Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Kodo Taiko Drum Festival On Sado Island, Japan

Taiko Drum Festival brings Cheer to Old Island of Exile
Kodo Taiko Group Celebrates the Earth with Music


A Taiko Drummer playing in front of a Shinto Shrine

In olden days, going to Sado Island generally meant one of two things: exile or gold. Sado Island, the 6th largest island of Japan, was for a long time not the pleasure excursion that is today. During the Heian Period (794-1192), Sado was often the dumping ground of political exiles from the Kyoto capital. The trend continued for nearly a thousand years up until 1700 with a scattering of dissent poets, irate Buddhists monks, and even an unfortunate emperor.

In 1601 gold was discovered and a new breed of exiles was flung upon the island: convicts and homeless. The gold came under the ownership of the Tokugawa Shogunate Government. No gold-digging prospectors or women of low virtues were allowed to clutter up the island. It was strictly controlled for the sake of the Shogunate’s coffers. Hard work and deadly misery not sudden fortune was the fate of these hard-pressed workers.

In more recent times, Sado became infamous for North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens. Lying off the coast of Niigata in Northwestern Japan, it was in convenient reach of North Korea.


Fire Twirler on the beach at night

Given the island’s rather grim history, it would seem a strange place to hold a music festival celebrating taiko drumming and the earth itself. Yet this is exactly what happens every summer in the normally sleepy town of Ogi in the South-Eastern section of Sado.


A pair of impromptu drummers strike up a beat

Drums, drums, drums! For three days little Ogi resounds with the incessant pounding of countless booming drums. The mastermind behind this audio assault is the Kodo Taiko group. Kodo was formed 25 years ago and since then they have performed nearly 3000 times all over the world.


Female Taiko Drummer of the Miyake Taiko Group

Kodo’s main instrument is the Japanese Taiko drum. Taiko drums are very taunt drums that give off a deep booming resounance. Traditionally they were beaten to drive away evil spirits. In war, Taiko drums were beaten to give orders and quicken the blood of warriors.


Members of Kodo

Kodo makes all of its own drums and other instruments at Kodo Village, a 25-acre wooded area near Ogi. Kodo Village is where aspiring apprenctices learn their trade. The apprenticeship lasts for two years. During this time, the apprentices maintain a strict regime of diet, exercise, practice and work designed to improve themselves physically, musically, and spiritually. They also grow their own rice and other foods at the village using traditional farming methods that even the locals no longer use.


Rock-n-roller in a Kimono

While Kodo believes in following traditional methods when it comes to certain things, they are more than willing to experiment musically. Every summer on the third weekend of August, Kodo hosts Earth Celebration, a 3-day outdoor concert with workshops and fringe events. Here they present their musical collaborations along with a guest group.


Outdoor stage on Shinto Shrine Grounds

The evening concerts are held on the grounds of a Shinto Shrine. The first night Kodo plays. The second night the guest group plays most of the evening being joined by some of the members of Kodo towards the end. The third night is mix of both groups. Although photography and filming is discouraged, dancing is highly encouraged.


Urban Tap and Kodo Members

The previous guest group was Urban Tap, a unique group of musicians and dancers headed by Tamango, a tap dancer from French Guiayana. One of their dancers who hails from the African Ivory Coast performed on stilts. Tamango and he actually performed a dance-off together.

Urban Tap

Members of Urban Tap

Urban Tap is an eclectic collection of dancers and musicians headed by French Guianian tap dancer, Tamango. Urban Tap presents an intoxicating blend of rhythmic music and dance from a variety of sources ranging from tap, hip-hop, jazz, traditional African dance, and the Brazillian fighting-dance of Capoeria. Highly individualistic and yet brilliantly meshed together. Urban Tap and Kodo were a perfect combination for the 2006 Earth Celebration.

For more information, please check their website:
urban tap

Urban Tap and Kodo played so well together that I assumed they had been practicing for weeks together. However, I later learned they had practice only briefly! It certainly didn’t show! The two played with such harmony as though they had been playing together for years.

The concerts are held in the evening. During the day, there are a variety of workshops which teach drum making, traditional dance, taiko drumming, and so on. Workshops are often booked-up well in advance. For visitors without a workshop to attend there a number of fringe events to watch.


Miyake Taiko Group makes an entrance

One popular re-occurring fringe event is Miyake Taiko from Miyake Island renown for their unique style of taiko drumming. One of the group’s principal leaders has also aided in instructing Kodo apprentices. The Miyake Taiko group performs every day in front of the shrine.


Kodo and Urban Tap give a send-off performance

This year’s Earth Celebration concert was a scorcher both musically and meteriologically. The music was hot and so was whole area. A day before the concert began a typhoon passed over Japan and seemed to have sucked up all the winds along the way. Sado Island was like a becalmed ship in an ocean of still oppressive humidity. Sweat ran down in rivets on performers and spectators alike. But despite the heat, no performer passed out – a testament to their skill and training no doubt.

The day after the concert most of us boarded a ferry boat bound for the mainland. We were given a royal send off by some of the members of Kodo and Urban Tap. They played for us right next the ferry. When the ferry had pulled away from the pier, the players rushed to the edge of pier and kept on playing until they dropped out of sight. They really know how to make their spectators feel special.


A Demon Drummer

For more information about Kodo and next year’s festival, please check their homepage: Kodo

Demon Drummers of Sado
Demons Bring Good Health and Harvests by Drumming


A Demon Drummer Close-up

Kasuga-Onigumi Onedeko - the Demon Drummers of Ryotsu are one of the main symbols of Sado Island. There are over a hundred Onedeko groups on Sado as a matter of fact. Despite their fearsome appearance the Demon drummers actually are beneficial to humans. The tradition of demon drumming has been done for centuries to ensure bountiful harvests and good health.


December 21, 2006 Posted by | Blogroll, Earth Celebration, entertainment, festival, japan, Kodo, life, music, music concert, Sado Island, Shinto, taiko, travel, Urban Tap | 6 Comments

   

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