My Favorite Shimedaiko Tightening Method

Edo Bayashi shimedaiko courtesy of Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten & tightening tools

Edo Bayashi shimedaiko courtesy of Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten & tightening tools

I have used several different methods for tightening shimedaiko over the years, and my single favorite technique uses a kizuchi (wooden mallet). I first learned about it from Kenny Endo many years ago when I moved to Hawaii to study with him. Last year, during my Edo Bayashi intensive with Kyosuke Suzuki sensei in Tokyo, I was taught all the details for Wakayama Shachu’s version of this method. Suzuki sensei is always very open in sharing his knowledge, and his terrific teaching skills are always present, whether I’m learning Edo Bayashi, shishimai, or shimedaiko tightening. You can read more about the intensive here:

https://www.eienhunterishikawa.com/blog/my-edo-bayashi-year-2018

The biggest advantages for the kizuchi method are: you can tighten a drum by yourself, muscle power is not needed due to the use of leverage, there is no need to weaken the rope by hitting it, and there is minimal strain on your back. Last year I started offering instruction on this method, and it has been great to see people sharing my enthusiasm for tightening shimedaiko this way. The two most common problems I see with rope shimedaiko are not getting it tight enough and repeated uneven tightening resulting in the ‘clamshell’ effect. I have no doubt that learning the kizuchi method will help groups improve the sound and longevity of their drums.

The taiko pictured here is courtesy of Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten, an Edo Bayashi drum and stand made to Wakayama Shachu specifications. Next to it are my oak agebachi (43cm), a kizuchi head modified to fit the agebachi, vinyl hose pieces, and a plastic pad for protecting the drumhead. Thank you to Yoshihiko Miyamoto san for the continued support!


Here are ten pieces of advice about shimedaiko tightening that I learned from Suzuki sensei:

  1. Play the lower-pitched side of the shimedaiko. It sounds fuller and richer.

  2. Tie the rope to the playing side using a bowline knot (moyai musubi). This knot is included in my blog about atarigane knots.

  3. Make sure the tate rope (tsuna) is evenly tightened before going on to the next step. If uneven, the drum will clamshell in the long run.

  4. For new drums, use slitted pieces of hose to protect the rim as you use the agebachi.

  5. Use a kizuchi (approximately 7 x 15cm head, 40cm handle length) to get the drum tight through the use of leverage. You can make it yourself or order custom-made mallets from my friends Abby or Chris. Contact me for more information.

  6. Protect the drumhead when using the kizuchi.

  7. To save time, find the middle point of the rope and pull the doubled rope through.

  8. At the end, the rope should wrap around the drum 3 times, tying the very last knot at the same place as the very first bowline knot.

  9. Place the knot side on the bottom when you place it on the stand.

  10. Always loosen the drum after playing. The advantages are: better sound, longer-lasting heads, any unevenness will not become permanent, and it provides valuable tightening practice to improve your skill.

My Edo Bayashi Year of 2018

Edo Bayashi intensive with Suzuki sensei in Tokyo, June 2018

Edo Bayashi intensive with Suzuki sensei in Tokyo, June 2018

A lot of great things happened in 2018, but one of my most important through lines of this past year was Edo Bayashi. My initial introduction to traditional Tokyo festival music happened through my first teacher, Saburo Mochizuki sensei, who patiently taught these intricate rhythms to me and the members of our youth taiko ensemble based in Saitama. I can clearly recall those lessons and eventual performances where I quickly realized the necessity to practice the material on my own time in order to internalize it completely. This was quite different than the other taiko pieces we had been learning. The music was fascinating, but I also remember the unmistakable festive feeling of omatsuri bringing joy every time I heard this music. Many years later, I had the good fortune of completing a full circle by studying and performing Edo Bayashi in Hawaii with Kenny Endo. In addition to studying Japanese classical percussion with Saburo sensei, Kenny had spent many years learning Edo Bayashi from Maru sensei, one Wakayama Shachu’s top players. During my time as a member of Kenny’s ensemble, I met Suzuki sensei. He had been invited by Kenny to appear as a guest artist for a Hawaii concert tour, and I was immediately struck by his combination of uncompromising artistic standard and genuine niceness as a teacher and fellow musician. This first encounter has turned into a thirteen-year connection spanning lessons, concerts, and US tours, and I am grateful to have Suzuki sensei as a teacher, collaborator, and friend. Below are some of the highlights of my Edo Bayashi year of 2018.

