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:


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.


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:


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.


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!


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.)


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!