We are excited to announce we are launching a series of JET Alumnus of the Month interviews. Each month, we will be speaking with a JET alumnus to know more about their JET experience and life post-JET. If you are interested to be interviewed, or if you would like to nominate someone, please let us know by dropping us a comment here, on our Facebook, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our top batter of the series is Anna Wong, who was placed in Nanao City, Ishikawa Prefecture from 2010-2013.
All JET participants would agree that when we left Japan, we took something precious with us. For Anna, she was introduced to Taiko (Japanese Drums) while in Ishikawa, and has since been involved with the art form. She had very recently assisted Kodo, a professional taiko drumming troupe from Japan that had popularised the art both in Japan and abroad, in their Singapore performance. Here is Anna and our interview with her.
How long have you been practising Taiko?
About 4 years
Why did you decide to take up Taiko?
It looked really cool and was something I wanted to try in Japan. My friend also wanted to learn, but we didn’t know of any groups that had female members, which was what we wanted. We later found our group, Nanao Kashimazu Taiko, by serendipitous coincidence one day when they had a meeting in the same building where we had Japanese class.
How was your experience playing Taiko in Japan?
It was awesome. The group was really friendly and welcoming to foreigners. They treated us as equals, not foreigners or guests, and included us in all the performances and events. They are like family to me.
Playing taiko exposed me more to the local community and gave me the chance to experience things that I would never have been able to do otherwise, like attend a sumo wrestler’s party, appear in the newspapers and on TV, and play at local and regional competitions. It also opened up the performer side of me that I didn’t know I had. And it probably made me seem cooler to my students too!
What keeps you going?
I want to get better at playing and I also want to keep performing. In Nanao, I only learnt one style, but there is so much more in the world of taiko that I have yet to touch. I also like the taiko community and playing together with people who enjoy playing as much as I do.
What was your role in the opening act with Kodo? How was the whole experience?
I was in the logistics team helping out backstage. It was a great opportunity to be exposed to more music pieces, learn more about the taiko world in Singapore, and get to know the Hibikiya*(the taiko troupe Anna now plays with in Singapore) members more since I’m still very new to the group. It was also a rare and valuable chance to watch the professionals from Kodo up close, see how they play and learn from them. They are on a completely different level. Overall it was a wonderful experience and I’m glad that I got to be a part of it.
What is the JET experience you got which was unique to Nanao City?
Aside from the wonderful location and wonderful people I’ve met there, I think what was unique for me was the schools that I got. I taught at a nursing high school which has a nursing and care-giving stream. Not surprisingly, the school is 90% girls. The nursing students do 3 years of high school followed by 2 years of a specialised nursing course in the same school. The general environment is different from a regular high school as the students have many specialised classes and do attachments at hospitals and nursing homes, and given their choice of study, I think they’re kinder and more caring in general. I taught all 5 grades, which meant that I also taught nursing English to the 4th and 5th years. My visit school was a night school with a range of students, both younger and older than me, with different situations that didn’t allow them to go the regular high school route. I think my oldest student was about 60. I really got a range of students that I think most JETs don’t normally get.
Finally, what insider’s secret can you share with someone who is about to visit Ishikawa for travel?
You need to drive to really be able to see the place because things are pretty spread out and public transport isn’t very frequent. If you want something specific, there is a massive rock shaped like Totoro on the coast of the Noto Peninsula that isn’t on tourist maps and can only be accessed by car.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?
If anyone is interested in joining Taiko and wants to know more about it, please feel free to ask me (drop a comment below). Pease also feel free to check out Kashimazu Taiko’s Facebook page and Hibikiya’s website.
Be sure to check back for more featured stories!