March 18, 2011


ONE Earth

Performance of the Kodo Drummers of Japan, March 17, 2011

Less than one week after triple disasters hit Japan – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, I had the honor to see an arts performance in North America, that gives context to the phenomena many of us have been perplexed or inspired by, praise and aspire to – the Japanese’s ability to be dignified, reverential and heroic during a disaster event that is unmatched in modern human history.

The composition “Sakai” begins the concert, house lights dark, but a small section of the audience illuminated by the one white spotlight on a male dancer. He is dressed in traditional Shinto clothing. The Shinto is an indigenous spirituality, which tells the creation stories of Kami (deities). It is one of the two main spiritual practices in Japan, along with Buddhism. Most Japanese practice a combination of the two.

The performance by the Kodo Drummers of Japan (和太鼓-WADAIKO 和(WA) Japan and 鼓TAIKO Drum) was not just a concert. It was an odyssey, unmatched by any other live performance I’ve ever experienced. I say with confidence that I would say the same outside the triple disasters happening in the drummers’ homeland right now.

Though the initial sight of the upwards of 12 drummers on the stage produced a flood of emotion, their disciplined performances, not seeking applause or adoration, quickly brought me back to being present and aware of the waves of my own biorhythms. I could literally hear my own heartbeat working up or down, to the intensity of the traditional Japanese drums.

Kodo’s performance allows the audience to experience a range of emotions and states - serene, energetic, spiritual, passionate, reverential and enthusiastic. Meditative states were beckoned by the Japanese flute; jangra cymbals were like an alarm preceding the passionate, energetic states that you would experience with the drums.

The 和太鼓-WADAIKO ranged in size from those that the performers could hold in front of them with a strap across their shoulder, or set in front of them while they played seated on the floor. While listening to the latter style of drums, where seven drummers lined up seated on the floor, I imagined a rainstorm teasing a copper tin roof, its pace varying in intensity from a light patter to a downpour. These performers made you aware of your human experience and nature, in the moment.

The largest drum appeared to be nearly six-feet tall, and was played by two drummers on each side, dressed in nothing but a head band and a cloth reminiscent of a Sumo wrestler. The power from the sound made me feel I was ONE with the instrument.

The physical stamina and concentration of the Kodo drummers and reminded me of the relief workers and engineers working with such passion and discipline to clean up the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear crisis. The audience showed the group their appreciation for their performance with at least four prolonged standing ovations. I suspect that these ovations were not just for their performance, but also support for what their country is enduring.

A beautiful friend from Tokyo, @oocax took the time to educate me on the Japanese way to express this art form, even though she and her entire country are living in extreme difficulty. It is not hard to see her as a living example of the traditions of the Shinto.

"To be grateful for the blessings of Kami and the benefits of the ancestors, and to be diligent in the observance of the Shinto rites, applying oneself to them with sincerity, brightness, and purity of heart."

Mitsuru Ishizuka, the founder of the Kodo Drummers has said, “People gather at the shrine to sing, dance and drum so that their prayers may reach the heavens.”

If the heavens didn't hear these prayers, it simply wasn’t listening.



mike1909 said...

"Rhythm is the soul of life. The whole universe revolves in rhythm. Everything and every human action revolves in rhythm." Babatunde Olatunji

Thank you for this wonderful post. The sounds of drums have a healing power and I am grateful for you sharing this unique experience.


doublebeee said...

Thank you for this post!!! My prayers go out to our fellow people of Japan. I bow my head for their strength, power and patience. Their strong spiritual tradition is something we should really pay attention to.

May all our prayers reach the heavens to bless this beautiful country with relief!

Thank you!

Cassarah said...

One rhythm - one earth - one heart

It seems these japanese artists can melt the whole world together into one big hypnotic drum set.
Thank you for sharing this experience here with us. Hoping, more of us will be able to join a live performance of the Kodo Drummers.

AA said...

@mike1909, thank you for the quote. I find myself reaching for these more and more these days. @doublebee when I met two of the artists, and they bowed to me, It was clusmy but I made sure that I did the same to them. @Cassarah I do hope you can see a performance.. words cannot not recreate actually experiencing this!

Thanks for all the comments!


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