Onagawa Taiko – A Matter of Prespective
By Jacob Derksen
In October 2000 a highly regarded drum group from Japan performed at the McPherson Playhouse in Victoria, BC (they also performed in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton). Onagawa Shiosai Taiko Todorokikai is their official name but they went by the easier-to-pronounce Onagawa Taiko. My first introduction to Japanese drumming was Vancouver-based Katari Taiko’s 1989 show in Nelson, BC, so Onagawa Taiko’s show was not the first time I’d seen taiko, but as they graciously invited audience members up on stage after their performance, it was the first time I’d ever had the opportunity to hit the drums. When they performed that year, there was no taiko group in Victoria; it would be over a year before there was one. (I’ve learned recently that at least one of the other founding members of Victoria’s Uminari Taiko was there as well. It actually marks the first time Brad Lewis and I ever played taiko together and it definitely inspired both of us to learn the art.)
As many of The Bulletin’s readers may already be aware, Onagawa was one of the towns that was absolutely devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. A town with a population comparable to that of Nelson, Onagawa lost no less than 3,000 of its inhabitants in that disaster. As I understand it, about half of the members of Onagawa Taiko were among those who perished. One of the survivors, Nobuko Kimura, returned to Victoria with her husband, Tadashi, and friend Keiko Sugawara in December 2012 and, thanks to event organizer Lily Yee, I had the honour of demonstrating taiko at a number of local schools with her.
It was only after I made it to one of the schools in outlying Victoria neighbourhood Brentwood Bay that I learned the full extent of the horror that Nobuko-san and her family and friends had lived through. Nobuko-san’s house collapsed on top of her and she spent six days pinned under the rubble before she was rescued. Her leg had been broken in several places and she required a lengthy hospital stay and several operations to save her. She is grateful to be able to walk even if it is still painful for her. Nobuko-san’s husband lost his parents in the earthquake. He was en route from one worksite to another when the quake hit; he described being on the road as like being on ocean waves as the road rippled under him. Keiko-san was at an elementary school when the quake hit. They got the kids to the upper floors before the tsunami hit but they were trapped for three days with little food or water and no heat, electricity or other amenities while they waited to be rescued.
Nobuko-san had not played taiko since the earthquake but was persuaded to pick up a pair of bachi (drumsticks) during her visit here, and I had the honour of playing a role in that. I must admit that before setting out to play with Nobuko-san early that December morning I was feeling somewhat disinclined if only because I was tired and fighting a cold, and the prospect of carrying drums on a bus all the way out to Brentwood Bay was not exactly motivational. Add to that cancelled buses and missed connecting buses and one’s mood has the potential to spiral downward even though these are very minor things. It was only after my very insignificant misadventures that morning that I learned Nobuko-san had spent six days pinned in the rubble of her house in March 2011. I was instantly reminded how fortunate I am, and how fortunate we all are.
Jacob Derksen is a founding member of Uminari Taiko in Victoria, BC and a regular contributor to the Victoria Nikkei Culrural Society’s Nikkei Forum. He spearheaded Uminari Taiko’s fundraising efforts for the Red Cross Japan Earthquake relief in March 2011.