Hokuriku style taiko

Hokuruki is the old name for the prefectures of Fukui and Ishikawa in western Honshu (mainland Japan). The taiko style that developed in that area doesn’t have a formal name so is known as Hokuriku style or sometimes as Fukui style. Kurumaya Masaaki is the foremost player and teacher of that style and teaches from his dojo in the green foothills of the Miyama mountains in Fukui.

Kurumaya Taiko Dojo, MIyama, Fukui, Japan
Kurumaya Taiko Dojo, Miyama, Fukui, Japan

Hokuriku style is a dynamic and versatile style characterised by improvisation and solo-playing.  Pieces and solos are built over a constant base-rhythm (ji-uchi), the most common one being the mitsu-uchi (the don doko rhythm). Groups tend to be quite small – duos and duets are common – and rhythms often quite fast. Physically the style is very fluid, with graceful stick-work (bachi sabaki) and rim-playing and lots of movement around and off the drum. There’s a particular way of playing across two drums (called tsubame kaeshi) which is unique to the area and players also sometimes play together on one taiko.

Unlike many other styles of taiko, in Hokuriku style, the individuality of the player is emphasised. While there are formal techniques to learn, within these, players are encouraged to express themselves, in their movement, their rhythms and their presence with the taiko. When I went to Fukui to train with Kurumaya-sensei, I was struck by two things: firstly, how all his students, even the beginners, were graceful and energetic and clearly recognisable as his students in the way they played; yet secondly how all of them were completely and distinctly themselves. Indeed, he told us that his best student was not the one with the most beautiful movements nor the one with the most intricate rhythms but the one who was most ‘herself’ when she was playing. (More details and pictures of my trip to the Kurumaya Taiko Dojo are on my 2taiko website.)

It’ll all make sense if you go to Fukui. Hokuriku style is a state of mind….

Hokuriku taiko in Europe

There are several taiko groups playing Hokuriku style taiko in Europe (I’m not aware of any outside Europe and Japan but if you know of any, please tell me).

UK

Mugenkyo, Lanarkshire, Scotland – the leading proponents of the Hokuriku style of taiko in the UK, Neil and Miyuki founded Mugenkyo on their return from two years’ training with Kurumaya-sensei in Japan in 1994. They’ve since diversified into other styles of taiko and tour and teach regularly.

Tamashii School of Taiko Do, London – founded by Liz Walters in 2000. Liz has been performing for over 25 years. She trained with Mugenkyo and Kurumaya-sensei (performing and co-facilitating annual International Taiko courses in Japan). She specialises in Hokuriku style and teaches in association with East City Taiko. The school runs weekly classes in East London and offers workshops around the UK.

Other taiko groups in the UK who have studied and play Hokuriku style to varying extents include Kaminari Taiko in Yorkshire, Tsuchigumo Daiko in Glasgow, Thunder Drummers and Yan Tan Taiko in Cumbria, Druma Daiko on Arran, and Aber Taiko in Swansea.

I teach taiko, based on Hokuriku style, and can give individual or group lessons on request.

France

2taiko, France and Scotland – a duo of myself and Yumi Célia, with whom I visited Kurumaya-sensei in Japan. We get together to perform and teach now and again in the UK and mainland Europe.

Germany

Tentekko, Germany – Monika Baumgartl trained with Kurumaya-sensei in Fukui, overlapping with Neil Mackie and Miyuki Williams of Mugenkyo. She established Tentekko on her return to Germany, the first Hokuriku style group in Europe, although she didn’t refer to it as such (with the result that many of her students were unaware of the roots of the style they were playing).

Italy

Kyoshindo, Appenino Ligure, Italy – Kyoshindo are closely associated with Kurumaya-sensei, regularly visiting and performing with him.

 

Hokuriku taiko videos

This is a good short video of Kurumaya-sensei (in Japanese) demonstrating the various ji-uchi characteristic of Hokuriku style: ippon-uchi, gobu gobu, and mitsu-uchi (there’s an excellent breakdown of the mitsu-uchi at 0:43 minutes), followed by some short clips of his solo playing:

Most years Kurumaya-sensei teaches a course for international students. There are a couple of videos, again narrated in Japanese, about his 2015 international course with some footage of the accompanying concert (featuring Liz Walters of Tamashii Taiko and players now with Mugenkyo and Tsuchigumo Daiko):

2015 course and concert

2015 concert and interviews

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any good quality videos of Kurumaya-sensei performing – if you know of any, please let me know.

This video is of Mugenkyo when Kurumaya-sensei was playing with them in the late nineties. It’s a poor quality recording but I think it’s worth watching because the piece featured (Echizen, by Kurumaya-sensei) is a good representation of the Hokuriku style and features the beautiful shiburoku ji-uchi which is unique to Hokuriku.

This one is of him playing with his top student group – Miyama No Kaze – in a concert in Italy hosted by the group Kyoshindo. You can see some of his solo playing around six minutes in, followed by several players on one drum. There are a few more videos of this concert which you can find on Youtube as well.