Entries in Wadaiko Yamato (12)


A Special Visit and Taiko Workshops

Last week the students of the Great Lakes Taiko Center were privileged to have a visit and workshop from Takeru Matsushita of Wadaiko Yamato The Drummers of Japan.

Our relationship with Yamato goes back to 1999, long before we ever dreamed of opening our own taiko school in Michigan. Over the years, that relationship has been a big part of the success of the Great Lakes Taiko Center and I can say without hesitation that if that connection did not exist, it is likely the Great Lakes Taiko Center would not exist either.  We owe them a debt of gratitude and are grateful for the continued relationship.

On Tuesday, November 5. Takeru-san visited our Taiko Center for two workshops. The first was a 60 minute workshop for our younger students. The average age was probably around 9 years old, but we did have a 3-year-old (!) student who participated as well.  Takeru san taught a simple song and then worked with participants on playing expressively, playing together (not just at the same time) and being able to get into kamae (a ready stance) as quickly as possible. Everyone had a great time, laughed a lot and learned a lot.

Later, Takeru-san led a two-hour workshop for our adult students. We had participants with many years of experience, as well as some that had only began learning taiko 3 weeks prior. Although it may have been a little intimidating for the newer students at first, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

In the second workshop we learned many “secret” tips about playing stance, why it is important to be able to “sing” a song, not just play it on the drum and playing together. We even tried an enlightening exercise where pairs had to hold hands and play one drum.

We are happy that we could have two great workshops. We all learned a lot and hope that we can use what we learned to become even better taiko players.  Would you like to learn the “secret” tips we got from these workshops? Then I guess you’ll have to sign up for a taiko class ... and you can do that right here: Taiko Classes.

Thank you, Takeru-san! We hope you can come to visit again soon!


Yamato Concert at University of Notre Dame

This past Friday my wife and daughter and I grabbed an overnight bag and made the three-hour road trip to South Bend, Indiana.  No, we weren't on our way to see a football game.  We had tickets to see one of our favorite taiko groups, and one of our biggest inspirations, Wadaiko Yamato. Since Mayumi worked for them as a tour assistant/translator during their 1999 European tour, we have remained in contact with them and do our best to go and see their shows whenever they are within 300 or so miles of us.  The past two years we have been able to see them twice on their "home field" of Nara for their New Year concerts, and twice at Asano Taiko, in Ishikawa.  (If look back through the blog archive, particularly in January 2008 and January 2009 you can probably find accounts of the concerts.)  But it had been several years since we had seen them in the US.  Besides that, we had not seen their new show, "Matsuri", so we were looking forward to lots of new songs.

As usual, they did not disappoint.  Although there were only 10 out of the 16 or 17 members who performed, it was just as impressive as ever. Perhaps two thirds of the songs were new and there were a few old standards that are always nice to experience.  Yet even with the old standbys, there had been changes and improvements made even since the last time we saw them, in June.  Something I've noticed about seeing Yamato five times over the past two and half years is that they are always making little changes and improvements to their pieces.  I don't think I've ever seen them perform a piece in the same way twice.  And here's the impressive thing: sometimes people make changes thinking it will improve a product, and it actually makes it worse (Windows Vista, for example), but Yamato's sense of artistry, musicallity, performance seems to be as close to perfect as you can get.  I have never seen a show and thought, "I liked it the way they did it before better."  It has always been, "Wow! They are even better than the last time!"

After seeing their performances so often over the last two and a half years, I may be going through some withdrawal since they probably won't be back in N. America until 2011.  At least that is plenty of time for us at the Great Lakes Taiko Center to make sure they bring their show back to Michigan next time around, and maybe even arrange a few workshops, if we're lucky.

I am very grateful for our friendship with Yamato. They have been incredibly kind to us, as I have mentioned in previous post, and they are excited and supportive of what we are starting here, in Michigan.  They have certainly been an inspiration to us.  I have often wished that I was a bit younger, young enough to be accepted as a Yamato apprentice (the age limit is 25) and at least have the chance to train and practice with them for a few months.  Although I haven't been taken on as a Yamato apprentice, I did have the chance to do a bit of training with them Saturday morning.  I woke up with them at 6 AM and accompanied them on their morning jog.  This is something, believe it or not, that I have been training for the past two years.  I knew that someday I would have the chance and I was determined to be ready for it.  And I was! Thanks to regular jogging on my own, I was able to easily keep pace with them and didn't even get out of breath.  It meant a lot to me to be included on their morning run and it was quite enjoyable, even if it was a bit chilly.  I'm looking forward to the next time.

Unfortunately, they had to move on to their next destination (Erie, PA) directly after breakfast so we didn't have a whole lot of time to spend with them. (My daughter did, however, have a chance to play a bit of billiards with Takeru and Midori in the hotel lobby.)  We did have time to snap a picture before they got on the bus.  Here is the normal one...

and the required "Strike a pose" one...


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!"


Thank You, Wadaiko Yamato

On Saturday I went over to Asano Taiko to take part in the 400th Annivesary activities. Wadaiko Yamato had performed at the Friday night opening concert and I knew they would be at Asano on Saturday as well. I thought I would wear one of my Yamato t-shirts, so I chose one from their 2001 (?) tour. I have worn the shirt quite a bit and it shows. The image is in pretty rough shape and the color is very faded.

After arriving at Asano, I saw some of the members. I greeted them and told them I had enjoyed their performance the night before. Then one of them looked at my shirt and said, "Brian, what are your wearing? How old is that thing? Don't you have a newer one?"
"It's not so bad," I said, "It's just been well-loved."
"Brian, we'll send you a new shirt. What size is that?"
"I think it's XL, but it's a little big," I said.

It wouldn't be the first time they have given me t-shirts. But I thought they meant the next time we visited them in Asuka mura, or perhaps the next time we come to one of their concerts. Yesterday, we got a package in the mail. It was five, brand new Wadaiko Yamato T-shirts, Size L.

Thank you, again, Wadaiko Yamato, for your generosity and kindness to us.


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.