Amanojaku at Astro Hall

Amanojaku led by master drummer and composer Yoichi Watanabe did their “live” concert at Astro Hall in Harajuku THU Aug 20.
The stage was so small their pieces like “Dotou” and “Bujin” got a different, bit cramped, look.
But the music was as forceful and fascinating as always.
And it’s great Amanojaku is taking stage in a place like Harajuku.
You certainly got a close up look.
Chris Holland, from Denver Taiko, made his professional debut with Amanojaku and got a great strong sound on his odaiko solo.
Go Chris!
Amanojaku will be at a Bon Odori _ Japan’s native dance festival for the homecoming of ancestral spirits.
So if you want to get down and dance and have fun, hop on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line to Minami Tanaka Danchi (housing projects) in Nerima Ward.
Get off at Nerima Takanodai station and follow the drumbeat.
Thank the Japanese gods for another summer that’s over.

FRI Aug. 21 and SAT Aug. 22

Amanojaku LIVE at Harajuku Astro Hall

AMANOJAKU Tokyo’s Top-Level Taiko
Harajuku ASTRO Hall
THU Aug. 20 7:30 p.m. (Admision starts 7 p.m.)
Advance tickets (includes one drink)
4,000 yen; at door 4,500 yen.
For more information, please call Amanojaku: 03-3904-1745.
Ticket Pia P-code: 330-019
Lawson Ticket L-code: 79754.

Amanojaku, led by master drummer Yoichi Watanabe, concocts an emotional and explosive experience of sound, pitting the best of taiko tradition with global ethnic rhythms and modern composition for a distinct World Music narrative that explores Japanese soul.
Amanojaku teaches taiko in the U.S., Brazil, Asia and Europe, and leads workshops and performs in festivals throughout Japan.
Last year, it led the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil in a performance of 1,000 drummers at the samba venue.
Hiromi Ogawa and Mayumi Kawana are founding members of Amanojaku and the best women’s duet taiko drummers in the world. They debunk any old-fashioned stereotypes the West may have about Japanese women, inspiring awe with their sheer brute strength and creative integrity.
Also appearing are Daisuke Watanabe, Hiromi Sekine, Chris Holland (from Denver Taiko) and Isaku Kageyama.

The Giant Drum

“Tamashii no Hibiki” (“Soul Beat”) by taiko master Yoichi Watanabe (right in above photo), leader of Amanojaku, is a truly beautiful “odaiko” (big taiko) piece.
It is storytelling in percussion _ the talking drum _ at its height Japanese-style.
The video (in the link below) shows how my son Isaku Kageyama played it as a guest at the Tokyo International Taiko Contest.
He won a couple of contests himself with this piece, starting with the 2000 Mount Fuji contest when he became the youngest player at 18 to ever win the honors.
Please go to the site below, scroll down and download “Soul Beat.”
It takes a while but I think it’s worth the wait.
Video, though, never quite does taiko justice because of the physical sensation of taiko that goes beyond just hearing it _ imagine the walls, your blood veins, the insides of your brain and all the spaces of air around you shaking.

Amanojaku Taiko Concert

Fresh back from a trip to Brazil to celebrate the centenary of Japanese immigration to Brazil, Amanojaku gave two Tokyo concerts this week.
What’s striking about their performance is the vision of leader Yoichi Watanabe that is underlined by his fantastic compositions.
Inspired by stark imagery and story-telling, from sword-flicking samurai to the eternal power of dashing waves, Watanabe’s tunes never fail to deliver an exciting and articulate musical experience.
His taiko concerts aren’t the clap-along feel-good affairs of showmanship that many associate these days with modern taiko.
They make deeper, sometimes painful statements about Watanabe’s perceptions on life and art as defined through his compositions/choreography woven together like fabric.
He told the concert crowd about how he composed “Dotou.”
He said he started out with a piece for the big drum, and then that evolved into a tune about the snarling waves.
While he was at a studio in a prefecture outside Tokyo to work out the composition, there was a thunderstorm.
There was so much rain the sewage gutter outside the studio began overflowing in torrents.
Thus was “Doutou” born.
Watanabe wrote “Kaiun” after his parents died, and the piece has elements of prayer and wishes for everyone’s happiness.
The song has allusions to universal symbols of hard work and preserverance such as worksong chants, swaying of the body and rigorous repetitive beating that is almost excruciating.
But in a mysterious way, the song is also about deliverance from the madness of everyday survival.
It is a moving song about how a man is dealing with the sorrow of losing people he loves, the gratitude he feels toward his forebearers, and the total fear yet total courage artists feel in perpetually facing up to our inevitable deaths.

