For me, taiko symbolizes power and unity. The various drum beats come together to resonate through my body. When I was an ALT, learning taiko gave me a way to connect with my students, as well as people in the neighborhood. It opened up the gates of communication when words failed. It also let me spend more time with my fellow ALTs when we had our music group. In short, taiko has a special place in my heart, and I was thankful to experience it again when I saw Fujisan Kaen Taiko perform at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Clark Center.
Founded in 1985, the group hails from Fujiyoshida, a city in the Yamanashi Prefecture that rests at the foot of Mt. Fuji. The surrounding scenery serves as inspiration for their music. Fujisan Kaen Taiko currently has 30 members, half of which are kids. They have visited overseas five times, excluding their performance with their sister city of Colorado Springs that occurred right before they came to Dallas. Member Machiko Kanda has local connections and helps with the UTD Mochitsuki New Year’s Celebration. With her help, the UT-Dallas Asia Center and the Japan-America Society of Dallas/Fort Worth were able to bring to Dallas “Kizuna – Bonds of Frienship: Japan and Dallas Unity Concert” by Fujisan Kaen Taiko.
“Kizuna – Bond of Friendship” opened the show, and immediately the passion and high energy of Fujisan Kaen Daiko was evident. According to the concert program, “this piece was made with the idea that many people, connected by a strong bond, would come together as one to overcome the challenges we face today.” A moving number, it set the tone for the rest of the night.
“Akafuji – Red Fuji” demonstrated the influence nature had on their songs while “Fujisan Kaen Taiko” was an amalgamation of pieces representing aspects of local culture, such as kagura (a form of Shinto dance) and yabusame (mounted archery). It evoked the spirit of a matsuri (festival), particularly with the incorporation of flutes.
“Fuji Raimei – Wind, Trees, and Thunder” was another powerful nature-inspired piece. It was followed by “Etsuryu – The Flying Dragon”, which began a drummer in the center with his back toward the audience to show off the dragon on his outfit. He would rise to strike the odaiko as though he were a dragon climbing towards the sky. Fujisan Kaen Taiko concluded their performance with the spirited “Kenka Mikoshi – The Fighting Shrines”.
For an encore, the group assembled in the lobby to play “Hayashi” and to let people try their hand at taiko. The interactive experience eliminated the divide between performer and viewer, further highlighting the theme of unity.
There are videos of Fujisan Kaen Taiko’s concert that others have uploaded onto Youtube. While I encourage to check them out, there’s nothing that beats watching taiko live and being able to feel the rhythm of the drums.
More photos can be found in this set: Concerts.
Listening to: “Terpsichore” live by Strange Artifact