Andres Oliver: Taiko

My time in the taiko circle has allowed me the opportunity to interact with an older sector of Japanese society than that with which I interacted last semester in the shodou club. One of the first things I noticed upon joining the circle was how serious and yet relaxed the other members were. Because we practice at Kita-no-ten-mangu, a large temple in the western part of Kyoto, we depend upon the generosity of the priests there to allow to use the practice space. At the end of each practice, we all gather around one of the priests as he offers his reflections on the group’s activities and goes over basic housekeeping duties. Everyone sits very quietly and respectfully—the position of priest is obviously one of some regard—but when the priest makes jokes, everyone laughs like old friends.

We also were allowed to participate in a ceremony at the temple where another priest prayed for the taiko circle’s continued success. This ceremony and our interaction with the priests makes me feel like playing taiko is about more than just having fun or relieving stress by beating on a drum for two hours. I feel it is possible that we are doing something of a vaguely spiritual nature, in the sense that our playing is an homage to some sort of god or force. In light of the relative seriousness of this act, I was very surprised to see another side of the members when we all went to a nomikai. While drinking and eating, all of the members, including one of the priests, just looked like normal people who have gathered around a common interest and forged long friendships.

2 thoughts on “Andres Oliver: Taiko

  1. It’s always so interesting how various aspects of Japanese society are connected to either Buddhist or Shinto traditions, and yet somehow remain relatively secular in nature.

    Did your group ever perform at a festival or other religious-affiliated event? How did taiko compare to shodo last semester?

    • We had a performance at Kita-no-ten-mangu, so I suppose you could say it was religious-affiliated. I enjoyed shodo last semester, but I cant really even compare the two in terms of the level of interaction I had with each. I barely spoke to anyone in shodo, whereas I felt like I was able to at least converse as friends with the taiko people during practice and when we went out to dinner together.