Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Samurai Dave’s 2007 In Review: Travels, Festivals, and Events

Another year has come and gone and in soppy melodramatic fashion, it’s time to look back on all we’ve done and didn’t do. Instead of focusing on love or lack there of or personal growth, I’ve look back through the magic of film and video on all the places and things I saw in 2007.

January
I rang in the New Year between the traditional area of Asakusa and the sleazy area of Roppongi. Needlessly to say the 1st of January did not see me until much later in the day, in fact it was evening. My first activity of the New Year then was the following day after sleeping off an all-nighter in Roppongi. I went to the Imperial Palace on January 2nd to hear the Emperor’s New Year address. Didn’t understand a word he said (my New Year’s Resolution is to fix that problem by next year).

A week later I went to Meiji Shrine for Seijin-no-hi (Coming of Age Day) to see kimono-clad girls strut their stuff.

That weekend I went to Kanda Shrine to watch Shinto adherents prove their mettle by drenching themselves in freezing cold water. However given the unusual warmth that month, the normally chill-inducing spectactle looked rather refreshing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlFqaUYA_T4

The next week I went out to a temple in east part of Tokyo – Kameido. There they had a type of Noh performance. This was the first time for me to see Noh but by the end of the year while I would be no expert in Noh, I would at least know Noh much better than before.

February
The 3rd of February is one of my favorite times of the year. This is Setsubun which is like a mix of New Years, Groundhog Day, and Halloween rolled up togther. Every year I attend the mami-maki (bean-tossing) at different temples. This time I hit three temples – Senso-ji in Asakusa, Zojo-ji in Hammatscho, and Kichibojin in Ikebukuro. I always enjoy watching old ladies knocking people over for thrown washcloths, beans, and other trinkets.

I mainly stayed in Tokyo and when I wasn’t killing zombies and Nazis on my Playstation I was visiting gardens such as Hama-rikyu.

The end of February brings out the plum blossoms, the heralds of Spring. To see them I took daytrips to Kamakura which due to the warm winter had already shed its plum blossoms and I went to Mito in the Ibaraki Prefecture to see Kairaku-en Garden with its hundreds of plum blossoms.

February was a good month for armor. I got the chance to wear samurai armor twice. Once in Odawara in front of the castle for 200 Yen and another time in Ikebukuro at a store’s opening week for free. My inner geek was pleasantly sated.

I took another daytrip out to Chiba to watch another type of Shinto ritual where half-naked men wrestled in a cold muddy pond to ensure good fortune for all – its a Shinto thing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeXKz3L6fx8

February-March
The next day I embarked on an ardous journey into the heart of the urban jungle of Tokyo. Along with my comrade, Zen Master Jeff, I hiked around the Yamanote Line for five days. We stayed at an ryokan, an internet cafe, a karaoke box, and a capsule hotel. Our outfits were a mix of samurai, old style Yakuza, pilgrim, and backpacker. We met quite a few people and had several interesting adventures because of these costumes.

March
In March I went to Nagoya where the year before I had attended one of the most amusing festivals – the fertility festival of Tagata Shrine. Once again I saw that huge wooden phallus hove into sight admist the awes and chuckles of the spectators.

The next day I went to reconstructed castle whose original structure once belonged to warlord Oda Nobunaga.

Two days later I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day at an Irish Pub with some co-workers where we listened to a kickass Irish band who were all Japanese.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oq07MT6rYN8

The next day I went to Asakusa’s Senso-ji Temple to watch the Kinryu-no-Mai – Golden Dragon Dance.

Showing the spirit of union solidarity I attended the annual March in March, a gathering of foriegn and japanese union members. It rained during the march but the sun came out at the end – The Man can now control the weather!

April
In April, I made my yearly Cherry Blossom pilgrimage to Kyoto where I enjoyed the Sakura both day and night thanks to nighttime illuminations.

On the second day of my trip, I went to Nara, the first official capital of Japan, to feed the semi-tame persistant deer and see the Diabutsu – Great Buddha.

