Japan 2016 Report

Hello My Friends,

It was impossible to send you a report of each and every event that I did on this "Japan DrumAbout" but now that it is completed, I will give you some of the highlights before moving on to Hong Kong.

In the 12 years that I have been coming to Japan, I have done three DrumAbouts. This one is my fourth. Because they pre-register people for community drum circles here in Japan, as well as the other programs and playshops that we did, I know pretty much how many people that I have had direct contact and interaction with in this DrumAbout.

In the last 3 weeks, I have engaged with 1774 people during the 25 events in the 10 cities that I’ve visited throughout the length and breath of Japan. Ahh! Rhythmical Evangelism at its best.

This massive DrumAbout just wouldn’t have happened without the national cooperation and collaboration of  the 7 local organizer teams plus DCFA members, (Drum Circle Facilitation Association), 5 translators, and the amazing overall planning and directing of Tomoko Yokota, our good friend you all know as TomTom.

TomTom set up the whole DrumAbout, starting a year in advance. She coordinated responsibilities with the local team members and made sure that I got the private time and rest that I needed in between events. We traveled by car, plane, but mostly by the very fast, 250 km/h (kilometer per hour), and smooth riding Japanese Super Train called the Shinkansen, which I call the “SSSSSsssshhhhhhEeeeeeeKansen.” (the sound it makes if one passes you at full speed)

All the members of the 7 local organizer teams were at least one-time Playshop graduates, and 6 of the lead organizers were mentor graduates from the Japan Mentor program that Jim Boneau and I did in Japan last year.

The Translators: Yoko, Miho, Nutsu, Kana, and TomTom, were my voice on this rhythm evangelical Japan DrumAbout. They all channeled my spirit and message, as well as their own, to the 1774 who participated in all the different events.

The many types of programs we did on the DrumAbout were:

  • Mini (2 or 3 hour) Rhythmical Alchemy Playshops, (mostly drum circle games from the RAP book Volume 1)
  • Community Drum Circles, ranging from 60-260
  • School Programs. Sometimes I’m doing them and sometimes the VMC graduates are doing them while I take notes and critique afterwords
  • DCFacilitator Lecture & Hands-on Demonstration of VMC Facilitation Protocol, (for VMC graduates only)
  • Full-day Challenge courses for VMC Graduates (including some amazing question and answer sessions)
  • Hal- day Universal Principles of Hand Drumming class, a World drumming workshop
  • Rhythm Games for Kids (a 3-hour hands-on workshop for 80 college students who were studying to be teachers)
  • And on the final day, I did a drum circle at a Well Elderly Care nursing home

Here is my Japan DrumAbout schedule and comments:

June 2-3 – Nagano

  • Community Drum Circle
  • I did 2 school kid circles at Sakuho Shogakkou Elementary School (250 each). First circle was 5th, 3rd, 1st grade. The next group was 6th, 4th, 2nd grade. Each program went 45 minutes.

For these programs I demonstrated the “Layering-In System for Elementary Programs”...

  • In this system, the oldest grade students enter first. They select the drum or percussion that they want to play from the “Percussion Pile” off to the side of the circle (of course they will take the biggest drums), and sit in the center circle seats. I engage with them for 15 minutes.
  • Then the next lower grade of students are ushered into the hall. They chose their drum/percussion and then sit down filling up rows 2 & 3, and play with us for 15 more minutes.
  • Finally the lowest age group arrives, gets what drums and percussion that are left over and sits in the outside rows to play with us for the last 15 minutes.

I choose the time and place for “Windows of Communication” according to the age group and the situation.

June 4-5 – Tsumagoi Drum Camp for DCFA

The last time I visited the DCFA Drum Camp was in 2005, 11 yrs ago. At that time there were almost no graduates of any VMC Playshop attending, and their opening drum circle was one big 50 person circle sitting shoulder to shoulder. What a loud noisy mess.

Now the population of VMC graduates in the DCFA organization has increased almost one third. The VMC graduates have had a great affect on the operation and style of the DCFA organization and how it’s facilitators operate.

For starters they asked me to do the opening drum circle and had set it up with low drum in the center row and the chairs in three concentric rows to accommodate the 80 participants. A major improvement in their logistical technique.

We sold out all of the Japanese translated copies of Nellie’s and my DCFacilitators Handbook at the DCFA event. Time for a reprint.

