TAIKO-LAB: Immersive Drumming Experience
Resonating with the Essence of Japanese Culture
A short walk from Tokyo Metro Gaienmae Station - towards the west side of Tokyo’s downtown core – TAIKO-LAB’s energy entices and draws you into its world. An exciting street-level banner hangs above the staircase leading down to its entrance, and even past the glass front doors, the allure never lets up. Having already taken one taiko class, and also having drummed in a festival context, I was afraid of feeling jaded, but the genuine warmth of TAIKO-LAB’s staff caught me off guard and further stoked my curiosity. The required removal of my outdoor shoes then fully immersed me into readiness for a new Japanese cultural experience. I then slipped on my favorite sneakers, which I was asked to bring.
The Stage is Set
My instructor - Mr. Furusato (whose name translates to “hometown” in English) - adeptly sized up my skill set as well as my background to know how he should teach. Finding out that I played guitar behind some of this nation’s stars, he quickly expressed a kinship; confessing that he played with Avril Lavigne! This proficiency for sizing up pupils would later prove even more amazing with curriculum tailored on the fly. As we walked towards the soundproof drum room, I felt as at home as I could be, with my eyes being wooed by vintage taiko drums and walls adorned with tasteful hues. Just before passing through the door to the studio, I noticed an office area to my right, and there the decor was equally elegant, and all present met me with sincere smiles. This set me up ideally for learning.
Once inside the studio itself, I was blown away by its gorgeousness. Having traveled the world both as tourist and an artist, I didn’t expect to be surprised, but visual delights abounded. As opposed to the typical imitation-wood flooring, TAIKO-LAB’s drum studio had preserved vintage wood-slat flooring in a delightfully heartwarming tint. The far wall boasted a stunning array of drums of various ages, colors, and sizes. And, graceful track lighting illuminated us from above. One of the two longest walls featured floor-to-ceiling mirrors, providing feedback on our movements.
Having sized up my proficiency even before the class began - as I mentioned previously - Mr. Furusato nonetheless quickly swept through basic movements; providing a refresher course for the challenges I’d face. Our teacher then patiently provided praise and encouragement, and also directed us to watch the mirror wall, both to correct our own mistakes and to mimic his movements. Despite having taken a taiko class before, and having performed in a summer festival, as my sticks hit the skin of my tempered drum, I was struck with a deep epiphany.
Although countless people around the world long for immersion into Japanese culture, perhaps the truest resonance of wa (essence of Japanese culture) may be found in this ancient drumming tradition. As we lose ourselves in these timeless rhythms, while fully focusing on synching up, the frequencies reach past our ears, to our hearts and our souls. I then understood that while the elusive essence of Japanese culture may be something that is never be fully teachable, its essence may be felt. And, perhaps this drumming provides the closest route to the frequency that millions around the world pursue.
Ascending to the Higher Rungs
The lesson itself carried us through the most elementary rhythms, as we attempted to master both their form and their patterns. And then, a smaller drum was added, so we could produce more complicated beats. Despite my musical knowledge, I found them a tad confusing at first. However, the enticing nature of the challenge motivated me to try harder. Our next lesson is drumming against counter rhythms. This involved playing one rhythm while another drummer played a different part. And, just as we thought we had mastered this task the bar was raised another time; as he told us to switch drumming parts after a given set of bars. Hilarity ensued with a few false starts but, soon enough, we were “rocking” traditional polyrhythms as well as taiko amateurs could. I had rarely felt such satisfaction in nearly twenty years of life in Japan. Mr. Furusato then dimmed the track lighting, and directed us in a mock concert - as if we were suddenly raised to pro status - as he lead us deftly through the best presentation of all the skill we had acquired.
Finally, as a well-earned dessert served to every student of TAIKO-LAB, Mr. Furusato showed us how it’s done; in a mini recital replete with graceful nuances and deeply resonating tones. As his arms arched back and swung in ancient-feeling movements, deep gratitude washed over me, and I swore to recommend this school to all fans of Japan.
Born and raised on the Canadian prairies, my expat life now spans two decades. Partially moving here for the cuisine when I was a vegan, I now enjoy the myriad delights Japan may offer an omnivore. Arriving as a musician and a model, I morphed into a media figure; having now been published by six outlets on three continents. My burning passion for travel carried me from Naha to Aomori. And, travel within this nation fueled much of my greatest writing.
3-1-30 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
TAIKO-LAB (Aoyama Location) sits an approximately 4-minute walk from Gaiemmae Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line. Head south west past the BMW dealership on your right, to the next traffic lights, then cross the street, turn right and watch for its banner on your left, on the Daiwa building.