This morning I Googled Taiko drumming, intent on giving you at least a bare-bones history of the noble art of ensemble drums in Japan. I figured, ancient culture, people were probably playing these things and performing the same pieces thousands of years ago, right?
Wrong. Turns out the modern version of Japanese drumming (Taiko just means drum, y'all) is, well, modern. The taiko weren't played in groups until the 1950s, and the whole thing was started by a jazz musician. Strangely, that doesn't make it any less impressive!
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We got up early on Saturday and headed to base to catch a bus. We had also run out of coffee that morning and I, at least was Cranky McMeanwife. Luckily, we each had brought along a little marital aid(SFW). The ride to the city of Narita went pretty quickly, and we arrived hungry. The festival took place at Naritasan Shinshoji temple and along Omote-Sando Street, with eight stages set up along the way. Josh and I spent the early afternoon walking up and down a steep hill, stopping to see different drum ensembles and more - there was a lot more than just Japanese drumming. Some of my favorites were the African group,the Japanese harp ensemble, and of course anything with kids.The music was great, but the $30 tickets would have been worth it just to walk around a new town in a festival atmosphere. All the stores are open, everyone is smiling, and since Narita is where the airport is, there's a lot of written English available. I have my own pub there!We had to kill time before 5:00, when the holy fire ceremony and concert were to begin, so we naturally just kept eating. Fried chicken, dried fruit, sno-cones, beer, you name it, we had it. We even stopped into an Indian restaurant to get off our feet for a while and shared something called chicken bharta - a rich, creamy curry with garlic naan for dippin'. Holy majoley.
Now, ten in the morning until five pm is a long time to walk around, especially if you've got to stand up for a two hour concert afterward. But the line for tickets to sit during the nighttime concert was over an hour long, and standby only - we didn't want to waste the whole day waiting for a maybe-seat at night. And when evening came, we regretted that decision. Around three we started touring the temple, which was impressive, of course.
Photos inside the temple are forbidden, but we lurked around the door and saw part of a Buddhist ceremony inside. I need a book about Japanese Buddhism and Shinto, if anybody's got one lying around.
Since we couldn't have a seat, we decided to stake out our spot in the standing area an hour early. Josh had the foresight to pack us pants, which turned out to be crucial. It had to be in the eighties in the sun that day, and it dipped into the fifties and windy once the sun started setting...eek. So we sat on the ground and played with our iPods while the evening ceremony was set up. Josh had an interesting snack - turd!(just kidding, I think it's tamarind) and at five o'clock the real music began. The video above is from that evening show, and there was much more - there had to be eight ensembles. Toward the end was a group of three men - one playing a huge taiko, one on a set of smaller drums, and the third was a virtuoso on the marimba. Unreal.
I really wish I understood more about the religious significance of the ceremony and the music we witnessed. After the concert, shop owners on Omote-Sando street decorated the sidewalk with candles, which made for a lovely walk back to the bus. There are, of course, train stops in Narita - I might go back just for the food.
Who's up for a visit?