FROM JAPAN TO BRAZIL: THE TAIKO BRIDGE

The Amanojaku Taiko school is set to visit Brazil to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the migration of the Japanese to Brazil, a part of history that has resulted in a rich cross cultural set of Japanese-Brazilian traditions. But this historic trip wasn’t cooked up suddenly, the Amanojaku school has fostered the art of Japanese Taiko for years from its home base in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Led by Yoichi Watanabe, who started the school in 1986, the school’s students are also guided by the skills of Ogawa Hiromi and Kawana Mayumi. Watanabe has worked with renowned musicians such as Hozan Yamamoto, jazz greats Akira Sakata and Nobuo Hara, as well as Hogaku percussionist Kiyohiko Semba.
Although taiko drums have been played at festivals and other ceremonies for hundreds of years, it was only in the last 60 years that the instrument managed to penetrate the staged concert environment. So, while most Westerners have probably only seen a taiko drum being played in a commercial , or via some subtitled Japanese film, the art form has in recent years garnered more attention as a true concert instrument worthy of international acclaim.
In preparation for this historic 100th anniversary performance, Amanojaku began traveling to Brazil regularly five years ago. The group went on a special concert tour in 2003 to generate further interest in taiko and continues to conduct one-month workshops every year to teach the public about the instrument. In addition to these efforts, the group wrote original compositions for Brazilian taiko players in 2004, 2005, and 2006.
When asked if the instructors are able to communicate and teach non-Japanese speaking students, school spokesman Isaku Kageyama said, “About half of the Brazilian kids speak English, and about one-quarter speak Japanese. We have one of the kids that coordinates the workshops translate for us. We have tried to learn Portuguese and the students have made an effort to learn Japanese. We still have a long way to go, but we’re getting there.”
After the major performance in Brazil, Amanojaku will continue to have a full plate of activities designed to get the word out about taiko. They have a Japan concert planned for August 13th and 14th, and the instructors hope to one day conduct a new set of performances that would have the group touring schools for the deaf—a great idea because the strong vibrations of taiko drumming can easily be translated into an entertaining experience for deaf audiences.
For more information on the Amanojaku Taiko school visit the group’s website at: www. amanojaku.info.

Story by Adrio Strange
From J SELECT Magazine, April 2008

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