Phillip Cualing: Kitano Tenmangu Taiko Group

As May approaches, I reflect back on what was an eventful year, being in Japan as a study abroad student. Even though I felt I could have done so much more, been so much better in terms of my Japanese ability than I am now, I still feel like I accomplished a lot and gained new interests, taiko being one of them. When I was in the States, I had heard of it second-hand, but my first real impression with taiko came at a moon viewing at my local shrine in September. When I heard that performance, my first thoughts were of awe and then I wondered how I could do that, which is how I joined the taiko group at Kitano Tenmangu.

During last fall, I joined mostly for furthering my interest in taiko, so I did not really get to know all the members or learn all the pieces by heart, the latter part of which really showed during the end of the year performance when I had a lot of trouble and was rather embarrassed. Thus, I decided to make it my CIP so I could have the time to focus on it wholeheartedly and I believe I have learned a lot, not just in becoming better at playing, but also being able to interact with other Japanese people naturally.

I have a tendency to do things roundabout or in a strange way, and my first practice was no exception. Even though it was October already, I had no cell phone, so I ended up at our teacher’s house by accident instead of at the shrine. My contact (the teacher’s wife) was out, but her parents’ reception of me was humbling, because they not only helped me find where I needed to go, but also gave me a tour of the surrounding area, hosted me for lunch, and even visited a sake brewery with me. Despite my embarrassment at being in that kind of situation, I will never forget the kindness they showed me and hoped to pay it back by really committing myself to taiko this semester.

The practices are much more than practices in my view; we gather, frolic, catch up, joke, help each other, laugh, and plan for the future, not to mention learning new pieces and maintaining the ones we do know. All types of people participated, from children to adults, and our post-practice dinners were the most fun, because it was a chance for us to communicate in a natural fashion and actually grow closer as a group. In terms of people from KCJS, Nate and I were left over from last fall, and Diana, Andres, and Jackson joined us this semester. Arguably, there were a few bumps at first as we all adjusted into the flow of things, but by the time of our spring performance to start the new year, I thought we not only played well, but also got to know everyone else in the group well.

For someone who lacks any musical inclination, my taiko experience was amazing. I picked up a skill that I hope to maintain and grow when I return to the states and made many close relationships with people I want to see when I return to Japan and hope to return all the kindness and warmth I was shown when I was welcomed into the group. Though it may be impossible, I felt like I belonged a little bit when I participated in taiko, which means so much to a person who belongs to no set place or group in the States. Maybe it is because of the tight knit group mentality, but living in Japan just feels as natural to me as moving or breathing when there is the feeling of people who would support and encourage a foreigner, different as I may be.
Given my interests and classes, I have been hurtling towards a crossroads for quite some time, because of how hard it is to reconcile using Japanese and the life sciences in a career. Regardless of whatever happens from this point, the experience I received from participating in this taiko group was worth it, more than anything I could put on a resume.

One thought on “Phillip Cualing: Kitano Tenmangu Taiko Group

  1. It sounds like you had a wonderful experience, Phillip. It’s great that Taiko became more than practices and you were able to form a connection with your group. Even if your first practice didn’t turn out quite like a practice, it was still an experience in Japanese culture and I think that is valuable in its own way. What is it about Taiko drumming that draws you to it?

    I understand how you feel about trying to find a bridge between the sciences and Japanese – I often feel like I have to choose between one or the other. Maybe these experiences will relate to our future in ways that we don’t realize or can’t predict, or maybe not. I just know that my time here has been very meaningful to me.