The third day, I went to Yoshino which was an Imperial capital for some decades when there were two rival Imperial Courts for a time.

As it was there was a Geisha performance going on back in Kyoto at the same time in the Gion Quarter – the Miyako Odori. Luckily I was able to get a last minute ticket on my last day.

Though laden with controversy (and with good reason) Yasakuni Shrine hosts an outdoor sumo event in mid-April. While the blossoms fall, sumo wrestlers toss each other around for our free amusement.

A few days later I went to Kamakura to see Cherry Blossoms and watch a display of Yabusame – mounted archery. I injured my knee scrambling up a small tree for a better view. This injury would come back to haunt later in the summer when I was limping about.

Next Saturday, I went to Sumida Park in Asakusa to see another demonstration of Yabusame. It was here were I first saw it performed years ago and I go back to Sumida almost every year.

I went to Harajuku Park one Sunday to see the goth lolita anime folks. While I was there I was interviewed for a French cable TV channel called French Wave or something like that. It was suppose to air sometime in July but I had no way of seeing it.

That particularly Sunday in Harajuku I stumbled the remnants of the group that used to dominate Harajuku – the dancing rockabilly gangs. Don’t know why the cops drove them off 10 years ago.

May
Usually in May during Japan’s Golden Week, I stay put in Tokyo either working or killing people – on my Playstation, of course. Although I get 3-4 days off and sometimes more depending on my schedule, I don’t like to travel at this time because everyone is traveling. Prices are high and accomodations hard to come by. Still this year, I went up to Yonezawa in Yamagata Prefecture to see the re-enactment of Kawanakajima, one of the famous samurai battles of the Sengoku (Warring States) Period. The re-enactment was more like a high school play with a fair size budget but that was ok as it added a surreal element of watching smiling schoolgirl samurai swinging swords about.

I also try a bit of Yonezawa’s famous beef – which was a damn good (and expensive!) steak.

From Yonezawa I went north to Sendai and then to Hiraizumi where another festival was taking place. I watched Noh performed on a 300 year old outdoor Noh stage and drummers dressed in bizarre deer costumes. As for accomodations, I stayed for three nights in true backpacking style -at the Chateau de Internet Cafe.

The following week I was off again – back to Kyoto for 6 days. In Kyoto I went to the Silver Pavalion – Ginkakuji – named so even though it actually doesn’t have any silver. A grim jest of financial destitution or a tourist scam, you decide. Still, lovely building, silver or no.

I attended this year’s Kamogawa Odori geisha performance in Pontocho which had a story set during the civil war which burnt much of Kyoto and explained why Ginkakuji was silver-less.

That evening I went to Gion Corner to get a crash course in traditonal Japanese arts from Tea Ceremony, kodo playing (japanese harp), gagaku (court music and dance), geisha dancing, ikebana (flower-arranging), kyogen (the amusing plays inbetween the serious Noh dramas) finally to bunraku (puppet drama), All of this in under an hour.

I took the second part of the program and learned a bit on how to do make tea in the traditional tea ceremony way. My tea was a bit strong I’m afraid.

The following day I went outside of Nara to see the site of the oldest Buddhist temple – Horyuji. The current buildings do not date back to the 6th century, though.

In Nara for two nights I watched Noh by torchlight. There’s no Noh like torchlight Noh.

On Sunday I went to Iga-Ueno which was the hometown of some of Japan’s original Ninja. There I saw a short demonstration of Ninja fighting which basically means fighting dirty.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIEnsOZXKOM

Monday I went to Ise famed for its shrines which are the number one shrines in the Shinto faith. However, instead of going to these cultural meccas since I had been culturing it up anyhow, I went to a samurai theme park. Ise has one of the Edo Wonderland themepark chains this one based on the later half of the Sengoku Period. I watched a samurai stage drama which I didn’t understand but the plot was simple enough to follow – bad samurai wants precious sword that good samurai guards. Good guy won. Dammit! Gave away the ending – sorry!

