“Introducing Mr. Kazuhito Nomura, Minakuchi-bayashi Instructor at Kodo Apprentice Centre” by Tomoe Miura

I would like to introduce one of the Kodo Apprentice Centre instructors.

Kodo used to introduce the instructors who teach at Kodo Apprentice Centre in our Japanese newsletter and on our website, but we haven’t done so for the past few years. 

Our apprentices undertake their apprenticeship with their sights set on the Kodo stage. Naturally, they study taiko, but they also learn a wide range of regional performing arts and instruments other than taiko. That’s one of the great things about Kodo Apprentice Centre.

Today, I would like to introduce Mr. Kazuhito Nomura, the leader of Minakuchi Sosha, a Minakuchi-bayashi group. Minakuchi-bayashi is a traditional performing art upheld in Shiga Prefecture.

           

 

Kazuhito Nomura, Leader, Minakuchi-bayashi Minakuchi Sosha
Kodo Apprentice Centre instructor since 2015.

Kazuhito Nomura hails from Minakuchi in Koka City, Shiga Prefecture. He’s a Minakuchi local, born and bred. He loves Minakuchi-bayashi! The Nomura family have been living in Minakuchi for around 300 years. Koka City is famous for Koka Ninja. Minakuchi has prospered since medieval times as the center of Koka. The biggest festival in the Koka region is Minakuchi Hikiyama Matsuri, which has been held for 300 years. This festival has been designated as one of Shiga Prefecture’s intangible folk culture assets. During the festival, floats (hikiyama) are pulled around the town, and Minakuchi-bayashi is the musical accompaniment that is performed inside the floats.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading Mr. Nomura’s story and his introduction to Minakuchi-bayashi in his own words below.



“Minakuchi-bayashi has been around for some 300 years and I have loved it since I was a young child. My father and the men his age and his father’s age used to learn from the elders in the other float towns, and these Minakuchi-bayashi enthusiasts ended up creating Minakuchi-bayashi Minakuchi Sosha. They are crazy about
o-hayashi (festival musical accompaniments).
Minakuchi-bayashi, even though it was created three centuries ago, has good musical sensibilities and it’s a famous o-hayashi nationwide. For that reason, there are versions of Minakuchi-bayashi all over Japan and around the world that have deviated from the original Minakuchi-bayashi, and they have been arranged considerably. We want to do something about the erroneous versions of Minakuchi-bayashi out there, so that drives our activities.
We are striving to correctly hand down this tradition to people in Minakuchi and correctly disseminate it to people outside of Minakuchi. These two pillars are at the heart of our activities.”

My serendipitous first encounter with Kodo.

In 2011, Minakuchi Matsuri (Minakuchi Festival) was canceled out of consideration for the areas damaged by the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. In 2012, it was my town Tenjin-machi’s turn to parade its float. But the float whose turn it was the year before didn’t get to do the usual dedication, so they took their turn in 2012 and my town’s turn was delayed until 2013.

It just so happened that Eri Uchida (a Kodo member at that time) had taken some time off in 2013 around Minakuchi Matsuri, which is held on April 20. She had gone back to her family home in Aichi Prefecture and called an acquaintance, saying “I’m going to Minakuchi Matsuri tomorrow, do you want to go with me?” and they came to our festival. The person she called happened to be an acquaintance of mine, too. They came all the way to Minakuchi to observe the festival and to meet me. And Eri was introduced to me, and that’s how our exchange began. If these coincidences hadn’t overlapped, I don’t think I would have crossed paths with Kodo.

The following year, in 2014, I went to Sado Island for the first time and I led Minakuchi-bayashi practice sessions at Kodo Village and Kodo Apprentice Centre. Since then, every year I have had the honor of visiting Kodo Apprentice Centre as an instructor.
Thanks to that first encounter. I also got to perform Minakuchi-bayashi at Earth Celebration with members of Kodo.

Mr. Nomura teaching at Kodo Apprentice Centre. The blackboard has rhythms on it, written as kuchi-shoga (verbal notation).

