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When the beating taiko drums keep you from going home

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Travel, travelblog, Japan, Tokyo

Taiko Drums please!

I am terribly musically challenged as I explained in this post, but I still love music and the hubby and I share a deep appreciation for percussion performances. A few years ago we attended a performance of taiko drums in Philadelphia by a well-known Japanese group called Kodo. The show was so fantastic we were hooked. Ever since then we take any opportunity to go watch a Taiko drum performance.

If you are not familiar with Kodo, take a look at this video or for taiko drums in general this one. (It’s best watched in full volume.)

It’s only my second day in Tokyo!

Serendipitously, after an activity packed day that started at 3am at the Tsukiji Fish Market, followed by Senso-ji Temple and finally a stroll through Ueno Park, I was walking back to my hotel, ready for a bath, food and sleep when I heard the distant sounds of taiko drums. I couldn’t resist.

[tweetthis remove_hidden_urls=”true”]My body was asking for rest, but my heart wanted the beating of the drums. [/tweetthis]

I walked a couple of streets trying to identify where the sound was coming from and found a massive, beautiful Buddhist temple right in the neighborhood. Paper lanterns adorned the huge pavilion in which a group of Taiko drummers performed. Food stalls bordered the pavilion with long, communal tables and the locals were settling in for a party, all dressed up in the customary yukata – summer cotton kimono.

I checked for an entrance booth or signs that I wasn’t crashing someone’s wedding. Feeling satisfied that it was a public party, I ventured in and tried not to grin like a complete idiot for the rest of the night.


Drink, eat, drink some more

I wanted to eat everything, but wasn’t hungry enough. It’s impolite to leave uneaten food in Japan, so I had to pick smaller meals. I tried some corn fritters – delicious! and some Takoyaki (octopus filled pancakes). I also had some noodles and copious amounts of Aquarius (the Japanese version of Gatorade). The humidity in Japan was something I had not anticipated (70%) and it, combined with almost 24 hrs in planes the day before, left me parched.

An authentic experience you won’t find in a guidebook

If the Taiko drummers and the awesome food weren’t great enough, once night fell, I was blessed with one of the most remarkable sights of this trip- dancing. I believe it’s called Bon Odori as August is the month of the Buddhist celebration of Obon- a festival to honor one’s ancestors. As people started to join in the circle that formed around the huge platform that held the biggest Taiko drum and “instructor” dancers lined the bottom level of the platform, I started tearing up. Women, men and children joined in the gracious choreography. What an amazing sight to behold! I can’t really come up with the words of what this moment felt like. I wanted to join in and yet felt like I would ruin the gracefulness of the dance with my untrained, jerky movements. I wanted to be in and also stay out, watching. I opted for the latter.

As authentic experiences go, this was a dream come true!

Hard decisions

I didn’t want to leave, but a couple of hours later, I forced myself back to my hotel. I had an early train to catch before my next destination of Matsumoto and needed to get a good night of sleep. That night I reflected on the perfect day in Tokyo and realized that not once, I had felt fear or had any anxieties about traveling solo. Being vulnerable actually allowed me a greater spectrum of appreciation for a new culture and a new place.

What authentic experiences have you had serendipitously?




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