Mini-Hawaii Playshop in Japan - JUNE 2017

Hello My Friends,

“Yukoso, Menasama no Durham Saakulu e’” in Japanese means, “Welcome everyone your Drum Circle” in English.

But the last half of the sentence is what I call Japan-English. They are saying Drum, but it comes out Durdam, and the word Circle comes out Saakulu.

If I said, “Yukoso, Menasama no Drum Circle” the participants would not know what I was talking about.

Just like, if you asked for a Beer in a bar, the bartender would not understand you unless you asked for a ‘Beeruu’.

In-between the large southern island of Shikoku (where Tomtom lives in Matsuyama), and the mainland of Japan, is a number of archipelagos of small islands that are floating in the shallow inland sea of Satonna Kai.

Kai means “sea” and Setona means “between edge” = Between the Edge Sea.

In one of those archipelagos is a small island full of palm trees and orange groves called Omishima.

It’s a different island than the one we have been using for our Japan Playshops.

Nestled in a cove between two forested hills is a very old elementary school facing the shipping lanes that separate the islands. The school was built after the war in the culturally traditional Japanese architectural style. This all wood building has sliding doors and windows similar to the Sougi screens in a traditional Japanese house. But instead of thick paper in the screens, they have frosted class panels. All but one of the classrooms have traditional finely woven straw tatami mats and the classrooms were built in the traditional Japanese style with paneled walls.

The one room with a wooden floor has regular school chairs and desks, but most of the table furniture in the tatami mat rooms are only a few inches off the ground. There are small futon pillows to sit on. The beds are futon style as well. They are folded up and stored in the walls of the rooms. You don’t know that the wall is really a closet until you see the indentation in the wood frame where you insert your fingers to slide the panel open.

This fat 'Gygining' foreigner slept on a five futon thick bed.

Like any traditionally built Japanese house, there is a raised covered walkway that runs around the inner courtyard next to the building. It would be called an Engama if it was a house, but because it is a building it is called a Rolcawa. This means that you leave your shoes at the foot of the veranda and walk barefoot on the wooden walkway as well as in the rooms. But in this situation, the fourth wall facing the courtyard is the Setona sea.

This old school had been converted into a fantastic retreat center, but still retains that school feel. I am so happy that we are here. The center is surrounded by wooded hills on three sides with the courtyard facing the sea, 50 feet away from the buildings. With no other houses or buildings in sight, this made the perfect Mini-Japanese Hawaii Playshop venue. It even has it own private beach, just like our Hawaii home on the North Shore of Oahu.

The food was traditional Japanese and very delicious. Every night at dinner time, a different kind of fish, complete with head-body and tail, would stare up at me from my plate. That main course is then surrounded with 8 to 10 smaller plates holding small bits and pieces of edible things that I always loved to eat, but can rarely identify. The dinners are always tasty and there is always a new kind of fish that is looking up at me at each meal. What do you expect on a small island surrounded by ocean.

We had a one and a half day pre-Playshop Challenge course where our returnee graduates got to explore areas and special exercises that we usually don’t do in a 3-day Playshop. By the time that the Basic Playshop participants came to our little island, from all over Japan, the Challenge people were a team ready to receive and support them.

I didn’t teach this Playshop…. Tomtom did. I mostly sat in the corner taking notes and playing the role of the color commentary side-kick support while TomTom was the lead trainer.

Since Tomtom did all the opening segments for each day, as well as the morning Challenge critiques, there was no translation needed. That meant that we had plenty of extra time for more freeform jump time experimentation, a BoomWhacker segment, led by Tomtom, to demonstrate interactive dialogue, and also a Suzuki chime, very Japanese-style Rhythm Church, led by Tomtom.

This was her very important One-On-One ‘Training-the-Trainer’ training with me. It was done in preparation for her VMC-Certified Trainer program coming up in Scotland in the fall. There will be more on that in my “Japan History” report coming soon.

We did an indoor Late Night on Friday night with a fake fire, made up of a bucket of glittering little battery powered mini-candles. Then the next night we had a star-filled outdoor courtyard Late Night that was full of trance grooves and silent pauses. I used my chopsticks to play a gong-like metal ashtray, worn as a hat, while playing my whisky flask at the same time.

This Playshop felt as much as a mini Hawaii party as it did a training. Yet everything was completely and smoothly delivered by Tomtom and the great results of her training showed up in how well the participants facilitated our little rural island closing community drum circle with 60 people + kids.

During my Drum Call at the beginning of community drum circle, there was a 8-year-old boy named Ryutaro. He was sitting on the tatami mat floor behind the last row of drummers. Ryutaro was whaling away on a baby Not-So-Loud REMO drum with two mallets. All REMO NSL drums make great jun-juns because of the kinesthetic nature of their extra thick heads.

This boy was in perfect rhythmical harmony with the rest of the group who were playing a solid 4/4 groove. I connected with him and told him to “ZuZu Kaka” (continue to play). He shook his head yes with excitement. Then I signaled the whole group and Stop Cut in order to showcase his rhythm and enthusiasm.

But the silence surprised the boy and he stopped as well.

I signaled him to play and he did with gusto, only he had switched from 4/4 to a fast shuffleing 6/8 time signature.

At first I panicked, then remembered that I was in Japan where half of their folk music is in 6/8.

So I Skipped down the drum circle isleway to the center of the circle in a 6/8 shuffle dance. They all joined in drumming in 6/8.

Someone in the center row started singing what turned out to be a folk song that everybody knew. When I saw two or three other people start to sing with the originator of the song, I brought down the drumming volume and brought up the vocals and the whole group started singing the song. Away we went.

Use What They Give You...

Akinori Sano is totally deaf. He is a VMC returnee from two previous Playshop trainings. He brought with him two sign language people who stood outside the training circle for three days and signed to him everything that was being said.

While sitting in the circle playing, Akinori would get off beat from time to time. But whenever he was in the middle of the circle facilitating or doing an exercise, his kinesthetic Radar was fully engaged and his timing was right on.

Towards the end of the community drum circle Akinori stepped in the center with some signs that he had made. They were written in Japanese so I don’t know what they said. But by holding up different signs, at different times, he facilitated a great musical experience with the group, that he could not hear himself, but only feel. For me it was inspirational, beautiful and sad, all at the same time.

My thanks to REMO for their years of support to help make this rhythm revolution happen in Japan.

Also my thanks to the great products that REMO makes. There are a lot of programs that I do throughout Asia with REMO drums in them, that I have used continually for many years in the Playshops, with many years use left in them. Some of the Orange Boom Boom REMO drums that we used in this Playshop are 14 years old. They have been shipped around Japan many times a year, show up at my Playshop trainings and are still sounding good.

My thanks to Tomtom and the Orange Boom Boom team for hosting another successful VMC Playshop in Japan. There will be many more.

Life is a dance…   Arthur