Monday, September 17, 2007


Yes, I am. I'm going to Japan!

Can you see me doing my little going-to-Japan-dance? It goes a little something like this:

Ok, so that's Snoopy's version - a slightly bouncier version of my happy dance. And that was actually me a couple days ago. Now that it's Wednesday and I'm leaving in a day and a half, I am running around like a chicken with no head - don't think you want to see a picture of that.

It all started when the taiko group that I am a member of, Arashi Daiko, was approached to be part of a documentary television series on world music. The group agreed to participate, and the filmmakers needed someone in the group to interview and follow around for a bit of a biography. Working from home I have a pretty flexible schedule and I am also comfortable in French, the language of this production, so long story short, it ended up being me and my husband who are both members of this taiko group. We were initially told it would involve filming our rehearsals, and a performance or two, as well as an in-studio recording/shoot. Sounded interesting for Arashi Daiko and like a fun project to be a part of, right?

Last December came the news that this would also involve a trip to Japan, since a segment of the hour-long show will be about returning to the source of the music featured. Shocked, terrified, scared poopless ... and oh yeah, did I mention, thrilled? THRILLLLLED!

The filming schedule is now taking shape, and it's a pretty jam-packed eight days of shooting footage of taiko players, festivals and Japanese shops, streets and everyday life. My husband, JF and I will stay another five days on our own, and likely go to visit friends in Kyoto.

Here's just a brief run-down of some of what we will be seeing. I'll write all about it when we get back! Fukuro Matsuri is a week-long festival in Tokyo, with taiko, music, huge parades and thousands of dancers in costume. Here are a couple of photos from last year's edition:

We will be taking a workshop with this group below, Miyake Taiko. Led by master player of this style, Akio Tsumura and his three sons, this is an intense and physically gruelling piece to study, - challenging, as you can see, for the legs and hips. Even more difficult is the mental focus it takes to overcome the pain in your legs, arms and hands, which become raw from the large sticks or bachi used to hit. And yes, although we are nervous about it, we are looking forward to it.

We will then go to Sado Island, where world famous Kodo drummers live, train and teach members -to-be. We will be able to observe and learn from their most senior member, Yoshikazu Fujimoto (see him below playing odaiko, or the big drum). We may even get to play if we can keep up! The whole Kodo organization has been so very generous with us - this is like a dream come true for JF and me!

Than back to Tokyo and we will visit Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten, official drum maker to the Emperor of Japan. We will be able to visit their store, their drum museum, as well as their taiko making studio - a true honour!

I really have to get back to work on the omiyage (gifts) that we will be bringing with us, to give to all the wonderful people we will be visiting in Japan.

Have to remember to breeeeathe.....

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Too cute, my brain hurts...

So you know I am a cat person.

Well, last week we were at a friend's house, sitting in her backyard for a BBQ. A stray cat had adopted the neighbour's yard as a place to have her kittens, and they were starting to wander around. They wobbled into my friend's yard to come face to face with Pablo, my friend's boxer/lab mix; he is the friendliest, sweetest dog (he likes my cat - not reciprocal), but the wee kits were hissing and swatting at him. Not terribly threatening, but Pablo backed off anyway :)

Can you stand it???? I was supposed to be eating my corn on the cob, which was getting cold on the table, but who wouldn't want to sit with these guys instead? Oh, the mind-numbing cuteness.

Are your teeth aching yet? There were five kittens in total, but we only met the three bold ones who visited. They got used to Pable, but I think I whimpered throughout dinner while they were there.

No, we will not be bringing any of these leeeetle kittens home. Instead, we are opting for this large, seasoned creature below, Ebi (in case you're wondering, I cropped out my sister's face since I think she'd slug me if I included it).
When JF and I come back from Japan at the beginning of October, we will be doing a trial with Ebi, my mom's cat. When my mom passed away last year, my niece wanted to look after him, but after a little over a year now, that cat's lifestyle has taken a drastic change; my mom used to be home with him all the time (and would fret when she wasn't) and my sister and her family are always out. Poor Ebi is lonely and cranky. Not sure how he and my Chibi will take to each other, but we will do our best.

I tossed in the Japan trip very casually, didn't I? We are going to film part of a documentary on Japanese drumming - very exciting, very stressful... I'll write about that another time.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Woof, yeah, I said woof

I am a cat person, not a dog person. I mean, I like dogs, and pretty much all animals, but I think I have an afinity for cats. Maybe this is because we had numerous family cats when I was growing up and I'm just used to their way of being.

Visiting my brother on Vancouver Island was wonderful. Yoshi, their dog, is your quintessential happy hound. He is enthusiastic, energetic and has the perfect smile. Have a look for yourself.

