When I first attended one of Nagare Parkour’s training sessions, from the moment I stepped out of the station and saw everyone gathering in the park, I immediately felt like part of the group. Since the atmosphere was so much like that of my club back in Ann Arbor, I was able to feel at home. I think that friendly and open atmosphere kind of inherent in the attitude of traceurs (practitioners of parkour), as well as my attitude toward parkour. I attented a few jams, or large parkour gatherings. There were so many people that it was hard to memorize anyone’s name. At the second jam, one of the guys shared that sentiment and said something along the lines of, “isn’t it enough [for now] that we remembered each other’s faces?” That made all my nervousness about names vanish. The parkour world is full of some of the strangest and friendliest people in the world. I realized that’s no different here in Japan than anywhere else. Everyone attends to learn, to grow and to enjoy the atmosphere and each other’s company. I’m really glad that I was able to find a group, to continue practicing parkour with while I’m here in Japan.
Recently, I’ve mostly been training apart from the group with a friend that I made at the first jam. That relationship is probably the most equal of the friendships that I’ve made through the community involvement project (CIP). Even though I taught/ran the last couple training sessions we had, I’m learning just as much as I’m teaching. Being able to speak both English and Japanese, or the fact that each of us is learning the other’s language is a huge asset. It makes it a lot easier to share experiences, terminology, and ideas. We’ve even had the chance to chat via Skype a few times with another fellow traceur from Hokkaido.
As for the Kitanotenmangu Taiko Group, I feel like an honorary member. While that’s a good feeling, I think I could describe it as a very “for the time being” kind of feeling. They’ve been so kind to the three of us (I attend Taiko practices with two other KCJS students), so much to the point where I feel that sometimes they are over-accommodating. There are times where the leader will go out of his way to explain things in English without even trying to speak Japanese. There are some points that make it hard to feel like a true member though. The most difficult of those points is the fact that the group meetings are so infrequent that it’s hard to feel like we are really contributing or learning very much. I still have yet to learn everyone’s name. In addition, I actually haven’t learned very much about how to play Taiko, since the practices are for the most part run follow-the-leader style. All that being said, I’m looking forward to next semester. With every practice, we become a little bit more a part of the group. It’s not much, but every practice we help set and put away the drums, and I might go as far as to say that until this week, in that alone did I feel like an active member of the group.
This past weekend, Miao and I went to Kitanotenmangu to cheer on the group at one of their performances for the Fall Festival. We half-jokingly asked (in Japanese of course), “We’re not going to perform, right?” Well, to our surprise, they said, “Of course, we’re going to have you play the songs you memorized.” I think we were both half in despair and half laughing at the hilarity of the situation. Up until that point, we hadn’t even put the proper names together with the pieces which we had haphazardly memorized. I thought it was going to be a disaster. It turned out to be a great time and an experience that I will probably not find anywhere else (except in the next two performances in the coming weeks). They lent us all the performance gear, from happi to hachimaki and even took us up into the main part of the temple for the preperformance prayer. To have us perform the little that we knew somehow demonstrated just how much confidence in us and/or willingness to include us that the group had. And it felt good.
Overall, the CIP aspect of KCJS has been a very good experience so far. Ideally, the groups would meet more frequently, but as it is, I’m still gaining a lot and I think there is potential for me to give back much more in the coming semester.
It sounds like an amazing experience! Do you have anything you’d like to accomplish next semester, in particular?
I was thinking about what I can actually do to give back, since the group at Kitanotenmangu (or Tenjinsan) has been so accommodating to us. I used to write music for my high school drum line a lot. Maybe I could use that experience and write a piece for them to play (or even if they don’t play it, just in their name). The group has apparently only been around for 3 years too, so their repertoire is probably not super huge. All that is given that I can learn enough about taiko to write something acceptable though.
I think that’d be a great thing to do! I’m sure they’d really appreciate it. Especially if you labeled it like “Bosses” and made it an epic piece. Haha – what am I saying? All taiko music sounds epic!
Also, if you get the chance to see the Tenjin kids, could you tell them that Hari Rai “Karusa-san” says hi? She did taiko for her CIP when she was here last fall. It seems cool kids run in packs!
Wow, Nate! I remember watching a Taiko concert at Ann Arbor for one of the JSA (Japanese Student Association) festivals, and feeling really amazed by the powerful beat of the drums. When I went to Okayama, I had the lucky chance of seeing a real live festival and another amazing Taiko drum performance. I could have stood there and listened to the rhythms the whole time. The synchronizations and patterns of the players was really interesting. Playing the viola, I never got into band music, but I have got to say that I have definitely come to like the Taiko. Even though you say you haven’t learned very much, I’m sure this is a fantastic experience!
Yeah it gets better every time! When I was listening during the last performance, I think I felt the same way- awed by the power of the beat. That day in particular, since all the members came and probably because it was the last performance of the year too, they played especially loud and together.
And yeah, I don’t think I learned very much technique-wise so far since the club seems to be more focused on the group aspect, but I’m definitely glad to be a part of it.
>> It turned out to be a great time and an experience that I will probably not find anywhere else (except in the next two performances in the coming weeks).
I lolled. ;P
The contrast of your two groups is really interesting though… when I think of the stereotypical Japanese club or group, my thoughts drift much more easily to your description of the taiko group than your description of the parkour group. Of course, taiko is of Japanese origin whereas parkour is not, but the style of the group also seems to fit the traditional stereotype. It’s eye-opening to see that, contrary to some preconceived notion of homogeneity, all kinds of groups do actually exist in Japan.
Yep. I was surprised myself to see that such a large parkour group existed here in the Kansai area, and in fact operated jams a lot like what I was used to back home. Although, the regularity and focus of their training seems to be a little different. As far as I can tell, if there’s something you’re interested in, you can do it. It just may come with a different culture or level of formality than what you’re used to.
The most difficult of those points is the fact that the group meetings are so infrequent that it’s hard to feel like we are really contributing or learning very much. I still have yet to learn everyone’s name.
I don’t remember everyone’s name either, and it is especially embarrassing to as people’s names over and over again. I still cannot get over my maruimarui restroom incident lol. I think the best strategy is to listen to what people are talking about and showing interests in it. Actually the other day while we were transporting the taiko back to the guest house, the enkaikyokucyou was talking about Hollywood movies with another member. But in fact they were trying to get my attention because, I guess, they felt a bit unsure about asking me directly. I just smiled because I didn’t know much about Hollywood movies (sadly). But then yesterday again when we were transporting the taiko, I laughed at their michael jordan joke and they were so happy. They are curious too, just a bit shy lol 🙂 Speaking of contribution, I think you are contributing mainly by going there and practicing with everybody.
In addition, I actually haven’t learned very much about how to play Taiko, since the practices are for the most part run follow-the-leader style.
that’s why you should learn the pieces at home (at least memorize the rhythm ) and practice with everyone (a feat I have not accomplished yet lol)
Except the sheet music doesn’t actually tell you the rhythm… 😉
I think maybe asking more questions would be a good strategy. I noticed that a lot of the time we ask each other, while Phillip will go and ask one of the other club members, and that turns into a good conversation/last minute practice session before the performance.
I would agree with you in most of the aspects you talked about. They’ve been really accommodating and kind, but meeting once a week(or month >>) isn’t conducive for learning anything. It’s really fun, but it really does demand a huge amount of focus during practice, since it’s hard to practice outside of the meetings. I wish there was some way to make your own mini-drum. You’re continuing with it next semester, right?