On Tuesday, I watched one of Japan’s oldest festivals, the Aoi Matsuri which was my main purpose for my trip.

My knee had troubled me a bit at first but by the end of the trip, I was fine. However my knee injury would re-surface during the rainy season next month. Before that occurred I still had some weeks with a trouble-free knee and so two days back from my Kyoto trip off I went to Nikko to catch the tail end of the festival procession honoring Tokugawa Ieyasu.

I caught a bit of Asakusa’s Sanja Matsuri as well. I was really still tired from my Kyoto trip to gave these last two as much time and energy. But I watched people carrying around Mikoshi -portable shrines – and had a good time. I aslo caught another bit of Noh (it was definately becoming a Noh year for me).

I was rested enough towards the end of the month to take in sumo. I was fortunate to be there the day Yokozuna (champion) Asashoryu lost a pivotal match which paved the way for a new Yokozuna. Well, fortunate for me not for him, I guess.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsowgV50igo

Two days later I was in an area known as Miura, a beach area 2 hours south of Tokyo, where I watched another form of Yabusame – Kasagake. Similar to Yabusame, kasagake has a more military practicality. The targets are placed in front and are lower down at the same height as a dismounted enemy.

June
June is the rainy season so I planned to take it easy for a change and just stay put but as luck would have it during the Sanja Matsuri I chanced upon a poster for a festival in some town I never of before. The festival was honoring a samurai family from long ago who fled to the village of Yunishigawa. I was intrigued so off I went. To my dismay I missed the procession of warriors in 12th century armor by a day but I caught something even better – women in colorful robes dancing in the street and an incredible performance on a biwa – a type of lute.

Biwa Performance

I injured my knee by putting too much stress on it running to work one day. I ended up limping into class. Through mid-June to mid-July I spent most of my days off at home but I did go to Harajuku park again one Sunday to see the inhabitants there.

July
In mid-July, I was back down in Kyoto once again. This time for the Gion Festival. Two-story floats filled with musicians and covered with old tapestries were pulled through the streets. Today the floats are dwarfed by tall modern buildings but back in the day, those floats must have really seemed gigantic.

I also went into the mountains behind Kyoto to Enryaku-ji which was once a huge temple compound with thousands of subtemples until the aforementioned Oda Nobunaga who apparently wasn’t much of a temple-going man burned many of the temples and killed a great number of priests. The priests, however, weren’t terribly temple-going types either has they maintained an army and used it to fight other temples and bully the capital.

There was a sumo tournament in Nagoya so I headed up there and spent the whole day at the sumo tournament where I watched the various ranks of sumo wrestlers from the lowest to the highest compete. I aslo got the chance to visit one of the sumo houses but it was after their dinner so I missed all the “big” sumo wrestlers. Only the “little” guys were there cleaning up.

I basically took it easy this trip though since the weather wasn’t all that great and my knee was bothering me. The last day I went on a type of fishing excursion known as ukai where cormorant birds are used to catch fish. It was dark and rainy and my camera kept fogging up.

Next week I was at it again – this time the Soma Nomaoi, a festival I went to 2 years ago. I saw again the armored samurai in the best historical procession I’ve seen. This time I stayed for the last day’s festivities of the 3-day festival. I watched pensioners round up semi-wild horses at a shrine.

August
August was a crazy month for me which made all the previous months pale in comparison. Starting Aug 2 I went on an 8-day 6-festival trip throughout Tohoku. I started with the drumming festival of Sansa Odori in Morioka.

Then I went to Akita City where I watched people balance huge bamboo poles with lanterns on their palms, hips, and heads.

South of Morioka, I spent two days at a festival where they had all kinds of dance performances but the best one and the one that brought me here in the first place was the Oni Kembai or devil dance.

I spent two refreshing nights in a business hotel during the Oni Kembai festival – this after two nights in two uncomfortable internet cafes – before going to Hirosaki to see Neputa.

then off to Aomori to see the last night of Nebuta in which they put some of the best floats in harbor while fireworks go off overhead.

