Finding My Passion
by Nadya Dee-Anne Forbes
1st Year ALT
Coming to Japan, I never expected to find my passion. I came here as an Assistant Language Teacher to teach English as an alternate form of communication. I came here as an ambassador, to increase global awareness and foster a positive relationship between Japan and Jamaica; Two countries so far apart but with such similarities. Of course I expected to absorb all aspects of the culture while simultaneously learning a new language and by extension expand my own self-awareness. A year ago, less than a year out of University, I was still uncertain about my future profession, my purpose in life and the direction my life was to take. So I decided to join the JET Programme to broaden my international experience with every intention of spending just one year. I promised my friends and family back home that as soon as I completed my contract I would return home. The purpose of the JET Programme may be to foster inter cultural exchange through English language integration but what I have discovered here is something far greater and more poignant than mere words. In actuality what has occurred is an internal transformation so profound and so vital that it could be described as spiritual. Here I found the beat of my heart, the rhythm within my soul. Coming to Japan, I found the taiko.
If you had asked me a year ago about taiko I would have probably given you a dumbfounded expression accompanied by “Huh?” Last year this time I had never yet played a drum, much less one that could swallow me whole. Oddly enough, when I arrived in Japan there were several individuals who assumed I could play the djembe (African drums). I suppose it was easy to make such a presumption because of my skin tone as well as the prevalence of drums within reggae music. However, although drums have always been an essential part of my life I never had any formal experience with playing one. Nevertheless growing up in Jamaica I was constantly surrounded by the rhythm of drums intrinsic to the reggae beat and have always been attracted to that heavy drum bass. So when I heard about the opportunity to play with the 'Fukiage Seishou Daiko Group', curiosity got the best of me and I decided to go along and see what this taiko was all about.
The first time I heard them play, I was speechless. The doors shook and the building vibrated, a sound similar to the crash of thunder. My heart rose into my throat and I felt an intensity that completely engulfed me. It was a spirituality that reminded me of the sound of the Nyabinghi drums of the Bobo Shanti, a House of the Rastafari. The Rastafarian tradition of drumming is an amalgamated descendant of African drumming. The Nyabinghi is used as a method of invoking the spirit and is accompanied by proverbial chants. It involves the repetition of a series of two, three and four beats as well as a collection of different sized drums which each have specific tones and serve significant purposes. Much like Nyabinghi, taiko is also made up of several different sized drums, the wadaiko being the largest and the shime the smallest, each having it's own distinct sound. This similarity fed my desire to try it for myself. The first time I played, I was breathless, my hands trembled and my heart continued the beat long after it ended. Yet my soul felt comforted somehow. I felt a zealous need for more.
Bob Marley sang “One good thing about music, when it hits, you feel no pain”. I am now certain that he had never played a wadaiko drum when he wrote that song. Standing 7- 10 feet high, I could easily fall asleep in one of these drums. So you can just imagine the force that would need to be exerted to create a powerful sound. I can still remember my first time playing one. Needless to say, it was quite exhausting. The vibrations punctured the atmosphere and reverberated through the doors, permeating my soul while riding on the rhythm of my pulse. A thousand horses galloped through my veins, gradually picking up speed. They raced to my beating heart, the rhythm of the taiko. I was paralyzed by its sheer power. My chest heaved as it struggled to keep up with the rapid beating of my heart. I started out with strong powerful blows at first but with every strike my arms weakened and I found it harder and harder to keep them straight. I fought the urge to stop. Sweat ran down my face and stung my eyes, yet still I persisted. I continued for the thrill and I screamed as a surge traveled up my spine and ended at the tips of my fingers.