For anyone wanting to start or to further your Edo Bayashi studies, contact me. I’m happy to answer any questions and help you gather the necessary tools to start practicing. This music is remarkable in the way it has been steadily spreading across players of all styles, ages, and experience levels. In addition to workshops, I teach private lessons - both in person and through online software like skype. Feel free to send me an email to inquire about setting something up for yourself or your group. I can also discuss possibilities of inviting Suzuki sensei to your area.


Edo Bayashi practice materials during my 2-week Tokyo intensive

Edo Bayashi practice materials during my 2-week Tokyo intensive

Edo Bayashi private lesson intensive in Tokyo
In order to further my Edo Bayashi study, I traveled to Tokyo for a 2-week private lesson intensive with Suzuki sensei in June. While my previous intensive focused on how to teach the kihon (basic) version of Edo Bayashi, this recent trip was to focus on how to teach the next level.

Read about my previous intensive

Learning “Level 2” has its challenges due to the music being more free and open to changing rhythms and section lengths compared to the “Book” version. I wanted to make sure my own playing and instruction concept reflected the proper approach of Suzuki sensei within the Wakayama-Ryu style. Our lessons covered three main topics: the music (shimedaiko, odaiko, atarigane, shinobue), the reigi (etiquette), and shimedaiko tightening. There are various paths of study that Level 2 Edo Bayashi can take, but it was important for me to clarify all of the details so that my teaching of the material would be completely in line with Suzuki sensei’s method. It was also interesting to confirm my thinking that, like the study of jazz, transcribing and studying the best players are of paramount importance in this next-level study. On this trip, I was lucky to have the opportunity see Wakayama Shachu perform Edo Bayashi several times at a small festival in Tokyo at Shirahige Jinja, and this provided more insight on how Suzuki sensei and his fellow members approach this music.

Wakayama Shachu performing Edo Bayashi at Shirahige Jinja

Wakayama Shachu performing Edo Bayashi at Shirahige Jinja

Shirahige Jinja in Tokyo

Shirahige Jinja in Tokyo

The topic of reigi has increasingly been on my mind, especially because of Suzuki sensei’s interaction with many students and collaborators during his recent US tours. On one side of this issue is how etiquette in Japanese traditional arts (especially professional) are taught, practiced, and expected. As sensei states, both teachers and students who are accustomed to this structured system feel more “ochitsukeru" (at ease) when everyone’s behavior follows traditional customs. An opposing viewpoint might argue that anyone who didn’t grow up in the system should not be expected to follow this foreign etiquette, as it is separate from the appreciation and commitment to the music itself. Finding a healthy balance point seems to be a continuous puzzle for sensei as he navigates teaching in a wide variety of situations during his time here. Talking at length about how things went during previous tours, we boiled down this topic into three points which we feel are universally valued and easily understood: hello, thank you, and I’m sorry. Here are the three A’s of good etiquette:

  1. Aisatsu - this is to acknowledge the presence of your teacher and fellow students. Always say hello when you see someone for the first time, especially your teacher. The phrase “yoroshiku onegai shimasu” can be added after the initial hello if a lesson, rehearsal, or performance is to follow. It’s also important to say goodbye before parting. A simultaneous lowering of the head, even slightly, communicates your feeling of respect to the person. It’s also good practice to avoid looking down on your teacher by positioning yourself at the same level or lower than your teacher. For example, sit down if they are seated, or step down from a higher point such as a riser on stage.

  2. Arigato gozaimashita - thanking your teacher for a lesson, performance, meals, and generally their time and energy can probably never be overdone. A truly great teacher provides us with invaluable knowledge and experiences, so the least we can do is to express our appreciation as much as possible. This also applies to the next day or next meeting after a lesson, concert, or meal where we can say “thank you for the performance yesterday.” Notably missing here is “otsukare samadeshita” because within Wakayama Shachu, as is the case in many Japanese traditional arts, this phrase is never used to address your teacher or fellow students who are more experienced.

  3. Ayamaru - as sensei says, we apologize to clear the air. If we make a mistake during a performance, good etiquette tells us to say sorry to your teacher (and fellow performers) immediately after exiting the stage. This is to verbally clarify that you take responsibility and do not place blame on others. Common sense also dictates us to apologize for being late, or causing nuisance in any way to your teacher. Of course, we should always be striving to prevent situations where such apologies become a necessity in the first place.

Finally, I was able to learn the shimedaiko tightening method used by Wakayama Shachu. It utilizes the agebachi as well as a large wooden mallet, which provides leverage so that getting a lot of rope tension is possible without much muscle exertion due to physics and the use of body weight. In contrast, the two-person tightening method requires more strength along with the biggest disadvantage of needing two people. The other common method of pulling up on the rope as you stand on top of the drum also requires more muscle power, and it strains your back even if you are careful to use your legs. I am confident that the method Suzuki sensei taught me is truly superior to these other two, and I’m looking forward to sharing the technique with others in the near future. The taiko world needs more properly tightened shimedaiko, in my opinion.

