My Journey as a Flute Player in the Awa Dance Group

Japanese Traditional Dance: Music and Dancers in Sui-ren

→ Awa-Dance in Koenji "Sui-ren" official website
12 Jun

I got my own Shamisen!

Recently, I practice Shamisen often because I finally got my own Shamisen. My friend who was a member of Sui-ren gave me his old Shamisen. It is still in good condition. This Shamisen was damaged but I had it fixed in the instrument shop. When I got it back, the sound is very soft and beautiful, but unfortunately I don’t have enough skill to play it well, so I feel like I have to practice a lot.

Shamisen is very much like the guitar but it has only 3 strings. You can tune it by the tuning pegs to tighten or loosen the strings. It is very difficult for beginners to do it. I don’t have a good sense of musical pitch, so it takes time for me to tune it everytime before I practice.

Shamisen is a string instrument that needs to be strummed like a guitar and hit like a drum. When we play it, we use a stick and hit on the surface after touching a string. Shamisen's body is made up of animal skin. It is very fragile so I have to be very careful not to tear it.

It is the rainy season now in Japan, and I have to be very careful because the moisture in the air tends to tear the animal skin. Awa-dance is performed outside in the rain. For this performance, shamisen players use a Shamisen with an artificial skin.

I now practice a song called "Matsu no Modori". It is a practice song for beginners. It is my first time to play a full song. Before, I used parts or stanzas of a long song to practice. I am happy to be able to learn it!
31 May

The third day of my Taiwan performance tour

We woke up early in the morning and prepared to head to Taipei where the capital of Taiwan is. Before we left, I ate a special morning dish—a kind of rice porridge typically served in Taiwan. It was good for my tired stomach.

On our way to Taipei, the beautiful rural scenery gradually changed into the urban one. I felt like we went to the capital freeway in Tokyo. I saw many tall buildings. There was a stark difference between the rural areas in Taiwan with that of Taipei.

We arrived at the Songshan Chui Temple in Taipei around 1 pm and after a delicious lunch, we prepared for our performance. It was our first performance as one whole group. In Taipei, we finally got reunited with Team A which has been in that area a lot earlier than Team B. It was a big performance—composed of 160 dancers and musicians!

Our performance started at around 3 pm I was delighted to play with my fellow band members because it gave us the opportunity to produce a bigger, more enjoyable sound! The spectators truly warm, welcoming, and just overall excited to watch our performance.

My Taiwan trip was definitely one for the books. But among the things that I experienced while in Taiwan, the greatest for me was to finally see one of my close friends and her daughter again. It’s been a while since I last saw her. She currently works at a Japanese company in Kaoshun and traveled to meet me and see the event!

We had our final performance in front of the Songshan Chui Temple in the evening. The lit-up temple was extremely beautiful! The Taiwanese people welcomed and cheered for us this time, too. I will not forget their warm hospitality.

Before we played, the Mayor of Suginami delivered a heartfelt speech to express gratitude towards the Taiwanese government.
Finally, the performance started with the sound of the flute. I played with my whole heart to show how thankful I was for the Taiwanese people especially for those who supported this event. I felt everyone tried to do their best because it was our final performance there. Afterwards ,we started marching down the big street. Honestly, I enjoy participating in this kind of parade because it allows us to be very close to the audience—so close that I could actually see their face so clearly. Though I enjoyed it, I also felt some loneliness and it was because I knew it was already the end of our trip. It was a comfortable, beautiful, and unforgettable night.

Reflecting upon this experience, I realized a couple of things—first, I should practice playing the flute more often. I think my flute sounded flat and would need a little bit of improvement. It would have been so much better if I could make the tone seem more vibrant and interesting rather than flat. Second, I need to learn Chinese again and talk to more people. I had several Chinese language lessons prior to the trip but it was not enough at all! The next performance tour is going to be on 2021. I have a plenty of time to prepare for it!

2019-05-01 08.37.24

the Songshan Chui Temple


After the performance


All Suiren members
23 May

The second day of my Taiwan performance tour

The second day of my Taiwan performance tour

We woke up early in the morning and rode on the bus to head to the middle-west of Taiwan. It was almost a 3-hour drive. I tried to get some sleep in order to save energy.

Prior to arriving at Taiwan, I was feeling worried about the weather. That’s because the weather forecast said it would rain by the time we get there. However, when we were already in Taiwan, it was surprising to see that the weather was extremely beautiful—it was a perfect summer season!

As the saying goes, “nothing is perfect.” The summer season in Taiwan was fine but it also had its downside. There was a day when it was actually too hot to play flute outside, and naturally, I felt so worried about getting sunburned.

When we arrived at Ansei-fu in Unrin Prefecture, we visited a local temple where we prayed for the success of our performance and for a safe trip as well.

While in the temple, I took the opportunity to get a couple of good luck charms—it reminded me of the omamori, however, this one that they have in Taiwan is made of rice. It’s basically a small red bag that contains a few grams of rice. On the outside of the bag, some Chinese characters are printed. It says “peace” and “rice.” In traditional Taiwanese culture, these bags of rice are believed to be a gift from God. Yin-san, the tour guide, explained to me that it is supposed to bring happiness to people. I decided to give them to my parents and my parents-in-law.

Afterward, we were invited to a special lunch prepared by the temple’s officials. Everything they served looked festive—there were so many mouthwatering dishes on the buffet table! They served rice, chicken, pork, fish, vegetables, and soup. They also had bamboo shoots which I loved so much. They were soft and fresh!

By the time I left the dining hall, the people who came to see our performance have already started to gather. Our performance, which was held outside the temple, started around 3 p.m. I noticed that the space they provided for us was too large that I almost missed the sign of the lead dancer. We would change the song based on the lead dancer’s movement and chanting, so sometimes it could be a little difficult to take note of them. After the performance, we marched on the street. I was happy to see that there were so many kids who came to watch us!

We had another performance in the Chao-Tian Temple at night. The Chao-Tian Temple is very much like that of Japanese Ise-Jingu which is the center of people’s belief. This temple’s Goddess is the Chinese sea-goddess Mazu. She became a Goddess after helping her father from a boat disaster. Before we start our performance we prayed to her. Then we paraded towards the temple and had a performance in front of it.

After dinner, we visited the street that we paraded that evening. On that day, April 27th was Mazu’s birthday, so we saw many parades floats there. Many elementary school girls who wore beautiful dress were on the float and tossed us cookies and candies. They sometimes gave us artificial flowers and dolls. The girl who looked really tired strongly threw them, so we had to watch to be safe!. I understand it because the time was already almost midnight. It must be their bedtime already.

I got some snacks and candies and I brought them back as souvenirs for my kids. I enjoyed this parade and it was really a wonderful night to remember!

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With my group members

2019-04-27 19.11.28

The Chao-Tian Temple

2019-04-27 22.41.43

The parades floats

About the writer
Mayuko Kurosaka

She is a member of Sui-ren. She is a flutist. She's been performing for more than 6 years for the group. She was born in Kawagoe an old city in Saitama. She learned to play traditional instrument when she was a young or a kid. She works as a freelance writer.
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