The last festival was similar to Aomori’s Nebuta except that the floats were much taller – 3 of them clocked in at 22 meters high! This was Tachi Neputa, the tiny town of Goshogowara’s claim to fame. My knee bothered me so much at times I could barely walk.

A week later I was in Niigata on Sado Island to see once again the Kodo Taiko drum group’s 3-day concert. It was here I met with some sexy japanese belly dancers. I finally got myself a knee brace before going out to the island which helped me hobble about a bit better.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3V5v01WaCNE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2Tb8pNKhK4

Near the end of the month, I was back in Asakusa to catch the Asakusa Samba Festival. Lots of cameras were clicking away as scantily-clad samba girls pranced about to a Latin beat.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DivGNo0-UQg

The next evening I went to Kameido Temple to see another Noh performance this one by torchlight too.

September
September – typhoon season – I really did take easy though I still went to sumo on one of my days off.

In my neighborhood, I caught a festival. Though I missed the mikoshi, I saw a cool drum band.

During that time there was an Oktoberfest celebration going on near Tokyo station at Hibiya Park. I spent two nights there drinking German and Japanese beers eating sausages and watching German and Japanese girls prance about in leiderhosen – or whatever german girls wear – to German oompah music.

I had meant to go to a festival that month up in Aizu in Fukushima Prefecture but this time my laziness finally said no and I stayed home the whole time and killed zombies on Resident Evil/Biohazard 4.

October
October was another busy month as I took off to Europe to meet up with my parents, my sister and her husband, my cousin, and my uncle in a small family renunion in italy. I headed off first to catch the last two days of Oktoberfest in Munich. The last Saturday of Oktoberfest was so packed I was in mortal danger of going beerless at the world’s largest beer festival. Fortunately, the gods of beer smiled upn me and I was able to partake of the holy elixir.

Then I spent a week beer-guzzling while taking in the castles of Bavaria’s mad king, Ludwig II and listening to some really talented street musicians.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcsYOhlLBoA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhL6rPJlIkg

An overnight bus brought me to Zagreb where I spent the morning wandering around the old town admiring the rampant grafitti. At noon, I had my eardrums shattered by their noonday chime which is delivered by a WWII howitizer cannon.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VYNIn_Swuo

From Zagreb I proceeded to Ljubjana, the capital of Slovenia, a country which tires of being mistaken for Slovakia.

I spent a night there then spent a day at beautiful Lake Bled.

An overnight train brought me into Venice – well not at first since in my exhaustion I got off at the first station before Venice and had to wait half-an-hour till the next one. I spent the day wandering about the city which was all I could afford to do as admission prices are stupidly high and the lines were stupidly long too. That night I arrived in Florence and spent much of the next day there.

I met my family at a villa that was part of a small castle complex outside of Florence. Wasn’t use to this luxury – I had slept in a locker for two nights in the train station in Munich during Oktoberfest. From then on it was smooth sailing – except when we got lost on the winding roads of the Tuscan Hills which was often.

I went to several medieval walled towns that week in Tuscany and Umbria. Ah, the bloodshed and paranioa of past centuries left some wonderful sites to see throughout the area. My favorite was Monteriggiono outside of Siena.

I returned home to Tokyo just in time to catch a ride on the notorious Yamanote Halloween Train. Little did I know till later of all the controversy that had been swarming around the event. As it was, the killjoys helped to kill one Halloween Train but they knew nothing about the Halloween Train I was on – the killjoys left some amusingly angry comments on the Youtube video I made about the event.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5jVTNyw2BY

After the Halloween Train, I went into Roppongi for a bit fun and sleaze. I also went there on Weds, Halloween proper but it was dead and not int he Halloween sense. However, I did get a bit of grind action from a she-devil and her playboy playmate pal.

November
November was another quiet month. On Culture Day, Nov 3, I went to a small pocket in Tokyo’s urban sprawl to see a small demonstration of a Japanese lord’s procession from several centuries ago and to see one of my student’s samba group perform.

