22nd October 2023. A message from Neil Mackie and Miyuki Williams of Mugenkyo, and Liz Walters of Tamashii Taiko (formerly of Mugenkyo):
“We have some sad news to share…
Our teacher and inspiration Masaaki Kurumaya Sensei has tragically passed away. His bright light touched our souls and changed our lives forever. We are devastated by this loss, both personally and for the Taiko community around the world. This influential man taught & nurtured Taiko players and groups in every corner of the globe, and most Taiko in the UK can be traced directly or indirectly back to him. He is the wellspring, he is the origin, he is the source. His teachings and his inspiration live on.
Masaaki Kurumaya Sensei was a leading light in the Taiko world, a true master of Taiko as a performing art, a relentless pioneer of “Fukui no Taiko” and the Hokuriku style of playing. He lived and breathed for Taiko and dedicated his entire life to it. He was a dynamic and larger than life presence onstage, a ball of energy, his performances were never two the same, an expression of his freedom of spirit, straight from the heart. From his roots as a young man performing several times a night on the Onsen show circuit, winning awards for his outstanding playing, he went on to heighten the traditional forms of Fukui Taiko. With his group Hibiki Daiko he brought the style into the modern age, drawing from his musical background as a Jazz trumpeter, he was the first to combine Fukui Taiko with other musical forms and disciplines, the first to present it on a theatre stage, and was a perfectionist in his development of lighting, sound and stage presentation.
Kurumaya Sensei was the first to promote Fukui Taiko outside Japan, by performing around the world both with Hibiki Daiko and as a solo artist, touring and performing hundreds of concerts with Mugenkyo in 1998-1999, while living with us in the UK. On his return to Japan he set up the Kurumaya Taiko Dojo in Miyama, reaching thousands of students, including Taiko players from around the world through his regular International Courses. For students closest to him, he was a Sensei in the traditional Japanese sense, strict, challenging, demanding and inspiring loyalty, but those following his path were enlightened, inspired and rewarded by his generous spirit and time given.
Kurumaya Sensei was not just a master Taiko drummer and teacher, he was also an artist in the wider sense, exhibiting his Japanese brush-stroke calligraphy, his photography, and later in life was even presenting motivational lectures on dream realisation. From when we first studied with Kurumaya Sensei over 30 years ago through to the present, his lessons and teachings were not just in Taiko rhythms & form, he talked extensively about the channelling of KI energy, about visualising your path and achieving your goals through positive thinking, about brain wave frequencies and harnessing creativity, about the importance of the group over the individual – all these lessons gave us the impetus to form Mugenkyo and channel this philosophy on our own path. He was a teacher of life, not just a teacher of Taiko.
Kurumaya Sensei gave us our name “Mugenkyo” – 無 限 響 – translated as “limitless reverberation”, and through the important act of naming, bestowed significance as an expression of his thinking and his dreams: Taiko reverberating throughout the world, through generations, an endless ripple of cause & effect, spreading influences, ideas and inspiration. It was important to him that this philosophy was reflected in our name, and we have always sought to honour and respect this on our own path and development.
Kurumaya Sensei, we thank you for sharing your passion for this beautiful art form, we thank you for your inspiration, for your energy, for your priceless teaching. We will continue to honour you by upholding and teaching your principles and will create and build on your ongoing legacy. Our deep connection with your spirit, your teachings, and with Fukui Taiko will endure forever… May your soul rest in peace.
Neil Mackie & Miyuki Williams from Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers
Liz Walters from Tamashii School of Wadaiko-Dō (original Mugenkyo member)”
I first experienced taiko during a concert by Wadaiko Ichiro at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh in 1997. The following year, I saw Wadaiko Yamato at the Garage Theatre, a much smaller venue, during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The power of the performances blew me away. I wanted to play and later that year, when searching for a way to learn about taiko, came across Mugenkyo who had recently relocated to central Scotland, along with Kurumaya-sensei who had come to support them for a few years on their taiko journey.
He returned to Japan at the end of 1999, just before I became an official member of Mugenkyo, but I was fortunate enough to spend over six months training and touring intermittently with him and Mugenkyo as I found my taiko feet. His performances were an inspiration and his subtle teaching was invaluable to me, as was his presence in general. Despite being dead serious about taiko, he was funny and wise, and I’ve always treasured our time together. The more I subsequently learned about taiko the more I realised how lucky I was to not only be learning the Fukui style of taiko – which I still think is the most graceful, expressive and dynamic form of taiko – but to be learning from as profound, insightful and talented a teacher and player as Kurumaya-sensei.
I visited him in Japan with Yumi Célia, in 2014, where we trained with his Japanese students at his beautiful taiko dojo in the green mountains of Miyama, Fukui. We had been planning to return in 2021, to join him in a concert, but the Japanese border was closed to foreign nationals at that time and I was recovering from a serious injury. I had been hoping to visit him next year but, sadly, it’s not to be.
It’s impossible to overstate how great an influence Kurumaya-sensei has been both on my life, and those of all the taiko players, of all levels, who have studied and spent time with him. As well as being an astute and intuitive practical teacher of taiko, and a phenomenal performer, he was also a great proponent of ‘green tea taiko’ – drinking tea and talking about taiko, discussing its principles and profundities, and the myriad ways in which learning about taiko applied to other aspects of life too. He was a living example of how investing yourself deeply in an artform can transform not only your own life and understanding but that of everyone you come into contact with.
He was also a great mimic, and I’ll always have fond memories of being in the back of the Mugenkyo van with him while he did uncannily accurate James Bond impressions.
Kurumaya-sensei was a legend. May his legacy live on.
You can find out more about Kurumaya-sensei’s approach to taiko on his website: 1taiko.com
You can read more about Hokuriku/Fukui style taiko here.
I’ll update this page as more information and resources become available.