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."


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.


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.

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
Nagado starting at about $1000 for a 12 in diameter

Mochizuki Taiko
Based in Texas
ca. 18 in diameter Nagado - $3500 (Free Shipping)

Colorado based taiko maker
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
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.


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:


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.)


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...


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.