I went home for Thanksgiving where I got fat on some good southern grub such as fried catfish, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cornbread. Also got to pet my doggies.

December
December was also a quiet one for traveling. I went to Sengaku-ji Temple in Shinagawa to see the festival honoring the 47 Ronin who 300 years earlier arrived on a snowy morning with the head of the lord’s enemy to lay at their masters’ grave.

Then on the 23rd I went to the Imperial Palace again. This time to hear the Emperor give a birthday address. Since 2002, I’ve always gone to the Palace on the Emperor’s birthday. Last year I missed the address though I was still able to go inside. This year I got to see and hear some welldressed Japanese rightwingers (and possible yakuza) get really into wishing the Emperor a happy birthday.

And the last 5 minutes of 2007 were spent at Zojo-ji Temple where hundreds of balloons flew off.

Whew! Well that’s that for 2007! Look out 2008! Actually, I think might just take the year off.

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January 2, 2008 Posted by | 2007, 47 Ronin, akihito, belly dancing, cosplay, culture, dance, entertainment, event, festival, geisha, Gion, heike monogatari, iwate, japan, japanese emperor, japanese history, Kyoto, life, martial arts, matsuri, misogi, morioka, Mudslinging, Munchen, Munich, music, Naked Festival, nebuta, neputa, New Year's Eve, New Years, ninja, Oktoberfest, parade, party, plum blossom, purification, ronin, Sado Island, sakura, samba, samurai, sansa odori, seijin-no-hi, sengakuji, sengoku, Setsubun, sexy, Shinto, soma nomaoi, Sport, spring, sumo, taiko, tohoku, tokyo, tokyo imperial palace, travel, video, Yabusame, yamanote halloween train, Yamanote Train, yokozuna, youtube | 5 Comments

Current TV Fire Twirler Promo Vid

This is a promo vid I did for Current TV a few months back with footage from the Flaming Aussie set to traditional Japanese music.

http://current.com/items/77167652_flame_twirling_promo

December 20, 2007 Posted by | Australia, Blogroll, current tv, dance, fire, fire dancing, fire twirling, flame-twirling, flute, japan, life, music, Sado Island, shakuhachi, summer, traditional art, travel, video, youtube | 1 Comment

Sexy Japanese Belly Dancing Video

A pair of sexy Japanese Belly Dancers I met on the Japanese Island of Sado during the Kodo Taiko Drum Earth Celebration concert.

They’re a duo known as “judWa”

Oh, the noise in the background on some sections of this pod are cicadas – they were freaking loud on Sado. 

It’s also up for votes on Current TV:
http://current.com/items/89141833_sexy_japanese_belly_dancers#response

September 22, 2007 Posted by | belly dancing, Blogroll, culture, dance, flame-twirling, japan, Sado Island, sexy, traditional art, travel, video | , , | 1 Comment

Sexy Japanese Belly Dancers

jud Wa – Sexy Japanese Belly Dancing Duo
The Far East Meets The Middle East


jud Wa: Japanese Belly Dancing Duo performing on Sado Island

Belly Dancing: the word conjures up in the mind’s eye exotic desert locations where beautiful women in silken robes dance sensuously either in opulent palace harems for the pleasure of sultans or in luxurious, enormous tents of nomadic desert chieftains. In modern times, belly dancing has spread across the globe finding adherents everywhere including Japan.

Modern belly dancing is a mish-mash of original folkloric elements, strong stereotype images, and modern pop culture additions. Some groups hold to the traditional ways while others use a variety of forms.


Aco has been doing Belly Dancing for 6 years

Belly dancing was introduced to the West from Turkey and Egypt. Heavily-laden with misconceptions and lingering Victorian repressive prudishness, the old Western view of belly dancing was one of heathen hedonism that was at the same time exotic, repelling, alluring, sensual, and morally damnable. One form of belly dancing which evolved (or de-evolved) from the Vaudeville days of entertainment became burlesque dancing which later became full on stripping. Even today some uninformed people still associate belly dancing with stripping.


