This semester I participated in a taiko group, Japanese drumming, based at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. While a little apprehensive, the group definitely welcomed me, as well as the two other KCJS students that participated along with me this semester.
Although I had participated in my college’s taiko group and had a little experience in playing taiko, I was unsure at first as to how this group would differ in comparison. The group members, who range from middle school students to adults, made us feel welcome and a part of the group, although there were definitely awkward moments where I was not sure what to say or how best to help. While we would play together and interact during practice or performances, the group would always make an effort to include us in dinners or other events after performances. It was strange, at first, to not have many group members in the college age-range, but it was a good experience to leave the university atmosphere and have the chance to interact with people of different ages. It was also interesting to observe the differences in language between different group members, such as the children who always used casual form, and the very formal interactions that occurred between the group and the people working at the shrine.
While the time spent playing on the drums and interacting with the group members was worthwhile, the lack of a consistent practice schedule, coupled with a large number of performances, meant that I did not get to participate as fully as I would have liked. Because the other members already had a good grasp of the songs, there were multi-week gaps between practices so it was harder to learn songs and become part of the group. In addition, even though we were able to perform a song in a few performances, I did not feel very confident; I would have greatly benefited from more practice. Still, it was nice to feel included and interact with the members of the group and audience and have the unique experience of entering the shrine before each performance. The group still has one more performance and a year-end party, so I am looking forward to having another opportunity to perform and talk with the members.
I’m glad you enjoyed taiko, even if you didn’t get a chance to practice as much as you had hoped. You mention the interesting difference between children always using casual Japanese and the group using very formal Japanese with the shrine. Did you notice a particular age at which it was no longer appropriate to use plain form and where keigo was more expected? Or was it more of a fluid “if you know how to use it, use it” kind of thing?
There is a pretty wide age gap in the group–there are a few kids that are around middle school age, but then the rest of the members are adults. (As college students, we’re the only ones in the middle!) I didn’t really notice a trend one way or another because of this, but it is an interesting thing to watch out for!
I’m pretty impressed that you were able to pull off so much after only a few practices. Were you and the other KCJS taiko people the newest members of the group or were there others who were also struggling with memorizing songs that the more senior members already knew? I know almost nothing about taiko, but if they are rotating members, especially kids, it might be more practical to have an extra practice or two.
We were the newest members, and we definitely would have benefited from an extra practice or two! It seemed that most of the members knew the majority of the songs, but there were a few songs that not everyone was comfortable with, so those are the ones that we were able to practice. (The kids especially knew the songs really well, but they also have family members at home to practice with!)