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Taiko and sake (太鼓と酒)

taiko drumming

“The taiko is an instrument that demands more than technique. It is an obstinate instrument. It will resist and resist the drift of the music until the sheer energy of the man who plays it at last excites the god in the drum, and the rhythms then flow naturally from him till his arms grow weak with exhaustion. The wise player circumvents the drum’s resistance by taking so much sake into his body that the god in the drum has no alternative but to assume command at the outset.

I have to suppose that the god in the drum can also read minds, for as I moved in and out of the crowd, past the lanterns and the benches and the crates of bottles, a young man wearing a white plastic raincoat came up and thrust a paper cup of sake into my hand and asked me if I would like to play. I said that I would, but that I would require more sake. More sake came. The crowd around us began to bubble. Three drummers offered me the use of their sticks, and after I had drained a third paper cup I took my place by the side of a drum and waited for the right-hand drummer to tire. Then, when my turn came, I stepped up to the drum, saluted it with the sticks, and whacked it.

The crowd went silly. “Look at this! Look at this! A gaijin! A gaijin playing the taiko!” Flash guns went off, crates were upended, parents pushed their children forward and craned their necks and stamped and clapped, and I felt the sake curl in my stomach and grinned at the drummer on the left of the drum, a middle-aged man who said “Yah!” and grinned back, and the god in the drum was kind to us both.

I have no idea how long I played. Twice the left-hand drummer changed and twice the drumsticks slipped out of my hands. When I came away I was drenched in sweat, and I sat on a bench with a towel round my head, guzzling sake and laughing like an idiot.”

(Alan Booth in The Roads to Sata p. 78-79)

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