Friday, September 23, 2005

Sado Me

I wrote previously about the impossibility of chronicling something when you're fully immersed. Yet again, this applies to a trip to Sado. I was on the KASA/MIX tour, a group of 25 North American taiko players from various locales who'd gathered to train for a week with Kodo. We spent a few days both before and after Sado in Tokyo, but I'll attend to that later.

After arriving on Sado, we met Atsushi and Shin-chan, who took us up to Ogi-no-yu Onsen. It had a nice outdoor bath with terrific views of the harbor and Shiroyama. Off to the right I could see the volcanic reef that Jacob and I had snorkelled a couple weeks ago. Once cleaned up, we headed up to our ryokan, which was was a bizarre layout of small bungaloes layed out in a crescent around a patch of overgrown grass. There were hedges beyond, cut down to reveal the face of a huge Jizo looking toward the sea. I was surprised. I'd stopped to pray to the statue three years ago when I'd hitched around the island. Later that night, a few of us went in search of a ghost that French Eric (weekly evolution from roommate to friend to mon frere) had seen. (Though he claims not to believe in ghosts.) It's no wonder he sensed something. Behind the Jizo was a small building housing mizuko jizo, or the guardian of dead and aborted children. We sat out front, telling ghost stories until jetlag overcame everyone.

The next morning I strolled the rainy hiking paths awhile, then boarded the bus to Kodo Village. We all got a brief tour of the place, including the rehearsal hall where most of the group was having practice. Outside was a box filled with randomly sized bamboo tubes, each with a musical note (A thru G) written on them. Look for a Balinese tune coming to a Kodo gig near you. After the visit, we drove an hour along winding roads up to the Apprentice Center. The whole way, I got into a somewhat heated discussion about Soka Gakkai with a member of that cult, er, sect. I claimed that I have trouble with any religious group with that much political power. I am further distrustful of an evangelical Buddhist group, since that seems to run against the very tenets the religion is based on. This woman was quite convincing, somewhat swaying me by explaining things in mainstream Buddhist language. Yet the sheer discipline she showed in trying to make me change my mind, plus the fact that she actually gave me some SG literature, brings me right back to square one.

The Apprentice Center is a former school, complete with gym (now practice hall) and athletic fields. Each room retains the plaque indicating what had been formerly taught there. I'd spent a week here in 2002 for Eiichi-chan's Kodo Juku. Good times. Our arrival began a week of communal living with the first and second year apprentices. The day began at six, for exercise (radio taiso!) and jogging, a mere 2 km rather than the promised 6. Next was breakfast, with cleaning to follow. Then we had six hours of training, broken up by a couple hours for lunch and free time. Dinner and free time rounded out the night. But that "free" time filled up quickly. We'd often stay late in the gym jamming. We'd been watching and talking taiko for three days before we actually held sticks, and the pent up longing to play was almost like blue balls. From that time, I drummed furiously. I reopened old blisters and completely ripped a callous from the palm of my hand, making me look like I had a stigmata. Drumming with Eiichi took up only two of the days. Another day we learned traditional dance with Chieko. I completely sucked. Despite years of learning various martial arts, I just couldn't follow the steps. Voice with Yoko was better. I loved every minute. I'd long ago been sold on the fact that there is a spiritual power in drumming, but I now think that perhaps the voice cuts deeper. (I want to examine this further in another post.)

Besides drums, I also fell in love again with shakuhachi. Everyday after lunch, I listened to the sounds of my bamboo-filtered breath ricochet off the high pitched ceiling of the gym. I find that I tend to play differently according to my surroundings, but I'd never heard sounds like this come out of me before. A couple times I was joined on shinobue by Akiko, a junior member of Kodo who once specialized in singing sutras. Our flutes unfortunately were differently pitched making harmony difficult. We promised to practice hard and try again at EC next year.

Friday was definitely the highlight for me. Besides the voice training, I was honored to run a short yoga class for a few Kodo members. After completely falling asleep in savasana, Yoko told me that although she'd merely dozed a few minutes, it felt like hours. More energy to burn at the farewell party, where the music never stopped. The apprentices were fantastic. Thru the week, we watched them run through Kodo pieces. Their energy and enthusiasm was contagious. Even if they don't make the group, what a unique and incredible experience to live fully in their bodies for two years. There was plenty of time to talk with them socially, over dinner or at the few small parties we had. When we left, there were plenty of tears, mostly on the part of the Americans. But not for Eric nor I, which the two of us talked about once back in Tokyo. In my case, perhaps it's because it's the nature of an expat to regularly say goodbye to departing friends. Or maybe it's because I figure that if I want to meet someone again, I will, a fact I've proven repeatedly on my "couch tours. " (I'll see them at future ECs.) Or perhaps its because the real, permanent loss of my son makes all temporary goodbyes seem ridiculous. Or perhaps it had to do with the fact that I could communicate in Japanese, making a more intellectual connection with the apprentices. Non-Japanese speakers had to make do with gestures or finding some other way to express themselves. This is much purer, of course, coming from the heart. It's no wonder we feel such a bond with babies or pets.

After leaving the Apprentice Center, we once again stayed at the ryokan, stopping briefly at the onsen again. I found time to get a massage from a blind man, him tapping and batting my pressure points in the traditional style, getting my blood going. Afterward the sauna felt amazing.

On the turntable: Los Lobos, "The Ride"

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