By Eri Williams, April 25, 2021
It’s been little over six years since I started immersing myself in one of my passions: taking Japanese Taiko class. So much so that we named the cat we adopted around the same time “Taiko.” The school, Asano Taiko U.S./LATI (Los Angeles Taiko Institute) founded by the CEO, Mr. Katsuji Asano, is located in Torrance, California (20909 S Western Ave, Torrance, CA 90501, https://asano.us/), and I go there every week to take a class or two.
One will see an assortment of Taiko (Odaiko, Shimedaiko, Beta and Naname)[i] at LATI. Various classes are made available for toddlers, youth, adults, senior citizens, as well as students with autism. Each class is comprised of people with different ethnicity and background, which makes it fun and helps us form a bond and unity. Staff, instructors and coaches are very thorough, patient, kind and conscientious, which seem to reflect in the students as well. We the students help each other in class, which is always filled with laughter and kindness. Annual students’ recital is held in December at a local city theater. When we perform on stage under the bright spotlight in front of hundreds in the audience, of course we become nervous and make mistakes as well. Yet we embrace and hang onto this rare opportunity for us to shine.
Many have been inspired by the famous Japanese Taiko Group, “Kodo”, and their unforgettable performances. I’m one of them and had always wanted to learn how to play Taiko. I was deeply mesmerized by their body stance and the sound of Taiko beat. Having taken ballet in my younger days, I find Taiko playing stance somewhat similar to that of ballet. In each of these arts one stands firmly on the ground with both feet spread wide. Through the ground one feels the inner strength and uses feet and back to beat Taiko. Each beat is accompanied by body movement of curve and lines that creates beauty and power.
The name, “Kodo”, phonetically means ‘heartbeat’ in Japanese. I imagine a fetus in mother’s womb, or ‘cradle’, being rocked and comforted by her heartbeat, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. It must be a safe and peaceful place to be. I think anyone, regardless of having no musicality, carries a rhythm that comes from deep within. When we hear a beat or rhythm, we naturally start swaying our body back and forth. I think this is because we all remember our mom’s heartbeat, that makes us want to be part of the connection again. Same goes with Taiko; its beat and resonance bring us comfort, peace and joy.
I admit that Taiko lessons are not always easy and we do make lots of mistakes. Yet a sense of togetherness, connection and peace that we all feel when we match our beating and hit Taiko outweighs them. Although it’s always fun to learn a new piece, I personally like basic exercises where we simply hit Taiko in different count and forms. The sound of beat is somewhat primitive yet harmonious and feels safe.
Many political, racial issues and crimes have sadly been dominating our everyday lives especially since the pandemic began last year. Because we are in the middle of unsettling state of the world that is filled with anger, frustration, despair and sadness, Taiko helps bring out calmness in us. When I pause in the silence that follows after hitting Taiko, I can somehow find peace within. In search of that peace, I get in my car and start driving to my Taiko lesson again today.
[i] “Odaiko” – The “Big Drum.” The drum’s hitting surface is perpendicular to the floor.
“Shimedaiko” – The small drum.
“Beta” – “Down-style” drum. The drum’s hitting surface is horizontal to the floor. Most basic style of Taiko.
“Naname” – The drum is placed on a slanted stand. One of the most popular styles in the US.
About the author: Born in Japan, Eri Williams spent her childhood and youth in 3 different countries. After working in a corporate environment for many years, the native Japanese speaker now utilizes her language skills to contribute back to the society. She resides in LA area with her husband and a cat, Taiko, named after her hobby, Japanese Taiko drum.