My arms were so numb I could barely hold the bachi (drumsticks) but to drop them would have been an admission of failure. Because if I were to drop one I would have to simulate it's presence. And so I persevered because I knew that if it didn't kill me it would only make me stronger. I began counting as we built up to the climax, my mind wandered and I missed a beat. They sped up, my wrists were stiff and my arms heavy. My palms burn as the sticks rub blisters deeper and deeper into them. I adjusted my grip, firmer now. Silently, I prayed for the end. I was on the verge of giving in to the pain. Just as I approached my breaking point, just as I started thinking that the pain would never end. There was silence. It was done.
For days my arms ached, a throbbing sensation reminiscent of the deep thud which vibrated throughout my entire being every time the bachi struck the surface of the wadaiko. I could feel the muscles in my arms contract and expand with each impact. Playing the wadaiko is truly a test of endurance. Half way through a song my arms can barely withstand the pull of gravity much less the force of the drum. To be honest, there were times when I wondered why I continued to subject myself to coarse hands and continuous backaches. Then I was asked a question that completely changed my outlook.
The first couple weeks of beginners taiko, my fellow gaijin and I endured the vigorous training of the basic single, double and triple beat. Then our Japanese instructor at the time, noticing my lack of enthusiasm, asked me in English, “Nadya-san, where is your passion?” I took a long time to think about his question. I thought about my reasons for starting taiko in the first place. I considered my expectations of myself and my group members and decided that if I was going to continue with it I would have to wholly dedicate myself to the craft because I've learnt that taiko is much more than merely hitting a drum with sticks. Taiko is about commitment, discipline and perseverance but most importantly taiko is about passion.
Since I began playing taiko seven months ago I have learnt more about Japanese culture than I ever imagined. I have met a group of the most caring, patient people I have ever known. I have witnessed them open their doors and hearts to me, my friends and our families. They have been so giving of their time and their attention. Having no connection to the JET Programme, they managed to engage me in a cultural exchange that surpassed any expectations I could have had before coming here. It is their compassion that gives me the strength to continue. The encouragement of the leader and other taiko members is inspirational. They take turns teaching us the songs and ensuring that we hone our skill and put out two hundred percent every time we practice. Having minimal knowledge of the English language they were still capable of communicating with us and occasionally we would exchange the meanings of words and phrases, both Japanese and English. My Japanese vocabulary has increased monumentally through my ongoing interaction with them. Together we have created a bond that has grown far beyond Japanese taiko players teaching gaijin how to hit drums. Their acceptance has led me to believe that grassroots internationalization is not just a possibility but a reality. Now whenever I feel like giving up, whenever I feel as if my arms are about to take leave of my body, I call on that zen and I use that power to persevere.
Lately, whenever I hear any beat I feel inclined to hit the closest surface, strumming out a similar rhythm. I feel the urge to position myself behind a large drum, allowing the sheer power of the taiko to feed my appetite. Hands sore with blisters are now testament to my commitment to taiko; a constant reminder of my absorption of Japanese culture. While preparing for my journey to Japan, I consoled myself with the passage of time, the swiftness of a year and the experience that would be gained therein. Family and friends offered their support and made me promise to hurry home but that is one promise that I will not be able to keep. Because my entire experience thus far has not only been the most rewarding aspect of my newly adult life but it has fundamentally changed me from within. I would like to think of internationalization as a rhythm that reverberates, breaking the barriers between two cultures. A beat that intertwines the mind and the spirit; communication through music. So I won't be going home this summer like I promised. Instead of returning to Jamaica, I will be staying in Japan. From May to August 2008 I will be performing taiko with the 'Fukiage Seishou Daiko Group' throughout Hioki City, Kagoshima. I will be participating in an inter-cultural integration of the reggae beat within me and the taiko beat which has allowed me to realize my full potential and ultimately helped me to find my passion.
Finding My Passion
I almost forgot I wrote this. My JET Essay entry from 2 years ago. When I was still enthused about being in Japan and experiencing the culture. Rereading this has helped remind me of why I am still here. Why I got my tattoo. When did I become so disillusioned? When did I lose this passion?
need to find my passion... again.