By Ben Mirin, CIR
As seen in The Concord Journal column, “The Japan Connection.” Stay tuned for pictures on Concordnanae’s Flickr Photostream and Photo Gallery!
July 4, 2011
Hold the bachi at your navel. Is it touching the surface of the taiko? If not, go lower.
With this mantra in mind, I assumed an increasingly strenuous stance alongside the rest of my family as we merged mid-song into the ranks of Nanae Danshaku Daiko Sosakukai, the Nanae taiko drumming ensemble. Before an audience of nearly one hundred Japanese town office workers, English students, and high-school students, the latest delegation from Concord, MA, struggled to keep the beat.
Like every other day in Nanae, tonight was another chance for my family to be a part of something extraordinary. Eight days had passed since their bleary-eyed arrival at Hakodate Airport. Now, at the farewell potluck party in Nanae’s Bunka Center, Japanese friends from every part of my multifaceted life in the sister city had converged in one place, to treat us one final time as special guests in their community.
The days leading up to the farewell potluck were filled with a rich variety of events and excursions. At the center of the schedule were the routine responsibilities of the CIR. My family visited four of my six English conversation (eikaiwa) classes, toured the town office, ate dinner with Mayor Nakamiya, and made origami with the children of Donguri Kindergarten. With incredible help from Koji Teraya and Emi Kimura (International Relations), we also managed to go sightseeing in Onuma Park and Hakodate. We played park golf, went fly-fishing in Nanae’s Ookawa River, and went bird watching in Onuma and southern Kameda. We even attended a big-band jazz concert in Hakodate’s Public Meeting Hall, and enjoyed a fabulous cooking class with my eikaiwa student, Yoko Sato.
Our final day in Nanae began with a visit to Nanae High School, where we arranged to have a special meeting with Principal Kogoshi before attending the Tea Ceremony and English clubs and the brass band rehearsal. Enthralled by the brass band’s final piece, a stellar rendition of the Super Mario medley, we barely made it to the Bunka Center before Nanae’s Vice Mayor, Shuichi Baba, began his official address to open the Mirin family potluck party.
When we arrived the room was already crowded with new and familiar faces. Groups of students and teachers had already arrived, many with their families in tow, and our hosts from the high school were on their way. An incredible array of foods adorned two tables that were pushed to the center of what was usually my Wednesday eikaiwa classroom. Every dish was untouched, and remained so as Baba-san spoke and the Concord delegates introduced themselves to the group one last time. Then the feast began.
For two and a half hours I didn’t eat. The growing crowd demolished the spread of home-baked cookies, hand-rolled sushi, and freshly picked wild vegetables (raw and tempura-fried) while I moved among groups of glowing faces. My students introduced me to their families, who in turn asked to meet mine. Very quickly the delegation broke apart, and the members of the Mirin family were intensely engaged in conversation at all corners of the room.
We were reunited by the thundering sound of the taiko. Lisa Takahashi, leader of Nanae Danshaku Daiko Sosakukai, had assembled her troupe at the front of the room for a special performance to conclude the evening’s festivities. She and her ensemble stood poised over their drums as another young player counted out the beat. Then, as one, they raised their bashi and beat out a tantalizing rhythm that I can still hear in my head and feel in my feet a month later.
For a brief moment, as my family joined in with the taiko players the crowded room seemed to shrink, as if its occupants were bound together by a new energy. This is the power of taiko, an instrument that relies heavily on the unified movements of its players. In turn, it collectively draws them into a single living unit personified in a performance that’s as precise as it is energetic. This binding force extended around the room, resonating with the power of our shared experiences from the past week…
There is a discouraging and xenophobic saying I have sometimes heard attributed to the Japanese people: “once a gaijin (foreigner), always a gaijin.” Perhaps I will never understand the greatest depths and complexities of Japanese culture, but on that night in Nanae, I felt as if I had a family away from home. It was a blessing to share that feeling with my father, mother, and brother as they too became part of the powerful sister city relationship between our two hometowns. Every time one of my students asks after their wellbeing, I am reminded that we are not so far apart after all.?
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