Miyamoto logo.jpg

I would like to express my enormous gratitude to Yoshihiko Miyamoto and Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten for sponsoring these private lessons. Such kind support is very important and meaningful for me to continue my studies into this bottomless well of learning that is traditional Tokyo festival music. Thank you very much Yoshi san!


Suzuki sensei US Tour
We are fortunate that Suzuki sensei is always willing to travel to the US to share his knowledge and artistry. He was at the very first North American Taiko Conference in 1997, and he continues to gain new fans with each new workshop or performance presented around the country. Suzuki sensei’s most recent tour happened in April and we visited three places:

Suzuki sensei with Ho Etsu Taiko

Suzuki sensei with Ho Etsu Taiko

Suzuki sensei and Eien at “the bean" in Chicago

Suzuki sensei and Eien at “the bean" in Chicago

Chicago
Ho Etsu Taiko invited Suzuki sensei for a 1-week residency which included many hours of workshops and private lessons along with the group’s very first performance of Edo Bayashi. The planning started 6 months before the concert, when I conducted an introductory Edo Bayashi workshop weekend for Ho Etsu. This extraordinarily short timeline required focused planning and a lot of hard work, and the group’s dedication came through in multiple ways, resulting in a very successful residency and concert. This was their first time meeting Suzuki sensei and I could sense a bit of anxiousness as his arrival date approached, but it didn’t take long for everyone to witness his kind and relaxed demeanor. The concert program was a nice mixture of Ho Etsu’s repertoire, featured spots for Suzuki sensei and myself, and the traditional forms of Edo Bayashi, Edo Kotobuki Jishi, and Ryoumen Odori. The members of Ho Etsu created an excellent blog series documenting this process, and they even asked me to contribute a guest blog. Ho Etsu’s leader Jason Matsumoto also created a short video recap of the residency, which provides a glimpse into the activities that week.

Ho Etsu Taiko’s Edo Bayashi blog

Suzuki sensei residency recap video

Minneapolis
The planning of this US tour began with TaikoArts Midwest’s Jennifer Weir and Iris Shiraishi inviting Suzuki sensei for their April installment of Taiko Tuesdays concert series. We were in Minnesota for ten days, which consisted of rehearsals, workshops, private lessons, and a little bit of sightseeing. Suzuki sensei continues to be impressed with the progress of the TAM Edo Bayashi Ensemble. He was there in August 2017 to work with the group and some of the members have taken other intensives in the US and Tokyo. Like Chicago, the concert included pieces from the Enso Daiko repertoire, features for Suzuki sensei and myself, and the traditional forms of Edo Bayashi, Edo Kotobuki Jishi, and Ryoumen Odori. Perhaps the most significant achievement is this: this was the very first performance of Level 2 Wakayama-Ryu Edo Bayashi as taught by Suzuki sensei outside of Japan. As important as this was, TAM continued to blaze trails a few months later by crowdfunding successfully to purchase a new set of instruments for Edo Bayashi and Kotobuki Jishi from Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten. More about these drums later, but a big congratulations to the TAM Edo Bayashi Ensemble!

Photo by Jeff Sandeen

Photo by Jeff Sandeen

Photo by Jeff Sandeen

Photo by Jeff Sandeen

Taiko Tuesday program featuring Kyosuke Suzuki sensei

Taiko Tuesday program featuring Kyosuke Suzuki sensei

Photo by Jeff Sandeen

Photo by Jeff Sandeen

Suzuki sensei intensive at Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center in Brooklyn

Suzuki sensei intensive at Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center in Brooklyn

Brookyn
Our final stop was the Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center in Brooklyn, New York for a weekend intensive. The format consisted of instruction on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as well as facilitating in-depth learning along with ample opportunities to talk and ask questions to sensei during breaks and communal mealtimes. Being at the end of a long and busy tour, Suzuki sensei and I were somewhat challenged by this intense schedule, but it was very rewarding to spend so many consecutive hours on instruction and informal conversation. One of the fun late-evening moments was when Kaoru hooked up his computer to the projector and we watched various videos of Suzuki sensei and Wakayama Shachu, pausing to talk about the music, dance, costumes, history, or some related topic. It’s a pleasure to have a friend and colleague like Kaoru, as our views about the importance of traditional forms, and music in general, are very much in line with each other.


