On March 25, taiko teams from around the area, aging from kindergarteners to seniors, came together to perform and show what they’d learned over the past year. As my friend, Cadan, and I have been learning to play the taiko drum since shortly after we arrived in Japan, we too got to perform with our team. The best part about it was by chance both of our families were there to watch us in all our nerve-wracked glory.
Since September, we have been practicing about twice a month (though sometimes less) and have successfully managed to learn one complete song. For our performance, we were placed front and center, accompanied by our sensei’s and other adult team members (though we mostly practice with the junior high school kids- aka my students).
Our team was the last to perform, which gave us plenty of time to practice and panic. As we watched team after team, it only built up my nerves. Some of the performances were truly sights to behold. I was amazed and impressed by the amazing ways in which songs were performed and the movements that accompanied the beautiful beats.
The Happyokai lasted for about 2.5 hours, and while I know it left some audience members a bit restless, I could have watched it all day. I’m not sure what it is but something about the taiko drum beats strikes a cord with me and I could revel in them as long as allowed. It’s been one of my favorite parts of being in Japan- at every festival you’re nearly guarenteed to hear some taiko drums. The deep, reverbrating beats, to me, are the sound of this country.
Our performance only last about 2 minutes, but it felt much longer in the moment. Somehow we managed to get through it without dropping our bachi (the drumsticks), accidentally hitting them together, or making any other major (or noticeable) mistakes. Of course, at the end of the happyokai we were brought out and introduced (look at the foreigners who learned to play taiko!) but it was all in fun and the hardest part was over so I didn’t mind it one bit (and at this point come to expect things like that).
The best part of the whole night was getting the chance to share this part of my everyday-Japan-life with my family. They got to meet my sensei’s, my friends and even some of my students. They got a chance to see how and why I’ve come to love this place and what I’ve done with my time here. They what life in Japan looks like outside the bright lights of Tokyo and temples of Kyoto- real Japan.