Minakuchi-bayashi performance at Earth Celebration 2016

      

Kuchi-shoga (verbal notation) is important for Minakuchi-bayashi.

When I teach, I use the oral traditional way that has been upheld in my hometown, Minakuchi, for 300 years.
It’s the method that Japanese people honed by using it to pass down traditional arts, long before Western music reached Japan. So I think that when I teach and share this art, the most important thing for me to do as a teacher is to use this method.

I’ve heard from researchers that amongst the various o-hayashi (festival accompaniments) nationwide that are still upheld today, Minakuchi-bayashi is very rare because it has complete kuchi-shoga (verbal notation, used to speak the rhythms) for all the instruments used to play it.
Minakuchi-bayashi is played using four instruments: o-daiko (big drum), ko-daiko (small drum, a.k.a. shime-daiko), surigane (metal percussion instrument, a.k.a. atarigane), and shinobue (bamboo flute). All of these instruments have kuchi-shoga for the entire melody line of Minakuchi-bayashi. That means that you can perform Minakuchi-bayashi just by speaking the rhythms.
I am convinced that the most important part of passing down Minakuchi-bayashi is kuchi-shoga, and playing each instrument with the exact same sounds as the kuchi-shoga is the long-cherished desire of this tradition.

For that reason, most of my instruction focuses on kuchi-shoga from start to finish: first learning the kuchi-shoga that have been passed down orally in Minakuchi for three centuries, then playing the sounds on each instrument exactly like the kuchi-shoga.
Upon that foundation, I teach how each of the sounds played on each instrument should sound, how they are related, and how they all fit together.
I strive to help people understand the blueprint of this 300-year-old o-hayashi (festival accompaniment music) and that an o-hayashi is a living thing.

Practice scenes at Kodo Apprentice Centre (Mr. Nomura and family with members of Kodo)

          

I want the apprentices to experience a range of Japanese music culture firsthand.

Most Kodo apprentices don’t know Minakuchi-bayashi before they enter Kodo Apprentice Centre, so they learn it here for the first time. I think a lot of the apprentices try to play it by converting it into the Western music scale in their heads, thinking of each note as one simple sound.

Japanese music, in particular o-hayashi (accompaniment music), has a lot of rather ambiguous parts, but there are also parts that you have to play in sync with one another, so you really have to concentrate a lot on those key points.

For example, with Minakuchi-bayashi, the taiko and the surigane (metal percussion) both play two parts: they play the ji-uchi (base) rhythm part and a part called tama-uchi that adds ma (space, or pauses). The ji-uchi part is difficult to capture using Western notation—you can’t split it into notes. So the tama-uchi that is designed to go with that complex ji-uchi is also hard to capture.

I think this shows the great musical sensibilities of Japanese people from way back.

I want the apprentices to ditch the fixed notion that all music can be written with the Western staff system, and for them to experience a broad range of Japanese music culture firsthand.
The apprentices will go on to be future Kodo members who will give performances all over Japan and around the world. I want them to share Minakuchi-bayashi, and traditional Japanese culture that is difficult to explain, with people all over the world.  

Mr. Nomura and family with Kodo apprentices, members, and staff at Kodo Apprentice Centre after the latest Minakuchi-bayashi practice sessions in March 2022.    


Next time, I will introduce Ms. Yumi Nogami, the voice trainer who teaches at Kodo Apprentice Centre.



“Kodo Sado Island Performances in Shukunegi 2022” by Jun Jidai

Kodo’s annual performances in Shukunegi first began in 2012, back when I was still a Kodo apprentice. The apprentices all joined the Kodo members, staff, and Shukunegi locals to get ready for the performances and it felt like creating something together from square one: spring cleaning the hall, hanging the back drops, cutting down bamboo and using it to put up the concert flags.

Photo: Takashi OkamotoPhoto: Takashi OkamotoKodo now has a decade’s worth of experiences at this place, and I feel so happy that we’re back here again this year.

There is so much going on right now all over the world, and here in Japan. It feels like we’re living our usual daily lives with chaos either close by, or all around us.

