“Some Lessons I Have Learned from North American Taiko Groups” by Tomohiro Mitome
Mar. 1, 2015
Hello, everyone! How are you all doing?
This is Tomohiro Mitome, leader of taiko performing arts ensemble Kodo.
March is here and it is getting warmer and more comfortable day by day. While we are happy that spring has arrived, some of us are unfortunately suffering from hayfever here at Kodo Village.
The “Kodo One Earth Tour 2015: Mystery” North America Tour started at the end of January and is now over halfway through its two-month-long journey. In North America, there are many people who have been very kind and helpful to us since the days of Kodo’s antecedent group, “Sado no Kuni Ondekoza,” in the 70’s. They are members of taiko groups in the USA and Canada.
I heard a lot of stories about North American taiko groups from senior Kodo members before I had even joined Kodo, many of which are featured in the Kodo 30th Anniversary Publication Inochi Moyashite, Tatakeyo – 30 Years of Kodo – (in Japanese). In this blog post, I am going to write about my own personal experiences. I was last on tour in North America about eight years ago. At that time, I recall that their style of taiko featured traditions that had been passed down for generations and in addition, a new “North American taiko style” was beginning to emerge.
In Kodo’s early years, our ensemble toured in North America every year and the local taiko groups at each performance destination helped us so much and welcomed Kodo with great warmth. Among those many groups, one in particular, San Jose Taiko in California, even let us use their rehearsal space to store our stage props and tour equipment.
Recently, both San Jose Taiko and Kodo have experienced a shift in generations, and now Kodo’s senior members don’t go abroad on tour very much. So, one year San Jose Taiko organized a time for us to sit down together in a circle and talk to each other (pictured above). They arranged this opportunity because they felt that it was necessary for us to reignite our communication and exchange, in order to understand more about each group’s history, about taiko, about the Japanese-American community in the U.S., and to discuss the past, present and future ties between Kodo and San Jose Taiko.
When we visited them and watched them rehearse, I was very impressed by their solid etiquette and good manners, such as bowing before they stood on the tatami mats and began their practice. Kodo can practice any time, so we did not create a “boundary line” like that to shift our mindset before our practices. But now, since experiencing that, we have changed our own habits and now we create the right environment and mindset when we begin our practises, for example, by putting on tabi (split-toed socks or shoes). That visit made me realize that they really treasure their Japanese identity and uphold their Japanese culture and spirit by passing it on to new generations.
When we go abroad, we need to have sound knowledge of Japanese culture so that we can explain it to others, but that is no easy task. We recognize a lot about ourselves during our overseas tours by comparing the differences between our cultures and lifestyles. One thing I noticed is that in Japan we are good at arranging different foreign culture, such as cuisine, to best suit Japanese people.
I hope that the 2015 North America tour members have been discovering and learning many things on this tour, too.
“Kodo One Earth Tour 2015: Mystery” North America Tour