Author Archives: Sandra

Japanese Culture: Taiko, Kabuki, & Bunraku

I’ve been traveling again, and today’s blog is the first of a series about my visit to Japan. Japan brings many images to mind, from theserenity of a Zen garden to the frenetic pace of traffic in Tokyo.

I traveled mostly by ship, beginning my journey in Kyoto and continuing up the western coast of Japan as far as Hokkaido. I tend to approach my travels in date order, but this series is by topic. And what better place to start than the cultural experiences that gave me the greatest “wow” factor. All are rooted in traditional arts, and performed in contemporary context.

Taiko Drumming

Japan is well-known for its Taiko Drums and drummers. The phrase Taiko Drum is technically repetitious since taiko means a drum of any kind, though we often think about the term as synchronized drumming performances.

Dockside at Karatsu, I saw my first drummers — students from middle school and high school. Their discipline and enthusiasm resulted in a stellar performance.

The Odaiko no Yakata (Big Drum Museum) in Akita Prefecture houses an entire collection of drums from around the world, but the best exhibit is the Tsuzureko Odaiko (Giant Drum) which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest drum. It is 10.6 feet in diameter, 12.34 feet long, and weighs about 4 tons. Some drummers strike the drum from the floor; others climb a ladder to the top of the drum and lean over to strike the surface. Technically, there is a drum larger than the record holder, with a diameter of 10.8 feet. The drum surface is made from the skin of a single ox, which may limit the final diameter.

These large drums are the result of a 700 year competition between two neighborhoods in Takanosu: Uemachi and Shitamachi. When the competition began, farmers depended completely on rainfall to water their crops. There was an annual festival in which people prayed for rain, and since drums can sound like rolling thunder, the instrument became an important part of the festival. 

Kodo drummers based on Sado Island are among the most famous taiko drummers. The term kodo has two meanings. The first is heartbeat; the second, children of the drum. The 30 minute performance we attended was mesmerizing. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed, but I found this 13 minute clip that gives a small sample.

Miyabiya Super Kabuki

At Kanazawa we were treated to Super Kabuki by Miyabiya. Kabuki is a traditional art form of dance and drama. The actors in Miyabiya give tradition a modern twist with lighting and extravagant drama.

I wasn’t in a good position for photos, but found a clip showing the same story performed for us. The story is about a father lion and his cub. The father disciplines his son by throwing him over the edge of a ravine and waiting for the cub to climb back up. Our performance concluded with a light show, including lights. embedded in the actors’ wigs. If you watch the clip, keep your eye on what happens in front of the stage. Also, at the beginning, the screen goes black. Wait a couple minutes for it to come back.

Bunraku Puppets

Today’s last cultural gem is Bunraku puppetry, traditional Japanese puppet theater, sometimes called ningyo joruri. Its origins are about ten years before kabuki. We attended a performance by Yoyo Kaku. Each puppet has three puppeteers dressed in black. There is one narrator for all the characters, and music is provided by shamisen musicians.

The story we saw is a scene from a popular tragedy: A Young Pilgrim Otsuru. The story is about a samurai’s quest to recover a sword stolen from his master. Jurobi and his wife Oyumi leave their small daughter Otsuru with her grandmother and travel from Awa to Osaka where they join a band of thieves.

Many years later, as Oyumi is packing to move, there is a knock at the door. When Oyumi opens the door, she sees a young girl dressed as a pilgrim. As they talk, the girl reveals she is searching for her parents, and Oyumi realizes the pilgrim is her daughter. She gives Otsuru a silver coin and sends her away.

Spoiler Alert: The end of the story is not a happy one. Jurobi sees the pilgrim girl on the road, and in a struggle to steal her coin, Jurobi kills her.

🌳🌳🌳

Photos by Author

Kodo

Miyabiya

A Lamb’s Tale

Once upon a time on a blustery March morning in 1816, Mary Sawyer and her father got up early to feed the cows, and then made their way to the sheep pen. There were two new lambs, one of which the mother rejected. It was nearly dead when Mary saw it. Mary took the lamb… Continue Reading

Backyard Grilling

May with its promise of summer is the time of year when the local home improvement store features rows and rows of shiny barbecue grills. There’s the simple, basic grill; the ubiquitous Weber grill, and upscale gas grills with temperature control. People have been cooking over an open flame since the discovery of fire. Grilling… Continue Reading

May Day Maypoles

On Wednesday, May 1, the Northern Hemisphere celebrates May Day. In recent times the celebrations take the form of school sports days, many featuring maypole dancing. But in the distant past, May Day marked the change from darkness to light as days became longer and green sprouts returned to the earth. Ancient Celts celebrated with… Continue Reading

Notre Dame on Fire

At Notre-Dame de Paris, the fire alarm went off shortly after 6:00 p.m. on Monday, April 15th, but no fire was found. A computer glitch showed the fire location in the wrong place. A second alarm went off at 6:43 while the fire spread from the roof at the rear of the cathedral. In less… Continue Reading

close
Visit My Facebook PageVisit My Facebook PageVisit My Facebook PageVisit My Facebook PageVisit My Facebook PageVisit My Facebook Page