is refered to as "sousaku" because, although much of it is based on traditional styles and rhythms, it is not a true traditional Japanese art form. Of course, you mustn't take a statement like that too seriously. Many people would probably happily debate what "true traditional Japanese art form" really means.

Kaga Taiko has a history of more than 400 years of the same style of drumming being passed down and preserved. Modern taiko drumming has been around for 60 years (?) or so and there are many different styles and a lot of freedom to create your own style, hence, the term, ""Sousaku Taiko", or "Created Taiko". I hope this helps a little bit to answer your question.