  • Opening Drum Circle – It was a lot of fun to facilitate facilitators. I stressed the 4 VMC DCF Protocols and sent them to my website to view the new 1-hour video in preparation for the program that I was scheduled to do the next day.
  • DCFacilitator Lecture & Hands on Demonstration of VMC Facilitation Protocol for family-friendly Community Drum Circles.

The next morning I got enough feedback from the Drum Camp participants to know that a majority of them had watched the video. It made the Lecture/Demonstration go so smoothly that all I had to do was refer to the video so that the majority of the time we were just playing.

The organizers had trouble believing that I would make a one-hour video that breaks down the VMC Facilitation Protocol, put it up on the VMC website and make it available to everyone and anyone at no cost. REALLY? No Cost? Your giving it away? YES! Really! It’s on the opening page of the VMC website... Enjoy!!

June 6-8 – Sapporo

Sapporo is on the furthest northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. It is mostly wild mountain forest country. It’s Japan’s Alaska. It was still cold there when I arrived. The Winter starts in October and is over in late March or May. But you can sometimes still find snow piled two stories high that was removed from the roads and piled in parking lots during the winter.

They have an extensive underground walkway system that connects many of the buildings and railway systems, so you don’t have to brave the elements during their harsh winters. There are also 3-story high above ground covered walkways connecting one building to another building across the streets.

  • RAP – This was an not the usual RAP program. It was mostly Drum Circle Games with a bunch of facilitators and recreational drummers. A massive amount of fun is had by all when the agenda has no training element and we are there just there to “Jam.”

The Brown family attended the RAP (Charles and Akiko Brown, with their 16-year-old twin daughters). They were great contributors and an amazing experience to the event. You couldn’t tell the twins apart, same hairdo sane purple outfit, except that they wore different glasses. The Brown family are a professional percussion ensemble onto themselves.

The twin girls were as good or better than most of the professional players that attended. I especially enjoyed jamming a 6/8 groove with them during one of our Playshop breaks. I tried to pull them off groove with some crazy Vooden Bula breaks, but they hung in there like troopers. At the end of he 6/8 groove, they both told me in one collaborative sentence that they constructed "in-the-moment" by taking turns sharing words together, that they, “enjoyed the rhythm rollercoaster ride.”

  • Full-day Challenge for VMC Graduates – They called it a Follow-Up Course, and brought string for a closing ceremony. This was a group big enough to do some DC tasking challenges that was a lot of fun. Remember the blindfold sculpting exercise?
  • Community Drum Circle – Ahh Sapporo!! This is a well developed recreational drumming community, thanks to the hard work of Norepen of “Orange Boom Boom fame. The circle practically ran itself and orchestration was achieved early. That gave me lots of opportunities to “Play with the alchemy of the group.”

June 9-12 – Osaka 

"Itch Knee Yate Minahare” (local dialect for "Itch Knee Oh Sakinny Dozo”)

Osaka is the third biggest city in Japan. Yokohama just overtook Osaka as 2nd. Tokyo is the biggest.

The recreational community is well established there, do to a handful of VMC Mentor Graduates, so I spent 4 days there and my schedule was very full.

Now that I spend about 7 months on tour a year, when my regular corporate customers call the VMC office for gigs, I am glad to refer them to my trusted Village Music Circle "Certified Facilitators" who are residing in the area of the scheduled programs. I still do what corporate gigs that I can do each year though.

Last year, I referred a particular gig, that I could not do, to my good friend Jonathan Murray. It was a corporate group from Japan who were scheduling a conference in the Washington-Baltimore area where he lived.

Jonathan did the gig, had a lot of fun and called me up to report. The group’s headquarters was in Osaka, and as a part of their group chant, (group chants are very popular in Asian corporate culture), they were using the phrase "Yate Minahare” which has many meanings. This group were using the "Yate Minahare” phrase as “Go for it.”

Jonathan incorporated the phrase into “Itch Knee Yate Minahare” = “1, 2, Play as you like, Or Go for it” for his corporate drum circle and the group loved it. So I thought I would test it out Japan. In the northern cities, when I said “Itch Knee Yate Minahare” to start a groove, I got lot of laughter and the starts were a little messy. Later I was told that the phrase “Yate Minahare” was from a southern Japanese dialect.

If you said “Y’all” instead of “You All” in New York, they would know that you were speaking a dialect that came from the "Deep South" of the southern US States, like, for instance, maybe Louisiana. The same goes for the regional japanese dialects. And, as I found out, there are many different regional and local dialects in Japan.

