Fuefuki City’s “Tenraitaiko”Soulful drumming that shakes you to the core
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Sounds wadaiko (aka taiko, traditional Japanese drums) creates are very uniquely Japanese. Wadaiko used to be used to signal something, however today it’s become a huge part of Japanese culture and an art form which is highly recognized. Drumming of Fuefuki City’s “Tenraitaiko” is believed to be the drumming Takeda Shingen* used to boost his samurai warriors’’ morale before heading out to battles. It was back in 1983 when the sounds were revived after a very long time.
*Takeda Shingen … One of the most famous military leaders in Japan, who ruled Kai Province (today’s Yamanashi Prefecture) in Sengoku Period.
Chairperson, Tenraitaiko Preservation Society
Mr. Kajihara moved to Tokyo from Yamanashi when he was younger but took a U-turn back after a few years to take over his parents’ inn called “Kisetsu no Oyado Himine”. He’s one of the founding members of Tenraitaiko Preservation Society and has been working as the Chairperson for over 30 years. He’s been actively expanding their performance opportunities including at local events, in and out of Yamanashi, and even overseas.
“Tenraitaiko” that started as part of the local community development
It was 1983 when the activities of Tenraitaiko started. Local volunteers from Misaka-cho in Fuefuki City got together and discussed what they could do to unite the town as one and “wadaiko” came up in the discussion.
“Amongst those founding members of the group, none of us had had experience with wadaiko before. So 12 to 13 of us went to train under ‘Osuwadaiko Preservation Society’ in Suwa City, Nagano Prefecture. We stayed and trained there for a while and brought the techniques back to Fuefuki City to share with the rest of the members. We learned all the basics of wadaiko and then from there, we continued to practice with the help from instructors we invited.”
Mr. Yasuo Kajihara, the Chairperson of Tenraitaiko Preservation Society, tells us how it all started. Mr. Kajihara is one of the founding members of the group.
“I took a U-turn back here from Tokyo so to speak to take over ‘Kisetsu no Oyado Himine’. Fuefuki City is where I grew up but I didn’t particularly have connection with the city so I was feeling like I wanted to connect with the local residents somehow. Then this opportunity came my way so I decided to join the group without hesitation.”
Since then, Mr. Kajihara has been leading activities of Tenraitaiko Reservation Society including recruiting new members and expanding their performance opportunities.
More members joining even from surrounding areas Insight into their activities lasting over 30 years
At present, Tenraitaiko Preservation Society has about 50 members. What’s unique about this group is that there are also many women and children in the group. Furthermore, the members come from not only Fuefuki City but also other areas such as Yamanashi City and Kofu City.
“The fact that we have a lot of kids in the group might reflect the characteristic of this area. In preschools and kindergartens around here, kids in 4 year-old and 5 year-old classes have opportunities to experience wadaiko. But when they start elementary school, they don’t have the same opportunities. Under such circumstances, kids who took to wadaiko and parents who want their kids to continue wadaiko come and visit our team voluntarily after preschool and kindergarten graduation.”
What a fantastic environment they have, where you can just jump in when you want to try. Mr. Kajihara tells us that members’ love and passion for wadaiko is the main reason why they have been able to continue their Tenraitaiko activities for over 30 years without struggles.
“The first things we teach our new members are courtesy and etiquette. We value things like having the proper posture when playing taiko and following etiquette such as ‘start with a bow and end with a bow’. It reflects Japanese culture after all.”
What Tenraitaiko Preservation Society provides is not only a place for people to learn drumming skills but also an environment where they can grow as a person.
Entertain the eyes with choreography, entertain the ears with sounds
The name “Tenraitaiko” is written in four Chinese characters, which is “天雷太鼓”. The first character “天(ten)” means sky or heaven, the second character “雷(rai)” means thunder and the third and fourth characters together “太鼓(daiko)” means taiko (drums). The name has Buddhism roots and it was inspired by “天鼓雷音(Tenkuraion)”, which means “thunder that roars and shakes the earth, which was produced by Tenku (drum in heaven that makes exquisite sound on its own without being hit)”. Their drumming creates sharp deep sounds, which is a unique characteristic of Tenraitaiko. It is believed that Sengoku warlord “Takeda Shingen” had taiko played before heading out for battles. He even had them played before the battles of Kawanakajima* and the sounds of those drums have been revived in the performances by Mr. Kajihara and other members of Tenraitaiko Preservation Society these days.
*Battles of Kawanakajima … Battles fought over control of Northern Shinano between Takeda Shingen of Kai Province and Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo Province.
They also perform on many stages in and out of Yamanashi. Mr. Kajihara tells us about performing in various places.
“As we practice very hard, we’d like many people to enjoy our performance. Currently, we perform mainly in Fuefuki City and Yamanashi Prefecture not to mention at local festivals. We want our audience to enjoy not only listening to the drumming but also watching the performance. Our choreography is excellent as well. We also use a variety of Japanese musical instruments including flutes and percussion instruments. This is a kind of entertainment where you close your eyes and enjoy the sounds of taiko and open your eyes and enjoy the dance moves. The combination of sounds and dance moves is what wadaiko is all about.”
Overseas media has also visited them recently to have an interview.
“German media visited us and we also had them try drumming as well. Since taiko has this unique Japanese rhythm, it’s a bit difficult for people from other countries. But they seemed to have enjoyed playing taiko very much. There are different techniques for playing taiko but within our team, having them enjoy playing taiko was the most important thing. It was an great opportunity to have people from overseas experience the fun of wadaiko.”
Pleasure it gives when sounds become one. Sound that can be heard a few kilometers away
When asked what the charm of wadaiko is, Mr. Kajihara’s answer was very simple.
“To unite as one. 10 people create one sound together. The dynamic and powerful drumming is what we want our audience to enjoy but we as drummers feel amazing performing as well.”
Taiko’s sound can be heard a few kilometers away.
“On our group’s 30th anniversary, we went to perform overseas (Singapore and Taiwan), and we also received high praise for our ‘dynamic’ performance there. Sound that travels a few kilometers and shakes you to the core, that’s what’s unique about wadaiko.”
Mr. Kajihara started wadaiko at 28 years of age and more than 30 years have passed since then. He tells us that he wants to keep on enjoying playing wadaiko with his team and wadaiko mates.
“I think it’s excellent for both kids and adults that there is an environment where you can jump in if you want to try wadaiko. Enjoy drumming but maintain discipline. That is Tenraitaiko. It’s definitely more fun to actually play taiko than to just watch so please come and join us!”
＼Let’s go to see Mr. Kajihara／
Adress： 4890-1 Kamikurokoma, Misakacho, Fuefuki city
Tel： (+81) – 55 ‐ 264 ‐ 2729
Practice day：Every Tuesday