He's really grown on me! I used to laugh at him because I thought he was so odd looking, terrible auntie! Yoshi is a pugapoo, a pug and poodle mix. Cute, yes, but odd too (call me a meanie). Curly poodle coat on a barrel chested pug physique. And because his face is not as squashed as a pug's, his face shape and facial expressions make him look a bit like a man. Ok, a little man in a tight dog suit.

This time he had just had a shave, so he was all fresh and spunky looking. We went for a walk and met up with this fluffy creature, who was just as cranky and stuck up as he looks in the picture. Poor Yoshi tried to sniff him out, and nearly got his nose snapped off (Fluffy's owner may have been just as uptight).

Found Yoshi's favourite thing in the park, the slide!

I had a nice visit with my other brother's guinea pigs too, but I didn't take any photos of them. Bad auntie! They have 5 guinea pigs that are very communicative and fun to watch. You can see them here, although they were much younger in this video.

Since I am a cat person, I will end on a feline note. This is my baby, my Chibi. We adopted her from the SPCA last summer after she was given up for adoption because she was pregnant. Her kittens were snatched up quickly, but we chose her since she was the most adorable (and very much in need of a home). She is truly the best :)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

More on the wild, wild west...

This is going to be yet another post about taiko, or Japanese drums. In case you didn't know, taiko is a huge part of my life; I spend as much time with my taiko group, Arashi Daiko, as I do with my family. Probably more. Yup, more. My husband is a member of the same group, which is great, otherwise I'd never see him in the summer since we are constantly rehearsing and performing. Last month was the biennial (this means every two years , and not twice a year, right?) North American Taiko Conference, this time taking place at the University of Washington, in beautiful Seattle.

Backtrack a couple of days to Nanaimo where I had a great visit with my oldest brother and his family; this was after being in Vancouver and the great visit with my second brother and his family. And my sister had surprised me by showing up in Vancouver with her family as well. Nice, or what?

Whenever I leave my siblings out west, I cry. I try to control it when I feel the good-bye is getting closer, but I cannot seem to keep my chin from wobbling and that durn lump in my throat from forming. With my sister there too, it was a veritable weep-fest. I'm just a weepin' fool - sounds like a country song.

Took the ferry from West Vancouver to Vancouver Island, which is one of the loveliest places I have ever been. Nanaimo, where my brother, Ron, lives with his family, is a beautiful place to live, not too big or small, looking out onto the ocean.

Take a look at these photos and say you don't agree. Below, walking with bro and niece, Emily.

I once again had to summon some much-needed help from my family, preparing stock to be express-shipped to the taiko conference.

Sigh. Will this girl ever learn? Here I am at 2am, making some last, last, last-minute mini-drums, that were made into cell phone charms and earrings.

Took the ferry from Victoria on Vancouver Island to downtown Seattle. Highlight: seal on a buoy, sorry no photo. I'm easily amused/impressed/entertained whenever there are animals involved. Got this from my mom, I'm sure.

So nice to see old friends at the taiko conference. Taiko people are warm, energetic, friendly, passionate and generous. That may sound like quite a generalization, but I challenge you to go to any North American city that has a taiko group(s), track down the group, let them know you love taiko, or you play taiko, and either they will invite you to their practice or invite you out to lunch after practice - a taiko player's favourite thing to do, second to playing taiko of course, is EATING.

Proof, we take photos of our most gorgeous meals: this is JF's chirashi at a Seattle resto.

I won't go into all the details of what happened but my shipment of handmade goodies prepared for this taiko crowd was held up at the border so on the first day of the two and a half day long conference I had an empty table, put on my best smile, and said "Pleeeeeeeze come back tomorrow, I swear I'll have something to sell." My back had cramped up from all the worry. Long story short, my shipment arrived in time for me to sell much of my stock on the remaining day and a half. If it were not for the help of my favourite conference volunteers, Keith and Tyler, the steady leak in my brain would likely have gushed and my helmet would have been full of grey matter muck (don't ask).

Saw some inspiring taiko peformances, and even got to play a little, yay! Here we are on the last morning, and an outdoor jam session. That's me and Hisako, who was 6 months pregnant when this was taken; she is in incredible shape, wouldn't you say? Yumi is standing in the back in the orange top, looking thrilled.

Taiko jam at 8:30 am Sunday morning, U. of Washington campus - wakey, wakey!

And here is the unstoppable and unsinkable Molly K., who is truly an inspiration to us all. She is 80 years young and still playing taiko, so I really can't complain that I started playing too late in life, nine years ago at the age of 31.

I want to be just like Molly when I grow up.