Thursday, July 17, 2008


I have been ignoring my blogsponsibilities, but it has been a crazybusy June and an oppressively hot July. The heat really is nasty and the humidity, combined with the lack of decent air-conditioning in most places, makes for a barely tolerable Summer. It's not so terrible once you adapt to it. If your goal is to not sweat buckets, you're screwed. But if you take the heat as you would the rain without an umbrella, when you just say "fuckit!" and go on walking, then you find it is not as daunting as it first seemed.

I also find that doing activities in the extreme heat helps quite a bit. For example, I go for runs in broad daylight up on a plateau of land along the river. I can practically hear my skin sizzle and I return home after each run looking like I got caught in a rainstorm, but it's fun.

More interestingly, I recently took up taiko drumming. The taiko is an ancient Japanese drum which emits a bass sound, quite like the timpani. It has been used in festivals and rituals for centuries, but only in the 20th Century did taiko bands - comprised solely of taiko drummers performing together - emerge. A professional taiko drummer must follow an extremely rigorous workout and diet, and pro drummers are in extremely good shape. It looks easy at first, hitting these big drums with wooden mallets, but it is quite exhausting, a great workout in itself, and takes a toll on your hands (just ask the numerous wounds).

I first became enamored with the taiko in the most superficial way: through an arcade game that uses the taiko drum to provide the beat to popular pop songs of Japan. I even went so far as to purchase the PS2 version of the game (complete with mini drums and sticks), which became a hit at my university pad. I promised myself when I came to Japan that I would take it up, but finding a Japanese taiko group willing to educate and train a foreigner with little Japanese competence is not the easiest thing. When I actually set out on a hunt however, it sort of fell in my lap. I now train with an amateur group (amateur = they are good, but they have day jobs) and we train at a famous Shinto shrine in Toyama. It's truely a mystical experience. This weekend, I attend taiko bootcamp out in the mountains, and it will prove to be a whopper of a "nihongo challenge" (the term we give here to exchanges where we must rely solely on our Japanese). I think it will be great, though, and good training for my first public performance at an upcoming festival in September. Many foreigners come here with the dream of integrating themselves in a truly Japanese activity. I'm elated that mine is being fulfilled.