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...


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.


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,


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


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.


More Kaga Taiko and Asano Taiko's 400th Annivesary Concert

I don't have any connecting theme or topic to write about today. Actually, I haven't had any major topic or theme for a couple weeks now, which is why I haven't been writing as much as usual. Sorry, I'll try to fix that. For now, though, I'll just share several updates with you.

I returned to the Ichikawa Juku (Kaga Taiko) last Sunday after an absence of several weeks. Aside from all the second-hand smoke, it is an enjoyable experience. It is quite different to be instructed one-on-one from a master like Ichikawa sensei. (The difference being the one-on-one instruction, our other instructors from Hono Taiko are masters as well, of course.) Ichikawa sensei told me that next Sunday they will be going to visit a nursing home to play Kaga Taiko there and he invited me to come along. I am assuming that I will get to play a little bit as well. It should be an enjoyable experience. In college, my and a group of friends would gather every Saturday evening to play folk music together. Every once in a while, we would show up at a convalescent center and ask if we could play there. The people there really enjoyed it, and we did too. Every now and then, members of that folk circle will gather for an "Old Man Roscoe" reunion. The last time they got together was last June and I, unfortunately, could not be there, but they did post some video of it:

But I digress, I always enjoyed sharing music at the nursing home and am looking forward to it again.

Also, on a Kaga Taiko note, my daughter was with us at our lesson on Sunday and she expressed an interest in learning/playing Kaga Taiko. So, she had her first lesson on Sunday. Having learned taiko at Asano in the Kid's classes for a year and a half helped her to pick up the rhythms quickly. Ichikawa sensei taught her three simple rhythms: don don don (rest) do do-n don (rest) doko doko don (rest)
Here is about 30 seconds of her lesson (which only lasted about 3 or 4 min altogether anyhow).

I was impressed by well Ichikawa sensei teaches children, as well as adults. Perhaps it helps that his granddaughter is the same age as Karen.

The other update I have is regarding Asano's 400th Anniversary Celebration (June 5, 6, 7). On Friday evening there will be a concert featuring at least 12 different performers/groups. Apparently there were so many groups that wanted to be a part of it, they were unable to accommodate all of them. Here is a list of most of the performers who will participate:
Fujimoto Yoshikazu (Kodo)
Imafuku Yu
Miyakejima Geino Doshikai
Kaneko Ryutaro (Former Kodo member)
Hono Taiko
Wadaiko Yamato
Tokara (Art Lee)
Uruki (Machiko Asano's group, played at 2008 Exstasia)
Tsurugiji Yahata Taiko (Taiko from Noto Penninsula)
Tiffany Tamaribuchi

And there is one more name that I cannot read. I'll have to investigate further and then get back to you.

The concert is Friday night (5.June) starting at 6:30 PM at the Hakusan-shi Matto Gakushu Center and it only costs 1000 yen!

I have more updates to share, but now I must get ready to go to work. More coming soon.


Two Blogs Taiko Enthusiasts Should Know About

When I began my taiko blogging back in the summer of 2007, I didn't find many other English blogs related purely to learning or playing taiko. As time has passed, however, I have slowly become aware of a few more blogs out there that dedicate most of their posting to posts about learning and performing taiko. Today I will tell you about two blogs I know of which are all taiko, all the time.

All Things Taiko

First, let me tell you about one that I have been following for several weeks now. All Things Taiko is a blog written by Carrie Carter (also a Michigan native). I have actually been in contact with Carrie since almost a year ago, but I only became aware of her blog at the beginning of this year. Carrie was a member of Cleveland's Icho Daiko for a year before becoming a member of Seattle's Kokon Taiko for 3 years. Now she lives in Wakayama prefecture, Japan and is studying with Shippu Uchi Taiko. Carrie updates her blog often with taiko drills, videos, audio and reflections on her experiences learning taiko in Japan.

Odaiko New England Blog

I found the Odaiko New England (ONE) blog last week, but it wasn't live yet. It wouldn't let me see anything without a password, so I moved on. Then, yesterday, when I logged into my twitter account, I found this tweet: "It's official - the Odaiko New England blog is live! http://blog.onetaiko.org/" So I went to check it out immediately. They have interesting postings from various members about different workshops and concerts (given and attended). I don't know much about ONEtaiko, but they seem to be a very active and talented group. I hope that we will have a chance to meet up with them when we return to Michigan. (And what do you know, they have a link to me from their blogroll. Thanks ONE.)