I sit here in my Yokohama apartment on a sunny April day looking out onto a cityscape that is at the moment bursting with the pink and white of sakura that just happen to be at full-bloom today. My 4 month year old son sits on my lap trying his best to stay upright while his dad plugs away at the keyboard on either side of his head. For every sentence I write, I have to play an equal amount of games of peek-a-boo just to keep him content sitting down. Laying at my feet right where I set it down last night is my green and black Toni Taiko bag. It’s the Odaiko bag (which is an awesome bag by the way.) As I think back to my journey of how exactly I ended up playing taiko professionally in Japan this seems to be about as good as a place to start as any. This bag has been to every corner of Japan; Oita, Ehime, Osaka, Kyoto, Gifu, Nagoya, Fukui, Shizuoka, Sendai, etc. It accompanied me to my first Amanojaku practice, and every one since then. It`s been to the top of Tokyo Skytree the night before we played the grand opening/tape cutting ceremony. It`s been on stage with me at the Japan National Theatre, and backstage with me at little known high schools in the Japanese countryside. It`s traveled overseas, and traveled in cars, trucks, vans, buses, airplanes and boats to get me there. If I go back further it has been to practically every hotel on the Waikiki strip. It has been to Maui, Kauai, Big Island and Lanai. It`s been backstage at the Blaisdall Theatre, and been on top of a bookshelf at a library in the middle of nowhere. If I go back ever further, this bag accompanied me every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday as I made the trip from my house to the Denver Buddhist Temples basement to practice with Denver Taiko. It has accompanied me during parades through the heart of Denver, and every summer`s Sakura Matsuri and Obon. It`s been there and done that, and yet it never really actually had to do anything but come along with me. In a lot of ways I feel that my journey has played out in much the same way. I`m here because of a long chain of chance encounters, and the kind heartedness of one-time strangers. Much like my bachi bag, I didn’t fight it, I just went along for the ride and never looked back.
It was in this way that fate has introduced me to some of the kindest, open-minded, hard-working people in the modern world (taiko people, of course.) They have made my trip happen at each and every turn in the road. It is because of them that I have gone from being a child growing up playing with Denver Taiko, to being a college student finding my place in the KETE/TCP family in Hawaii. It has been the kindness of others that has made my dream of playing taiko professionally in Japan a reality.
Especially in the past couple of years I find myself in the position of answering the question, “What advice would you give to people who want to pursue a possible career playing taiko in Japan?” I came to Japan job-less, visa-less, plan-less, homeless, and penniless and (due to the incredible kindness of my group, Amanojaku) I am still alive and doing well today. So while I might give advice like, “figure out your visa situation as quickly as you can, and here are your options…” or “find a place to live before you come to Japan using this website…” The truth is that if you really want to play taiko here you will come, and things will work out just fine.
I plan on writing more articles, and am hoping to share with you specific things and steps to take to start your own taiko journey. I hope you find these steps, tips, and stories useful, and would feel very happy and fulfilled knowing that in some small way maybe I helped someone get out the door, and started down the path.