It makes me think…what can we do as taiko players?
What should artists share in times like these?

Tomorrow is uncertain, but I’ve made it to tomorrow each day thus far. So I want to keep creating and expressing myself as an artist, giving my all each day.

Photo: Erika

I want to express what it means to be born in this era, and what I’m doing with Kodo now.

I want to turn that into power that helps get us all through to “tomorrow” again.

I want to take all the moments when I laugh and feel excited and deeply moved, and pack them all into this performance with along with my gratitude.

I sincerely hope that our performances bring the joy of spring and the sounds of Shukunegi to many people.

Kodo Sado Island Performances in Shukunegi (2022)

Apr 29 (Fri)–May 7 (Sat), 2022 Shukunegi Community Hall, Ogi Peninsula, Sado Island, Niigata

Dates & Times

  • Apr 29 (Fri) 14:30 [O-daiko: Yoshikazu Fujimoto]
  • Apr 30 (Sat) 11:00 [O-daiko: Tomohiro Mitome]
  • Apr 30 (Sat) 14:30 [O-daiko: Yoshikazu Fujimoto]
  • May 1 (Sun) 11:00 [O-daiko: Tomohiro Mitome]
  • May 2 (Mon) DARK
  • May 3 (Tue) 14:30 [O-daiko: Yoshikazu Fujimoto]
  • May 4 (Wed) 11:00 [O-daiko: Tomohiro Mitome]
  • May 4 (Wed) 14:30 [O-daiko: Yoshikazu Fujimoto]
  • May 5 (Thu) 11:00 [O-daiko: Tomohiro Mitome]
  • May 6 (Fri) DARK
  • May 7 (Sat) 11:00 [O-daiko: Yoshikazu Fujimoto]
  • May 7 (Sat) 14:30 [O-daiko: Tomohiro Mitome]

Kodo Sado Island Performances in Shukunegi (2022)

“The Release of Our New Album ‘Kizashi'” by Yuta Sumiyoshi

It’s been one year today since Takashi Akamine passed away.

Most of the times I met up with Takashi were when I was on tour overseas with Kodo. With the pandemic and other things going on, I haven’t been able to go overseas for quite a while. So even now, I feel like he’s going to be there waiting for me at the airport when I travel next.

We were right in the middle of recording last year when we heard about Takashi’s illness. The album we were making then is the one we are releasing today: Kizashi.

This time last year, we had way less performances. We were holed up at Kodo Village, feeling worried and wondering what we could do while we couldn’t tour. So we filled our days with trial and error—composing, playing new pieces, and recording them.
Takashi was the first one to sense the possibilities in recording our own sound and sharing it with the world.

In 2020, Kodo had started talks with Pitch & Sync, a London-based creative agency, about new music collaborations. Takashi was Kodo’s point of contact with Pitch & Sync from the very first meeting, and we were also working on that project at this time last year.

Every time we came up with a new track, I’d get a message from Takashi. His words radiated with passion and kindness, and I could hear his signature way of storytelling as I read. He would always end with: “I’m looking forward to what’s next, too.”

Our new album, Kizashi, is the first Kodo album ever to be recorded entirely by Kodo performers. We had some issues with our planning, and there was a lot of trouble along the way. We had to work hard together to get this project over the hurdles and past the finish line.

I want to keep exploring the many possibilities that Takashi sensed for Kodo. Kizashi means an omen or sign, and this album is a sign of what’s next. So we decided to release it today, on the anniversary of Takashi’s death.

We dedicate this album to Takashi Akamine.
As we release it from Sado Island to the world, we hope and pray this music reaches him, too.

Yuta Sumiyoshi

Translator’s Note: In the original Japanese version, Yuta calls Takashi Akamine “Akamine-san” (Mr. Akamine) throughout. Because it sounds too formal in English, the translator has changed it to “Takashi,” knowing that is what Takashi preferred in English.

