Gordon Petty: Bati-Holic Taiko Lessons

For my CIP I joined a Wadaiko class taught by a group called Bati-Holic.  Prior to this semester I had never done Taiko before, or indeed practiced any sort of drumming.  I was nervous that I wouldn’t have enough experience, or that I wouldn’t understand enough Japanese, to be able to participate.  Luckily both of these fears were unfounded.  Most people in this class were complete beginners to Taiko, and in addition to the fact that my sensei spoke a smattering of English, there were several other foreigners in the class and learning Japanese as well.

It quickly became apparent that these classes were mean to be fairly casual.  The class consisted of mostly women in their 20s or early 30s, though there were a few other men.  Many people would come for only one month and then stop; in fact by the time December came around I was one of only four or so students who had been there for over 3 months.  As such it was difficult at times to keep track of the people I met, and I forgot names often.  Still, I feel like I became fairly close with those other long-term students.

Because of the casual nature of the group I did not experience much of the senpai-kohai relationships that many other KCJS students have mentioned in regards to their CIP.  In fact I hardly ever heard keigo at all.   My teacher, 黒坂先生, asked us to call him by his nickname Kuro.  It seemed to me that most people, especially the senpai students, seemed very comfortable talking to Kuro and often used short-forms and casual speech.  Furthermore, he was addressed almost always as Kuro-san, not Kuro-sensei.  This was surprising at first, as it clearly went against my expectations of the structure of a Japanese club or class, but it also made for a very comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.

I was happy to find that, perhaps because of this relaxed attitude, everyone was very open to having me, a foreigner and a beginner, as a member of the group.  The first few lessons I was approached with the standard “Where are you from?” “Why are you in Japan?” “Your Japanese is very good!” that I have come to expect when meeting a new Japanese person.  However after a while, perhaps when I became a familiar face, conversations became a bit more personal, regarding subjects such as what I was studying in school, what I had done over the weekend, as well as the songs that we were playing in class.  Of course, this being only my third year studying Japanese, there were many conversations that I simply couldn’t participate it.  In many ways I still felt like an outsider, but I think this is the result more of the language barrier, and certainly not because of any rejection or exclusion from the group itself.

In the end I am a bit upset that I am leaving this winter and won’t be able to continue taking Taiko.  It feels as though I am finally starting to make some connections and form some friendships in my class, and it will be tough to leave those behind.  I am very glad to have had this opportunity to meet and talk with members of the Japanese community outside of Doshisha.  And of course, I have now fallen in love with Taiko, and plan on studying it further when I return home.

6 thoughts on “Gordon Petty: Bati-Holic Taiko Lessons

  1. It sounds like you had a really fun CIP! I had also considered trying taiko at the beginning of the semester. I’m a bit glad that I didn’t, though, because I really underestimated the amount of work that goes into it (i.e. the idea of music sheets didn’t even cross my mind..) But your classes seem pretty perfect for beginners. Were you able to perform for an audience, formal or informal? I hope that you can keep in touch with the new friends you made through Facebook or email, and best of luck with taiko lessons in America!

    • I was pretty intimidated at the beginning too, and I wasn’t sure at all that I would be able to continue doing Taiko all semester, but luckily things worked out. Once I had been there about 2 months Kuro-san started talking about how he wanted to organize a concert for us students to perform in. Unfortunately the concert was scheduled for some time in March, which is really too bad because I would have loved to been able to perform. Perhaps I will get the chance if I continue at Wesleyan.

  2. Hey Gordon, sounds like you had a really productive semester. It’s kind of funny that you ended up becoming one of the Taiko senpai yourself over your time there. Did you get to have many conversations with Kuro-san, especially once you became one of the only students to be there for three months?

    Good luck if you try taiko at Wesleyan – very competitive!

    • I did have a few conversations with Kuro-san, not only after I had been there for a few months, but from the beginning as well. Kuro-san seems very interested in foreigners and foreign cultures; the pamphlet I got about Bati-Holic at the beginning of the year actually encouraged gaijin to join. So we had some fun conversations about how life in America compares to life in Japan.

  3. This sounds like a spectacular experience! Was it physically demanding? Blisters and the like? From what I’ve seen of taiko, it requires serious dexterity and stamina. Was any physical conditioning involved? Cornell has a taiko team but the time commitment is staggering. Did you learn anything about the history of it? It seems like a fascinating thing to continue to study. Good luck!

    • Haha, luckily as a beginner class this didn’t require much in the way of physical fitness, though I did have some pretty nice blisters after the first two classes. I would have like to learn more about the historical and cultural background of Taiko, but I think that it would be difficult to teach that in a group lesson without turning it into a lecture. I guess that is something I will just have to pursue on my own.