In March, I interviewed Kenny Endo for my blog’s interview series. I wanted to specifically talk about his time in Japan learning Wakayama-Ryu Edo Bayashi, and this interview turned out to be an important resource for anyone interested in Edo Bayashi. I agree with Iris Shiraishi who said there were many ‘aha’ moments during the conversation. Thank you to Kenny for making time to share these important stories and insights.

Kenny Endo Interview

Taiko workshop for Edo Kotobuki Jishi in San Diego

Taiko workshop for Edo Kotobuki Jishi in San Diego

Earlier that month, I was invited for a weekend of public workshops in San Diego. I had spent a week there in August 2017 during the North American Taiko Conference and Suzuki sensei’s Shishi Mai Summer Taiko Institute. Partly due to this, there was plenty of interest in workshops for Edo Bayashi and the shishimai ohayashi (music). I also offered workshops for shinobue and taiko fundamentals to round out the weekend. I had a great time and it was wonderful to see so much interest in these topics. My hosts were wonderful, taking me around to visit a respectable number of breweries in the thriving scene there. Thank you to Chris Huynh and Jack Hsiao for the warm hospitality.

Taiko workshop in San Diego

Taiko workshop in San Diego

Shinobue workshop in San Diego

Shinobue workshop in San Diego

Later that month, I was invited by Susan Yuen of Jun Daiko to work with the Edo Bayashi nerd club in Mountain View, California. Jun Daiko has so many members with whom I played in Hawaii as a member of Kenny’s group so it’s always a fun reunion where we can speak the same language and share stories. You can also read Sue’s guest entry at Ho Etsu’s Edo Bayashi blog page.

Ho Etsu Taiko’s Edo Bayashi blog


Edo Bayashi workshop in Seattle with Dekoboko Taiko

Edo Bayashi workshop in Seattle with Dekoboko Taiko

In May, I was invited to teach Edo Bayashi to a newly formed group in Seattle called Dekoboko Taiko. None of their members were familiar with Edo Bayashi, but they showed a lot of interest before, during, and after this introductory workshop. I was shown some of the music they play and it was wonderful to see their energy and emphasis on playing the group’s original compositions. I look forward to seeing the development of Edo Bayashi in Seattle. Thank you to Lamond and Leanna for the fun time.


In August, Maui’s dynamic youth group Zenshin Daiko invited me for a one-week residency. It’s always wonderful to be back in Hawaii and to work with such a great group of kids. Zenshin has a lot of experience performing big shows and learning from professionals, and as a result I have learned that it usually take them half the time to learn new music compared to other taiko groups. This proved to be true when I introduced the taiko and atarigane patterns for Nageai, where they were able to rotate parts to learn everything in the book. I returned in October to introduce the fue parts along with new taiko and atarigane variations to incorporate. I look forward to seeing how this group incorporates the new material into their future performances. Thank you to Tony and Valerie Jones for the always wonderful hospitality.

After the Edo Bayashi workshop in Denver

After the Edo Bayashi workshop in Denver

In September, I traveled to Denver for a variety of workshop topics. The origin point of the tour was the Denver Buddhist Temple, where I conducted a Natto Demonstration and a Japanese Knife Sharpening Workshop. Those events went well, along with the music-related workshops for different Denver groups. There was a public workshop called Introduction to Edo Bayashi where we covered the taiko and atarigane parts for Nageai. A few days later was the class where we covered the fue portion. I feel fortunate to have a lot of friends who take care of me in Denver, and I feel warmly welcomed each time I visit there. Thank you to Sarah Anderson, Courtney Ozaki, and everyone else involved with my tour.


Finally, back to the new taiko fund-raised and ordered by TaikoArts Midwest! The beautiful new instruments arrived to Minneapolis in early November and I was invited back to introduce more Level 2 Edo Bayashi material from my June intensive. It was also rewarding to share the new shimedaiko tightening method to everyone, and this was the first tightening session since their delivery. The drums look incredible and sound fantastic! The real sound can only come from the real instruments made for this specific music, and it was wonderfully rewarding to conduct our workshops on these new drums after tightening them as a group using Suzuki sensei’s method. Indisputably, TaikoArts Midwest is simultaneously setting the bar higher for Edo Bayashi study and showing the rest of us that this is all possible. I am looking forward to what comes next in Minnesota, and everyone should be paying close attention as well. Thank you to Iris Shiraishi and Jennifer Weir for everything you do.