Listen to Kizashi

“In Memory of Takashi Akamine” by Yasuko Homma

[Obituary] Kodo Staff Member Takashi Akamine

“Sharing Taiko. Bonding Through Taiko.” by Taiyo Onoda

Almost a year has passed since the launch of Kodo Taiko School. This new initiative is an online school where Kodo performers share the skills and knowledge the ensemble has developed over the years. We conducted a trial course with Cohort 0 in 2021, and currently we are heading into the final lessons of the Cohort 1 course.

I initially felt out of place when I found myself in a teaching position at this early stage of my performing career. Already, I can honestly say that facilitating these courses has become one of the richest learning experiences of my lifetime.

When the trial course began, it took a lot of time and effort for the Kodo Taiko School instructors, who are all Kodo performers, to come up with clear ways to explain what we experienced and gained through our training at Kodo Apprentice Centre. It’s challenging to put into words what we learned back then, and what we think and feel as performers now. Kodo doesn’t have a uniform kata (style of taiko playing, or set form), which made this challenge even more complex. At Kodo, we all strive to create the best sound possible. We acknowledge that everyone’s body is different, so we always keep in mind that how we play differs from person to person.

The instructor team approached this particular challenge by surveying a number of Kodo performers, and noting the similarities between us. In particular, we sought guidance from Eiichi Saito, the pioneer of Kodo-style workshops, and from Tomohiro Mitome, who frequently teaches taiko players within Kodo and from other teams. We also talked to various guest instructors who teach at Kodo Apprentice Centre and asked for their advice.

Our conclusion was that the Kodo method could be defined as the act of playing taiko in the most natural state possible. As Kodo members, it’s an individual quest to find our most natural state and to create the best sound possible. We strive to do that through our daily training. 

Kodo Taiko School is a place where students can join us on that journey. Every lesson is led by a Kodo performer who explains things in their own unique way. Because we teach a course as a team, you get insight into a range of individual perspectives and approaches, all with the same end goal—achieving a natural state to create optimal sound. I think that’s one of the things that enriches our courses.

Teaching, in my own words.

I am a member of the instructing team, and I also double as an English interpreter for the lessons because I grew up in the United States. But I often struggle to find the right words. It’s hard to interpret Japanese terms and concepts that don’t have literal English translations, or will not make sense in English in a particular context. Especially on the spot.

For example, the first roadblock that every Japanese-English interpreter probably bumps into is “Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.” This common Japanese greeting can be literally translated into “best regards,” but in certain situations, it’ll mean “please share your knowledge and advice with us,” or “kindly do a favor for me,” or something else. 

Here’s another example. In Japanese, futokoro is a word that explains the space in front of your chest. But it’s more than a word; it’s a concept that changes depending on the activity you’re doing. So it’s different for martial arts, tea ceremony, and taiko. Trying to explain it in one word in English isn’t possible. I needed way more words each time. 

(Side Note: I wrote this blog in Japanese first without considering the difficulty of translating into English. The struggle is real…)

With each passing week, I learned how to explain things better. Interpreting for the senior members allowed me to process their thoughts in my mind twice; once in Japanese and again while I was searching for the right English. While listening to their explanations, I drew on my own knowledge and experiences to find the words I needed.

Interpreting for Cohort 0 Guest Instructor Eiichi Saito

Interpreting for Cohort 1 Guest Instructor Tomohiro Mitome as he explains how to apply the fundamentals of taiko playing to Odaiko (big drum) playing.

But there were still things that I just couldn’t explain concisely. Not just while I was interpreting, but when I was teaching as well. I eventually realized that I had trouble explaining certain concepts, simply because I didn’t know enough about them. A wise man once said, “if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” This quote hit home. Lesson learned.

With Instructor Team Leader Yoshie Abe. We’re working hard to forge meaningful connections with all the students.

With Shogo Komatsuzaki, talking about physical conditioning. At Kodo Taiko School, all the instructors perform on the Kodo stage, so you get to hear practical advice from a performer’s point of view.

