I am folded within the green mountains of Miyama. The weather is warm. A light rain has just fallen, diffusing the thick wall of cedar-green foliage that fills the window. We are in the Kurumaya Taiko Dojo. Dojo means ‘the place of the way’ and it is a beautiful place: a large high-ceilinged low-windowed room with a warm hinoki, cypress, floor. The walls are wood-panelled as well, and hung with prints and scrolls of Kurumaya-sensei’s calligraphy, and photographs he has taken of Miyama in snowy and summer seasons.
It feels very natural to be here, perhaps because the room itself feels natural, perhaps because natural elements gather here. It is a room made of wood and paper after all, and a room made of skin, with taiko, drums, lining all its walls.
There are taiko of many forms and sizes – small taut shime and little hand-held uchiwa fan drums, as well as huge uchiwa, and an odaiko (‘big drum’). There are also several light barrel-construction okedos and – my favourites – rows and rows of nagado, ‘long-bodied’ drums made from one piece of hollowed wood with the skin tacked tightly around.
The skin of the taiko is cleaned cow skin and the room reverberates with it as we draw the drums into a circle and, pulling our own skins taut over our muscles, beat and sweat and beat.
Out the window, beneath the green cedars, the mineral-blue river gurgles slowly along the valley floor. Above it, just visible in the rock of the facing mountain, are three little stone Buddhas. They sit all day long, as we come and go, in their fading red bibs in their little hand-carved holy place. It’s good to have a home.
Kurumaya Taiko Dojo, Miyama, Fukui, Japan (taiko made by Asano Taiko)
8th October 2014