Amanojaku Taiko Concert


Amanojaku Taiko Concert – Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Japanese Immigration to Brazil
Amanojaku with Kyosuke Suzuki (yokobue flute), Katsunari Sawada (shamisen)
August 13, 2008 Wednesday at 19:00 (Doors open at 18:30)
August 14, 2008 Thursday at 14:00 (Doors open at 13:30)
Nerima Bunka Center TEL: 03-3993-3311
Ticket Prices: Advance Tickets: JPY 4000 
Door Tickets: JPY 4500
All seats are non-reserved
Ticket Pia –  P-Code: 293-971
TEL: 0570-02-9999
Contact: Amanojaku -
TEL: 03-3904-1745 FAX: 03-3904-9434

Amanojaku led by Yoichi Watanabe has just returned from Brazil where they led 1,000 Japanese Brazilian drummers in a performance at a samba venue in Sao Paulo, the Brazilian city with the biggest population of people of Japanese ancestry.
Watanabe has gone to Brazil six times in the last several years to lead workshops in taiko drumming in Japanese communities throughout that nation. This year marks the centenary of Japanese immigration to Brazil, where pioneers went with big dreams after they were blocked entry by segration in the U.S. Taiko has long been a major part of the Japanese American community. Taiko is growing into a major part of the Japanese Brazilian community. Taiko is that pulse that unites people everywhere and helps make that vital connection to our cultural roots.

More Amanojaku in Brazil

Video footage of a recent Amanojaku concert in Brazil.
“Kaiun” by Yoichi Watanabe.
Players from left to right:
Mayumi Kawana, Isaku Kageyama, Hiromi Ogawa, Yoichi Watanabe.
Yoichi Watanabe, master taiko drummer and the leader of Tokyo taiko group Amanojaku, wrote “Kaiun” after he lost both his father and mother within a scope of about a year.
Like many Japanese, Watanabe has a tight family (both his sons are fantastic taiko drummers), and he was very close to his parents.
The sorrow was a crushing burden that was visible to anyone who saw him those days.
His own health suffered, and he was hospitalized.
But like all great artists, he found in his ordeal a vital force for this composition that is not only about the kind of person his parents always taught him to be _ humbly enduring but always with integrity and vision _ but also about the message of hope and prayer for everyone.
“Kaiun” means “good fortune” in Japanese.
People use the phrase when they wish good luck to others in the same way people in the West say, “God bless you.”
“Kaiun” is a powerful spiritual statement of art’s transcendence over death and a man’s sense of mission to pass on a musical legacy to future generations.
It is a universal statement about how we can never defeat death but how art can give us eternity.

If you want to see “Kaiun” with a better camera angle, please order the Amanojaku DVD from the online store:

It has all the greatest Amanojaku tunes, including “Bujin” (seen in the YouTube upload below), “Dotoh,” “Kagura” and others.
A must buy for all taiko fans and students.

My son and taiko

Photo by Naokazu Oinuma: Isaku Kageyama of Amanojaku.
Every parent should have a stage to boast about their child/ren.
I got to do it recently with an AP article for our online service for young readers asap.
It was a special writing/reporting experience, and I learned a lot about my son.
Music is a way of expressing/exploring identity.
For Isaku, taiko is an important way he can feel comfortable about being marginal _ never being quite all Japanese or all American.
It’s all the same in the end.
Art helps us cope with pain.
But it also links with Something larger than life.
Isaku’s bilingual blog
Amanojaku’s DVD of a recent concert went on sale earlier this year. To get yours, contact Isaku at:

The power of Amanojaku lies in the composing by the group’s founder, leader and creative force Yoichi Watanabe.
Every Watanabe tune is a narrative _ a trickling stream turning into dashing ocean waves, a dirgelike tune that’s a testament of parental love, a samurai flashing his/her sword in determined battle.
Watanabe’s storytelling is effective because taiko is not only dramatic but also based on nuance _ a feeling in reverberations _ and evocative of sounds from nature and other universal associations.
Watanabe also has that genius sensibility in matching rhythm patterns with truly “kakkoii” moves that are so Japanese.
He also juxtaposes Japanese rhythms with standard Latin beats in intelligent ways so it never becomes gimmicky.
I love that moment when the drummers, one by one, tap out a Latin rhythm in a transition section of “Dotou.”
At the end of that segment, when the drummers flick their drumstick against the circular side of their taiko, and then OOOMPH! dive right into a groove, it just feels soooo good, like something jerking your insides probably where your intestines attach to the bottom of your stomach.
You just have to be there.
I’ve been to their concert so many times, but I still wait for that moment.
Amanojaku on YouTube

Taiko is for the Japanese what conga is for Latin culture, djembe is for African music and traps drumming is for American jazz.

What one Brazilian youngster has to say about what taiko means to him:
Bruno Takao Murakami, a 23-year-old third-generation Japanese-Brazilian, who has been studying with Amanojaku for nearly two years, says taiko has helped him feel proud of his Japanese ancestry.
“Isaku sensei is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had,” he says. “I like his spirit and the way he looks at taiko.”