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!"

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