While in Japan, I am attempting to explore as many traditional cultural activities as possible. Although my town is small, there is a rich cultural community here, and I am finding many opportunities to learn.
Kadō 華道 – The Way of Flowers
There is a kadō club that meets at Shimane Chuo High School every other week. There are only a couple of students who participate, so when I attend I receive the majority of the teacher’s attention. She walks me through every step of preparing the flower arrangement – from examining the various qualities of materials to altering the bend of a certain leaf to make the arrangement look more alive. I have been taking extensive notes with each lesson, and am bringing the tools and plants home with me after the lesson so I can practice on my own.
Taiko 鼓 – Japanese Ensemble Drumming
I began practicing taiko with Kawamoto’s local group, Gogawadaiko soon after arriving in Japan. The group practices twice a week and features an intriguing mix of people – from the local cafe owner to the mayor. I look forward to every practice as a time for interesting conversation, intense physical exertion, and excellent practice in focus and concentration.
Sadō 茶道 – The Way of Tea
Shimane Chuo High School has a sadō club that meets every week and performs tea ceremonies at school events. Thus far, I am only a recipient of tea at the club meetings, but that is challenging on its own! There are special words used when receiving and drinking the tea, and a particular way in which you hold the tea bowl and eat the wagashi (Japanese sweet prepared specifically for the tea ceremony). I love sadō because it is one of the most unique practices I have ever observed or participated in. The intentionality in every movement mesmerizes me.
Shamisen 三味線 – Three-stringed Japanese Instrument
I recently began studying the shamisen – the Japanese equivalent of a banjo. One of my closest mentors here is allowing me to use his practice shamisen in my apartment. The sounds of the shamisen is magical. The strings are played by striking the body of the shamisen with a bachi. The bachi is a large pick made from ivory and tortoise shell which not only plucks the string but also creates a drum-like sound when struck against the dog-hide body of the shamisen. The strings are made of silk. This is one of the most ridiculously expensive musical instruments I have ever encountered. I’m glad I don’t have to purchase one to learn the art.
If you’ve never heard a shamisen before, this is a nice example of the first song I am learning to play – a traditional Japanese song called Sakura (“cherry blossom”):