K has studied Belly Dancing in Turkey and Egypt

Like many Americans, my image of belly dancing had been firmly entrenched in my brain by old episodes of “I dream of Jeanii” and the like. The silken robes and tassels, the coin-bras/belts, the navel jewels ? much of these were actually products of Hollywood imagination. In addition, despite the impression given by the Silver Screen, belly dancing was not a seductive dance used in order to entice the sultan and win from him favors and attention. Belly dancing was often performed at celebrations such as weddings or it was done privately in small groups with members of the same sex as a way of passing the time.

I first saw live belly dancing performed at night clubs in Cairo several years ago when I was living there. A few of the belly dancers that I saw were Russians and were rather new to the dance. This was obvious when their male patrons would come up and dance around them often doing the dance better than the girl. In fact, belly dancing has not always been exclusively for females. There have been male dancers as well both in the modern times and in the past.

Although Japan has many of its own native dance styles from formal geisha dances to traditional folk dances, the appeal of foreign dance has always been strong from hip hop to flamenco to belly dancing.

I encountered a Japanese belly dancing duo recently during a taiko drum festival on Sado Island in northwestern Japan. They call themselves by the Hindu name “jud Wa” which means “twins” due to the similarity of their appearance. Their stage names are K and Aco. jud Wa is currently based in Tokyo and perform there regularly.


Aco playing the sagat: Egyptian finger cymbals

They use a variety of forms in their performances. K balances a sword on her head and Aco uses the sagat — Egyptian finger cymbals. At night they dance with fire. Fire dancing is another addition to modern belly dancing that many audiences have come to expect. On Sado, they were accompanied by another Japanese-based belly dancing group named gKazoku h which had both a male and female belly dancer. The male dancer performed in the evening while Aco and K rhythmically waved fiery torches.

Both of the girls have studied belly dancing close to five years. They have visited Egypt to study the techniques of dancers there. K has also traveled to Turkey. When I asked them why they liked belly dancing, their first response was: “It’s sexy!” I couldn’t argue with them on that point.

Their choice of using a Hindu name for their group is interesting one because it coincides with one of the origin theories of belly dancing. One theory is that belly dancing was part of the native dance of the Roma people or gypsies whose roots go back to India. Supposedly they picked up other dance styles from the lands they had traveled through and incorporated them into their dance.


The popularity of sword-balancing in Western Belly Dancing was sparked by a painting from French Orientalist Jean-Leone Gerome

Other origin theories say belly dancing came from the birthing rituals of Northern Africa designed to ease the child birthing process. Some theories trace the origins of the dance all the way back to Ancient Egypt. The fact is many countries from India to Middle Eastern and African countries had similar native dance styles that over the centuries have been melded into a variety of belly dancing styles.


jud Wa also plays with fire

Let the experts dither over the details, though. Belly dancing is a fascinating and exciting form of entertainment and not a thing to miss wherever it is performed — but leave your misconceptions behind.

September 15, 2007 Posted by | ancient egypt, belly dancing, Blogroll, cairo, culture, dance, egypt, japan, life, Middle East, Sado Island, sexy, traditional art, travel | 8 Comments

Kodo Earth Celebration 2006 Fringe Event Video

This is a video I made from my digital camera’s video function of last year’s Kodo Earth Celebration’s Fringe Events:

 

Taiko Drum Festival brings Cheer to Old Island of Exile

August 24, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, dance, Earth Celebration, entertainment, festival, folklore, japan, Kodo, life, matsuri, montage, music, music concert, Sado Island, summer, taiko, traditional art, travel, video | Leave a comment

Flaming Aussie!

Here’s a little vid I put together of an Aussie girl doing a bit of flame-twirling on a Sado Island, Japan during the Kodo 3 Day Earth Celebration Taiko Drum Concert.

She currently lives in the Fukushima Prefecture.

August 22, 2007 Posted by | Australia, fire, flame-twirling, japan, Sado Island, travel, video | 1 Comment

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 | 7 Comments