TAM shimedaiko after tightening.JPG
TaikoArts Midwest members with the newly arrived Edo Bayashi taiko from Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten

TaikoArts Midwest members with the newly arrived Edo Bayashi taiko from Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten

Interview: Kenny Endo talks Edo Bayashi and Wakayama Shachu

Photo credit: Toyo Miyatake Studio

Photo credit: Toyo Miyatake Studio

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with Kenny Endo about Edo Bayashi and Wakayama Shachu. Kenny needs no introduction among taiko players, as he is one of the most important artists and teachers in the development of the North American taiko scene. I could have asked him about so many different topics, but this interview was focused on Kenny's experiences while living in Japan and his insights into the growing interest in Edo Bayashi (traditional festival music of Tokyo) and Kotobuki Jishi (traditional lion dance of Tokyo) outside of Japan. 

I had known Kenny as a kid growing up near Tokyo in Saitama. He was studying hogaku hayashi (classical Japanese music, such as noh and kabuki) with Saburo Mochizuki, and I was part of a youth taiko ensemble taught by Saburo sensei. In the interview, we talk about one memorable performance at the Maruki Bijutsukan (museum of internationally acclaimed artists Iri and Toshi Maruki) where my youth group shared the stage with Sukeroku Daiko's Saburo sensei, his wife, Kenny, and Yukihiro Miyauchi in a presentation of Edo Bayashi and other pieces. Many years later, I moved to Honolulu to study with Kenny and perform as a member of his ensemble. When I mention to someone that I also got a master of music degree from the University of Hawaii on the side, it sounds like a funny joke but it's true. Kenny was my reason for being there, and I was lucky that the UH music program had a no-thesis degree option where I could present a one-hour recital instead.

It was especially interesting to hear Kenny's stories about Wakayama sensei, Maru sensei, Suzuki sensei, and the early days of introducing this music to North America. Whether you are into Edo Bayashi or not, hearing Kenny's thoughts about taiko, traditional music, and learning perpetually is invaluable. Our conversation was on a specific and narrow topic so some readers may want to do some additional research to fill in the contextual holes. A good place to start would be my content relating to Suzuki sensei at the links below. Kenny kindly provided some of his music to be included in the interview. The tracks are Forest Festival, Spirit of Rice, and Symmetrical Soundscapes, which are on his albums Jugoya, Hibiki, and Eternal Energy. We chose these excerpts because they highlight the influence of Edo Bayashi on Kenny's compositions. I have always noticed a distinct and unique quality in all of Kenny's albums. It's hard to describe in words, but I hear a combination of an exceptional concept of sound and an artistic vision expressed purely from the inner self.


Photo credit: Kenji Yamazaki

Photo credit: Kenji Yamazaki

About Kenny

Photo credit: Shuzo Uemoto

Photo credit: Shuzo Uemoto

One of the leading personas in contemporary percussion and rhythm, KENNY ENDO is at the vanguard of the taiko genre, continuing to carve new territory in this Japanese style of drumming.  A performer, composer, and teacher of taiko, he has received numerous awards and accolades, including very special recognition in Japan—he was the first foreigner to be honored with a “natori,” a stage name, in Japanese classical drumming. Kenny Endo was a featured artist on the PBS special “Spirit of Taiko” in 2005.  He has performed for such musicians as the late Michael Jackson and Prince, opened for The Who, performed a duet with singer Bobby McFerrin, and is featured on the soundtracks for Kayo Hatta’s film “Picture Bride”, Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”, and worked on James Cameron’s “Avatar”.  He has had a day named for him in by the Mayor of Honolulu “Kenny Endo Day”, and was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts for American Masterpieces. He has released 10 CDs of original music. Kenny is a consummate artist, blending Japanese taiko with rhythms influenced by his jazz background and by collaborations with artists from around the world.  Kenny's taiko are provided courtesy of Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten. 

www.kennyendo.com

New Conversation with Bachido's Kyle Abbott

Delicious pour over of Kyle's home roasted coffee

Delicious pour over of Kyle's home roasted coffee

During my recent working vacation trip to northern California, I was able to squeeze in a visit to hang out with Kyle Abbott in Santa Cruz. I first met Kyle in February 2016, and on that day I had the very impromptu idea of recording our conversation for my new blog. Part of the reason for my initial visit was to ask Kyle about his experiences selling instructional videos on his excellent website Bachido because I was preparing to start producing my own videos. In the almost two years since, I have posted numerous interviews on my blog and uploaded ten instructional videos in my store. This new frame of reference made our recent conversation especially fun and meaningful for me. It was a fun day of recording, drinking Kyle's fantastic coffee, tasting local beers in town, and cooking a great dinner on the grill late into the night.

Last year I provided some percussion for Kyle's album Frosty: a retrospective Christmas. Full of unusual arrangements of traditional Christmas songs, I always describe this album as the most uniquely interesting material on your holiday playlist. With shamisen, taiko, throat singing, shakuhachi, and various other instruments, it's bound to turn heads and prompt inquiries at your next party. You can contact me for a copy or visit the Bachido store to purchase.