So when I got down to the southern city of Osaka and tried "Itch Knee Yate Minahare” out, it was well received and immediately responded to by the participants with a solid groove. That is because I had found where that type of dialect belonged. I was using “their” language. BUT by the time I got to Okayama, only 111 miles away, and said, "Itch Knee Yate Minahare” there was strange looks on the players faces and absolutely no response. It was not a part of the Okayama regional dialect. But the standard "Itch Knee Oh Sakinny Dozo” worked well to start a groove there.

By the time I had gotten to the city of Yamagoshima I learned a new “local dialect” for the Call-To-Groove, the standard start of "Itch Knee Oh Sakinny Dozo” had turned into "Itch Knee Yata Minsi.” It worked great. By the time I was in the largest Southern city in Japan, Kagoshima, the local dialect for Call-To-Groove had turned to: "Itch Kne Soonago Seansa” which I never completely pronounced correctly. You live and you learn.

For the Osaka part of the DrumAbout I did:

  • School critique of Tetsu Nakagawa ( 5th, 3rd, 1st grade ) and Sumi Nishi (6th, 4th, 2nd grade)
  • Full-day Challenge
  • Community Drum Circle
  • RAP
  • A School Program

June 13-14 – Okayama

Itch Knee HUH???” Never got that one! Okayama is next to Hiroshima in the south. The town of Okayama is famous for the Japanese folklore legend of Peach Boy Momotardo.

The tale dates to the Edo period. Momotarō came to Earth inside a giant peach. The peach was found floating down a river by an old, childless woman who was washing clothes. The woman and her husband discovered the child when they tried to open the peach to eat it. The child explained that he had been sent by Heaven to be their son. The couple named him Momotarō, from mom = peach, and tarō = eldest son in the family. Tarō is a very common name in Southern Japan. His adventures started from there, and he grew up to be a samurai warrior who went to Demond Island, killed all the demons and brought a bunch of loot back for his village.

Programs for Okayama were:

  • Community Drum Circle, Fat-Phat and juicy!!!
  • School critique of Miho Chan's and Tomo Chan’s co-facilitation of 170 5th graders in Kurashiki city.

Kurashiki city, next to Okayama, has a well preserved 14th traditional old town down by the river side.

  • RAP

June 15-16 – Yamagoshima

"Itch Kne Yata Minsi”

  • Yamaguchi Gauge University (80 Teaching Students): a 3-hour workshop for 80 college students who were studying to be teachers. It was a hands-on rhythm games for kids workshop and with 3 hours, I had plenty of time to teach them some useful rhythm games that they could use with their school students.
  • RAP: a mixed community with lot of kids, so the challenge was to make it entertaining as well as fun for all ages.
  • Community Drum Circle: The word got out so we had a great turnout.

June 18-19 – Kagoshima 

"Itch Kne Soonago Seansa” (that was a tough one to say, and I never quite got the cadence to the phrase. But the participants had a lot of fun watching me try. I will work on it next year.

Kagoshima is as far south as you can get in Japan, unless you fly down to Okinawa. Kagoshima is where the last civil war of Japan took place in 1877. The movie, “The Last Samurai” with Tom Cruz, was based on what is called the "Satsuma rebellion.” The southern Samurai clans were pitted against the emperor who, in the early Meiji Era, was removing the swords from all Samurai in Japan. When the southern Japan Samurai started the "Rebellion" they were led by Takaamori Saigg. These Samurai went up against the early models of single shot long-barreled rifle that the emperor was importing. There was not much of a contest.

My hotel was at the top of a tall hill that looks over the city of Kagoshima and the Volcano across the bay. At the bottom of the hill you can still see the carved stones of the old castle wall. The wall marks the rebellion with pock-marked holes in the stones made from the ball bullets of the emperor’s long-barreled rifles.

At the end of the final battle, Takaamori’s troops had been whittled down from 40,000 to about 400. He was badly wounded and committed seppuku (suicide by short sword). His death marked the end of the Satsuma Rebellion. Half way up the hill is a large statue of Takaamori and a large stone marker in a small park that marks the place where Takaamori took is own life. There are statues of him all over town.

Takaamori had lived a long and impressive life and he was considered one of the most influential Samurai in Japanese history.  He has been called "the last true Samurai.” He was so loved for his upholding of the traditional samurai virtues, that the Meiji Era government pardoned him post-humously in 1889.

