Taiko Drumming Group in Manchester

Do you know what a “taiko” is? It`s a traditional Japanese drum. Japanese originally played it at Omatsuri, traditional Japanese festivals, as an offering to God, to entertain him. Nowadays, there are many taiko groups who perform at many other occasions. Have you heard of “Kodo”? They are probably the most popular and well-known among those groups. They have visited Manchester more than once, and played at Bridgewater Hall.

Now, until relatively recently, you needed to go to London to find a decent enough Taiko group, either Japanese or British. But, I have found this taiko group, Tantara Taiko, right here in Greater Manchester. The leader of the group, John Bolwell, went to Japan to learn how to play the taiko, and he formed his own group when he got back to Manchester.

As a Japanese, I think they are quite good, and they are still developing. They have performed at some major Japanese culture-related events. So, this time, I decided to visit their practice session to find out just how they do it.

I was surprised to find out that they are already so experienced that all they needed to do was a little discussion about the timing and so on. They also have a beginner group, for which John would start from the very basic.

Anyway, please watch the video to see for yourself. Any comments welcome!

Tsugaru Shamisen player in Manchester

What is Shamisen? It is a banjo-like, traditional Japanese music instrument. It is very rare for Japanese to play Shamisen either as a hobby or professionally nowadays. I never saw or knew anyone who played Shamisen when I was living in Japan some years ago. It is something you might see on TV sometimes, or if you go to see Kabuki (traditional Japanese theater), you will see a group of Shamisen players on the stage, instead of an orchestra. 

Then I met this Shamisen player, Liam Morgan, in Manchester. When he first told me that his hobby was to play the Shamisen, I couldn’t believe my ears. And he plays well! It was a funny feeling to watch him play Tsugaru shamisen in front of me, here in Manchester, when I never watched anyone playing back in Japan (except for on TV).  

The type of Shamisen music he plays is called Tsugaru Shamisen. It is hard to explain, but once you’ve heard it, it is easy to recognize. It’s very powerful and masculine, contrasting with the type of shamisen music Geisha play. 

Just listening to his playing was impressive enough, but all the other stories he told me were even more impressive. He found a shamisen with a broken skin on eBay, purchased it and fixed it on his own! He learned how to do it by reading books and watching videos. He also learned how to play the shamisen by ear. And to an ordinary Japanese, his performance seems to reach to a high standard. 

Listening to his shamisen made me wish I had learned more about Japanese traditional culture while I was in Japan. In Japan, the most popular things to learn are such things as piano and ballet. I was also very impressed by his tireless effort to make his performance better. He keeps improving the sound of his shamisen by trying out new skins or new ways to skin, and he spends many hours practicing playing. His attitude was an eye-opener. I’m so glad he agreed to play for my blog.

If you would like Liam to play at your event, you can contact him at vegito_@hotmail.com

Zen Dojo in Manchester

The first one I’m going to introduce to you is Zen Dojo. Do you know what Zen is? I think, if you are interested in Japanese culture, at least you’ve heard of it, haven’t you? It’s a type of philosophy that is associated with Zen Buddism. Most Japanese, like myself, are not philosophers, or Zen monks, so will not be able to discuss it in detail. But at least we know vaguely that zen is the way of thinking and living that goes contrary to material gain and abundance, and places more importance on one’s spiritual development. One of the ways they try to achieve the mentality is by doing “zazen,” which literally means “sitting zen”. This is a way of doing meditation that Zen monks developed a long time ago.

In Japan, people typically do zazen at Zen temples. For busy Japanese people, doing zazen is not a very popular pastime, to say the least, and most people rarely get a chance to do it in their life time. Personally, I have never tried to do zazen at temples.

So, guess my surprise when I discovered that there was a zazen dojo in Manchester city centre! I live on curiosity, so I needed to find out more about it. I finally managed to find the time to visit there when a zazen session was taking place.

The session was held on Tuesday night, from 7pm, and the place was near ManCity football stadium. Please watch the video to find out more about it! I’m looking forward to hearing comments from you.  For more information on Manchester Zen Dojo please visit izauk.com

Preface

Hi everyone,

I’m relatively new to the UK. Originally from Japan, when I first moved to Manchester, I did not enjoy it here. The time I came was not helping; January 2nd. It was dark, wet and cold, and everything looked just dirty. I was literally crying everyday missing Japan. But of course I didn’t want to waste my precious time, so I have tried to make the most of my time living here.

Gradually, I started to find various things that are related to Japanese culture in and around Manchester: places, societies, organizations, and people. Each time I “discovered” them, I was first surprised, then impressed, and filled with joy. The more I learned about them, the more I felt that living in Manchester is not that bad. I started to feel more at home in Manchester.

If you are interested in Japanese culture, I’m sure you will find what I’ve found interesting too. That’s why I decided to start this blog, named “Japan Outpost.” I hope you can share with me the excitement and the joy I felt when I discovered the things I’m going to introduce one by one. I’m looking forward to your comments!

Yuko Howes