Earlier this year, Kyle and I also collaborated on the planning of "Tataki," a weekend workshop series where taiko and shamisen players gather to try out each other's instruments and to discover how to play together effectively. Unfortunately we had to postpone the event due to not reaching the enrollment minimum and being declined on our grant application. We predicted that it would be a great event, but perhaps our idea was too progressive and ahead of our time? It's difficult to know if the timing was off (March 4-5, 2017) or the interest is not there, but we will be trying again in the future. Subscribing to our newsletters is the best way to stay updated for future event announcements like these. 

Kyle Eien Square.jpg

We talked long enough that Kyle split it into three segments. The first two are posted on his website's Bachi On The Horn series, and the third is below. We delved into a handful of topics including the importance of feedback from your teacher, hierarchy of ways to study, the value of current technology, and the small world of musicians where interesting connections are constantly being discovered. We started talking indoors, but that room needed to be vacated so we continued out in the back yard. It was a beautifully sunny late afternoon - ideal for recording a podcast except for the dozens (or hundreds) of crows gathering right above us. Hopefully this audio reminiscent of a certain Hitchcock film won't be too much of a distraction. I would definitely encourage everyone to check out all three parts, especially where we discuss the similarities between coffee tasting and music. Kyle and I are both home coffee roasting enthusiasts and this topic came up on our 2016 conversation as well.


After concert photo in Santa Cruz with Robbie Belgrade, John Kaizan Neptune, and Kyle Abbott

After concert photo in Santa Cruz with Robbie Belgrade, John Kaizan Neptune, and Kyle Abbott

After concert photo in Los Angeles with John Kaizan Neptune, Mike Penny, and Kojiro Umezaki

After concert photo in Los Angeles with John Kaizan Neptune, Mike Penny, and Kojiro Umezaki

Interview: Katsuji Asano of Asano Taiko US - 日本語 (translated by Julia Asano)

Katsuji Asano of Asano Taiko US

Katsuji Asano of Asano Taiko US

I am very excited to feature Katsuji in this interview, which was superbly translated by Julia. It has been a pleasure working with Asano Taiko US (ATUS) and the Los Angeles Taiko Institute (LATI) since they opened their fantastic facility in Torrance, California - offering workshops, co-coordinating Kyosuke Suzuki sensei's US workshop tours, and helping to make Edo Bayashi materials available on their online store. My first visit to ATUS was filled with a sense of awe at the scale and commitment to quality in every detail. The two main studios are equipped with everything a drummer could want: high-tech sound dampening in the walls, beautiful floors and mirrors, white boards, amplifiers, comfortable temperature, and of course the incredible number of amazing taiko sitting there ready to play.

Asano Taiko US

Asano Taiko US

Operating out of this facility is LATI, a one-of-a-kind taiko school offering an extensive array of classes taught by some of the most experienced and thoughtful teachers I know. I especially appreciate the balance of older and newer taiko forms originating from Japan as well as elsewhere. Because of its clear significance, ATUS has quickly become a hub of high-quality workshops, hosting a constant stream of musicians and educators offering an assortment of topics in various genres. 

Katsuji helped to fund my Edo Bayashi intensive in Tokyo in October 2016 where I was able to deepen my study of this festival music through one-on-one lessons with Suzuki sensei. I'm certain that his thoughtful responses in this interview provide insight into his vision of advancing the art form of taiko, and I'm happy to be involved in this symbiotic partnership. I also want to thank Julia for making this information available in English, capturing the essence of Katsuji's answers much better than I could have.


1. Can you describe the history of Asano Taiko and how Asano Taiko US (ATUS) was opened in Torrance, California?

Asano Taiko US in Torrance, California

Asano Taiko US in Torrance, California

私がアメリカの太鼓を初めてみたのはNATC2005年LA。この時「太鼓」が海外でこんなにも熱狂があるものかと衝撃をうけました。そして独自のコミュニティー、情報を共有するなど日本は無い形だった事に新鮮な気持ちと、このように発展してる太鼓界がとても面白く感じました。

Juliaとも出会い、アメリカの太鼓界にも少し関わったりする中、もしアメリカで太鼓屋の拠点があったらどうなのか?太鼓文化がもっともっと発展していくのでは?日本にも世界ににも良い影響が与えられるのでは?ビジネスになるのか?などたくさんの疑問から始まりました。太鼓文化の発展に関わる事ができたらどんなにやりがいのある事になるかと夢と希望が湧き、そして2011年のNATCの盛り上がりとお話を聞くなかででやろう!っと決め本格的に動きだしました。