The active Volcano, called Sakurajima (Sakura = Cherry, Jima = Island) sits just across the bay from Kagoshima city. The lava flows of the 1914 eruption caused what was a former island to be connected with the Osumi Peninsula.

On my "Culture Day" we took a ferry to the volcano and visited what was left of the Harajosha village and its shrine that had been buried in ashes by one of the large volcanic eruptions in 1914. The top of of what was the 10-foot tall “Torii,” situated at the Shrine’s entrance, is now sticking out of the black ash ground by only 2 feet.

After the eruptions, the Village chief, Nozon, stopped the excavation work on the shrine and village and left it as it is today to show the fury of the eruption to later generations. Then he moved the village population a short ways away. The Harajosha Shrine is now designated as a “Protectoral Cultural Property."

The volcanic activity of Sakurajima still continues today, throwing up plums of ash every once in a while, and is still dropping large amounts of volcanic ash on it's surroundings. The volcano’s most recent eruption started in February of this year. You can see the volcano by sitting in the hotel’s Onsen hot tub. I was told some of the clouds floating above the volcano were not clouds. Yes, it’s still active!

The Kagoshima programs were:

  • World Rhythm Culture Workshop: A 3-hour drumming workshop which is built on the Universal Principles of Hand Drumming. Lots of good drummers.
  • RAP: The drummers returned for the RAP and it’s grooves rocked.
  • Family-friendly Community Drum Circle.

June  20th – Tokyo 

Shinjuku, Tokyo was my home base for many a drum circle Playshop tour. It is also one of my cultural playgrounds in Japan.

  • A Well Elderly Drum Circle (with 40 people including care-giving staff): The age range of the elderly at the rest home was between 75 and 94 years old. VMC Graduate Kadsu, (wrong spelling), has been facilitating DCs on a regular basis here and it felt like a regular community drum circle but with a lot of happy old people.

At this event all I had to do was ask, “Is there anybody here who would like to lead your favorite song?” And the people took turns singing and they all sang and played along. We had more song volunteers than we had time for. The caretakers said that we could only run the DC for 1/2 an hour, but the patients wouldn’t stop singing and playing for 45 minutes.

At the end of the drum circle, a 94-year young Obaasan, (grandmother), gave me a clear plastic religious artifact shaped in the form of an Shinto Ema. There were cherry blossoms imbedded in the clear plastic. An “Ema” is a small wooden board which you can get in any Shinto Shrine. You write wishes, or prayers on it and give it to the priest to bless and burn in a ceremonial fire. The Obaasan had the Ema on her personal alter to commemorate her older brother who died during WW2. I excepted it, telling her that I would put it on my alter back at home, to commemorate all the people who died during WW2. We both cried.

  • The final event of this DrumAbout Japan was the Tokyo Community drum circle. It is very appropriate that we ended the tour here, as the Tokyo area is where I started doing Playshops in Japan in 2004. Kaoru Sasaki showed up to the event and I spent some time acknowledging the work that she did to bring me into Japan for the very first Playshops. Kaoru helped kickstart the facilitated drum circle movement that is now so healthy and thriving here in Japan.

A lot of recreational drummers attended, so we got to orchestration pretty quickly. There was lots of deep listening, deep Hawaii late night type grooves and as a result there were “Angels In The Music.”

A big thanks goes out to REMO Inc. for helping with travel costs on this tour.

I offer my heartfelt thanks to TomTom Yokota for planning and executing such an extensive and successful Japan DrumAbout tour. One of the elements that determined how successful this tour was is the fact that, at the end of it, I’m Not Dead!! Yea!!

TomTom traveled with me the whole of the trip. We ended this three-week ten-city DrumAbout with more love and respect for each other than when we started. Considering that we started with a large amount of "mutual admiration," that is saying a lot.

After this tour around Japan, my Japanese vocabulary has improved and solidified, and thanks to Tom Tom, I have added another page of useful Japanese words and phrases to my language book. I am not at the level of being able to hold conversations yet, but I now know enough to get around the country on my own (if needed).

I love this country and culture in so many ways. Staying in Japan for an extended period of time for language emersion, is on my bucket list. Japanese culture will always be a strange and beautiful mystery that this Gijing, (foreigner), will never fully uncover, solve or understand, but that won’t stop me from trying. One thing that I do recognize, is that the more I learn about Japan, the more I realize how little I know.

And the ever-ready bunny keeps going…. On to Hong Kong...
Life is a dance,  Arthur {]]’;-)