Students drum their way to cultural awareness

HACHIJO ISLAND, Tokyo — Don, don, don! Sounds of drums echo along the hallways of Hachijo High School as eight girls and two boys practice “taiko” drumming in Folk Art A.

The instructor is Mitsutoshi Asanuma, 63, a gardener and head of the local group for the preservation of the Hachijo drum. Last April, the school began offering the drum course as an elective for senior students. The class is intended to help preserve the tradition and meet the diverse needs of students who have little choice but to enter the only high school in the island town.

“It is useful to give youngsters chances to experience the native art,” said Keiko Kasahara, 26, a music teacher who herself did not know how to play the instrument until April. She has practiced the drum with students in Asanuma’s class, assisting the guest instructor.

The class is also suitable for students who are fidgety during classes, she says, as they are able to express themselves physically. Most of the students had no prior experience with the drum. Sayaka Yoshida says the only time she had heard someone beat the taiko was in her childhood. She chose the course because it allows her to move. She used to play western drums as a member of an amateur rock band but “can ride the rhythm with this more easily,” she said.

Asanuma remembers hearing drunken adults playing the drum at home parties when he was a child. He learned how to beat the instrument by watching the performances of other people. He and his friends agreed to practice regularly so they could perform during New Year’s holidays and Bon festivals.