For me, getting to experience how the senior members approach and explain this art form firsthand is really inspiring. When I interpret for my fellow instructors, it feels like a VIP experience because I get the chance to go inside their head and take a peek at their way of life, through their eyes. I feel so lucky to have this chance.

This chance comes with a sense of responsibility. I believe it is my duty to share their experience as accurately as possible with taiko enthusiasts all around the world. 

Yoshie Abe (left) and Jun Jidai (right) will be Cohort 2 instructors, too. Join them and participants from around the world! Cohort 2 starts in May 2022.

Cohort 2 of Kodo Taiko School will begin in May 2022. During this course, I am scheduled to be touring Japan, so I won’t be able to participate in the same way as I have to date. Instead, I’ll be on stage, giving it my all and making most of what I learned through Cohort 0 & 1. 

Kodo Taiko School alumni: I hope you’ll come to the theater so we can meet up in person. If you can join us, see you soon!
Kodo Taiko School future students: It will be one of the richest taiko experiences of your life, guaranteed. I’m looking forward to hearing how you get on!

 

 

Kodo Taiko School – Online Information Sessions (Pre-Cohort 2)

Kodo Taiko School Cohort 2

Kodo Taiko School

“Earth Celebration 2021 Crowdfunding Campaign Underway Now!” by Yasuko Homma

Thank you very much to everyone who tuned to the live stream of the EC 2021 Harbour Concerts on ZAIKO! While we couldn’t welcome anyone to attend in-person, we were so happy to welcome so many of you online.

As you can imagine, it’s been very challenging holding the festival during the pandemic. More than ever, Earth Celebration needs your support to be able to continue into the future. EC also wanted to welcome more people to watch the 2021 concerts, so Kodo Cultural Foundation launched a crowdfunding campaign on EC’s behalf to tick both of these boxes.

In early August, when EC Committee made the decision to change the concerts from hybrid to online only, they realized that refunding all the in-person tickets was going to seriously impact EC moving forward. So they made the sudden decision to launch a crowdfunding page, and we worked hard to get it ready in time… but we were only able to launch it the night before on Aug. 20.

Five days after the campaign began, EC had already received over 1,000,000 yen in donations. Thank you so much, everyone!

This year was the 34th EC. Over the years, there have been many legendary standout moments and wonderful performances. I think the 2021 Harbour Concerts will go down in history as outstanding performances within that long history.

If you didn’t get to watch the performances on ZAIKO, that’s a real shame. We really want as many people as possible to enjoy the concerts, so we decided to add a different way of watching the archive footage as a crowdfunding perk.

If you choose the video perk, you will receive a link to watch the concert video online for one month. I’m sure some of you who watched the concerts on ZAIKO want to see them again, too.

Thank you in advance for your support!

Akio Tsumura from Miyake-jima Geino Doshi-kai and Tomohiro Mitome in “Kiseki—Tomohiro Mitome 30 Years with Kodo Commemorative Performance” on Aug. 21, 2021

Shuichi Hidano and Tomohiro Mitome in “Kiseki—Tomohiro Mitome 30 Years with Kodo Commemorative Performance” on Aug. 21, 2021

From “Kodo All-Star Special Performance” on Aug. 22, 2021

 

How will the donation be used?

The target amount of 2,000,000 yen will be used to cover the shortfall in labor costs for production, and streaming distribution. After deducting necessary expenses such as credit card processing fees, Kodo Cultural Foundation will deposit the amount to the Earth Celebration Executive Committee.

 

Crowdfunding Campaign Page

Please support Earth Celebration 2021!

■ Crowdfunding Target: 2,000,000 yen
■ Campaign Ends: Sep. 10 (Fri) JST

Delivery Schedule for Campaign Perks

  • Thank you video/ Harbour Concert video(s):
    Emails with video links will start being sent out in early September. (Video will be available until Oct. 15)
  • T-shirts:
    [In Japan] Will be delivered by courier during September.
    [Overseas] Will be shipped from Japan by EMS in September.
  • Signed EC posters:
    Will be shipped in mid-September.

Your perks will be sent as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience!


Kodo Blog Archive