場所の選定では西海岸、東海岸か。日系コミュニティー、太鼓チームが多い地区、日本との行き来、世界のハブ。

多方面の要素が踏まえLA近郊で決めました。LA近郊で治安問題を踏まえ探していくとまずは新しくてこれから発展していくアーバイン近郊が候補に入ってきましたが、交通の便、物件の良さがあったのでトーランスに決めました。

The first time I saw taiko being performed in America was at the 2005 North American Taiko Conference. I was surprised to see how popular taiko was and how different the U.S. taiko was from Japan. Taiko players in the U.S. are very open natured and willing to share their knowledge of taiko which was both surprising and interesting for me. 

After meeting Julia, I had opportunities to participate in many American taiko events and started to wonder, what if I started a business in the U.S.? Would the taiko community grow even more? Would Japan, or even on a larger scale, the world have any effect on this unforeseeable challenge I’m about to embark on? Can we make this a business? I started pondering many questions to myself. After attending the 2011 North American Taiko Conference and seeing the US taiko community again, I decided to take the first step and start the business.

My first debate was choosing the right location. Should I start the new business in the east coast or west coast? After researching which areas had the most taiko groups and a bigger Japanese community, I decided that Southern California is the place to be. I chose Torrance as the city due to its accessibility for commute and ideal properties. 

2. What is the Los Angeles Taiko Institute (LATI)?

Los Angeles Taiko Institute

Los Angeles Taiko Institute

http://taiko.la
LATI is a taiko institute housed in Asano Taiko U.S. located in Torrance, California. We opened in July 2013 (when Asano Taiko U.S. opened) and started with less than 20 students and now have over 200 students coming every week. We offer various types of classes for all levels and have 9 instructors who teach anywhere from 2 yr olds to students in their 70’s.

3. UnitOne, the ATUS taiko ensemble, consists of very experienced players. What is the artistic vision and mission for this group?

UnitOne at 2015 North American Taiko Conference

UnitOne at 2015 North American Taiko Conference

始めたきっかけ
How it started

日本の場合は島国、小民族で形成されていたので限られた音楽性(これは良い事であり、何百年と続いている伝統芸能などある)で次世代に繋がってきています。チームプレーに徹する事が日本の和太鼓の良さにもなっていると私は思っています。

Due to our country being an island nation, I believe that when it comes to musicality, the style of music becomes limited as they get passed on to the next generation (I would like to note that this is a good thing, as this is how traditional art have been continuously protected and honed over the generations). Because of its small ethnic group that Japan is based on, I believe it created strength in team play when it comes to expressing Japanese Taiko.

逆は独創がなかなか生まれにくい。持っているグルーブ感が限られている。アメリカでは色々な文化が入り混じり、様々なジャンルの音楽に触れ合う機会が多いです。そして人々の中にそういった日本にはない感性が多く入ってます。現在のアメリカの太鼓でよく見られるのは独創的な音楽性。一人一人の個性が非常に際立つ事。

However, the downside to this close-knit formation is that it becomes harder to create new and innovative music with originality. The groove feeling of the artists have become limited. But in America, various cultures and backgrounds intertwine, allowing many opportunities to interact with diverse genres of music. It from this melting pot where taiko in the U.S. have the sensibility that Japan has yet to experience. Taiko in America has its strength in originality, their ingenious musicality standing out in each and every player.

いと昔は日本と同じでチームとしての統一感があり、アメリカの太鼓文化も今まさに「変化」していっている状態だと思います。この日米のいいところを伸ばす事ができるチームが出来たらおもしろい!とおもいました。私が日本の良い所を取り入れながら、プレイヤー自身のもっているものを生かせればと。

Currently, I believe that taiko in both countries have the same sense of unity as a team which has always been unchanged, yet we are in a place where taiko culture is facing a shift before our very eyes and “transforming” into something new. Instinctively I felt that it would be amazing if we can develop a team that can incorporate the strengths from both countries!  My hope is to deliver the good components of Japanese taiko, and give life to the potentials in each taiko player here in the U.S.

また私のそばに素晴らしい太鼓プレイヤーがいる事が始めようと思った非常に大きなポイントです。基礎を大事だと思ってくれ、また自分自身を成長しようと思うプレイヤーがここには多くいます。そのような太鼓打ちを輩出していく事もこの会社の使命だと思っています。

Lastly, the major reason why I decided to start this company is because I am surrounded by amazing taiko players. Many of the players here put much respect in the foundation and philosophy of taiko, and take it upon themselves to incorporate it back into their lifestyle for their own growth. I believe it is our mission as a company to continue this cycle and produce more taiko players such as them, making a mark in the art and history of traditional Japanese music in America.

4. What are some of your observations regarding the North American taiko scene?

・コミュニティーを大事にしている
・太鼓楽しく打つ事を大事にしている(日本と違い表に出す)
・自分らしさを太鼓を使って自分なりに表現している
・ベテンランも学ぶ姿勢がある
・情報を共有している
・新しい道を探している

- They look after their community
- They value the ideal of enjoying taiko (compared to Japan, they openly express their emotions)
- Taiko is used as their way of expressing their individuality
- Even the seasoned veterans are in a humble stance to learn
- They share their knowledge and expertise
- They are always passionate and striving to broaden their horizon

5. In 2015, ATUS sponsored Kyosuke Suzuki sensei’s workshop tour of California, Oregon, and Washington. Can you talk about some other ways in which ATUS is contributing to advance the art form?

NATCへはここにある全楽器を持って行き貸し出しします。Taikoインビテーショナルへの楽器の貸出。日本からのゲストを呼んでWSを行ったり,交流と技術の習得を支援。

We lend all of our studio drums to TCA during the North American Taiko Conference, and also to Intercollegiate Taiko Invitationals. We invite artists from Japan to host various types of workshops to bridge American artists in hope that they can have more access to Japanese art forms. 

6. What products and services does ATUS offer in the Torrance facility as well as the online store?

Asano Taiko US in Torrance, California

Asano Taiko US in Torrance, California

浅野太鼓商品全般を販売しています。在庫が置いていない商品でも日本に在庫があれば1週間程で届くシステムができています。また販売に関して特注品(バチや衣装、その他の楽器、台など)も受け付けており、できるだけプレイヤーの要望に応えられるようにしています。祭り関係のお店とASANO TAIKO USが直接取引きがあるので太鼓に関わるものを大体提供できます。また太鼓の締め直しや革の張り替え。浅野の商品以外での修理も受けています、修理はASANO TAIKO USで行うので時間と費用が随分抑えられます。「太鼓の音を育てもらう」そうゆう風に楽器と一生付き合って行ってほしい願っています。Online shopも開設して全米、世界に向けて販売が可能になっています。

We sell Asano Taiko products here at Asano Taiko U.S. Products out of stock can be ordered from Japan and we will receive them in 1-2 weeks. We also accept customized orders mainly on costumes, bachi, taiko, and stands, hoping to cater to all the needs of the taiko player. Asano Taiko U.S. has direct contracts with many shops that carry festival goods, allowing us to be able to supply most items relating to taiko and we also offer reskinning and restretching service. We gladly accept repair orders even for non-Asano brand items, and since repairs are done on-site, time and cost can be reduced greatly. We have also established an online store so now customers throughout the world can place an order with us. 

7. Do you have any events coming up in the next several months?

4月バチBBQ
6月大江戸助六さんWS(予定)
7月ブリーチ祭り
8月NATC
12月発表会

April - Bachi BBQ (LATI event)
June - Oedo Sukeroku Taiko workshops
July - Bridge USA performance
August - North American Taiko Conference
December - annual recital

8. What are some long-term goals for ATUS and LATI?

より多くの人に「太鼓」に関わってもらう事。
Growth of the taiko community.

「和太鼓」という芸能の価値を高める事。
To branch out and root deep in hopes that “taiko” will become a higher valued art form.

太鼓プレイヤー全体のレベルアップ。
Improve skill levels of all taiko players.

日本では出来ない事をアメリカでやっちゃう(色々な意味で)。
Challenging many things that are possible only in the U.S.


Katsuji Asano of Asano Taiko US in Torrance, California

Katsuji Asano of Asano Taiko US in Torrance, California

Born in 1983 into the famous Asano Taiko drum-making family, Katsuji Asano quickly discovered a love for both business and the arts.  After graduating from Kanazawa Institute of Technology in 2006, Asano joined the Percussion Division of Yamaha Music Trading Corporation. 

In 2006, Asano returned to taiko (Japanese drums), and began work at Asano Taiko, Inc. in Ishikawa prefecture.  He learned both the craft of Japanese drum-making and the business side of marketing, working directly with taiko artists.  With hopes of spreading the art of taiko on an international scale, Katsuji Asano opened Asano Taiko U.S., Inc. in 2013, the first facility of its kind outside of Japan to offer an instrument store, on-site workshop, and taiko school staffed by professional taiko players.

Links
Asano Taiko US
Los Angeles Taiko Institute
UnitOne