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Full Circle

Day 28: Sado Island to Maki

Michael Palin - Full CircleAfter a chromatically immaculate breakfast of green tea, yellow radish, red pear, straw-brown yam slices and cream tofu we leave Mama-san's ryokan, marvelling that such exquisite elegance could be found in a flimsy-looking house on an unexceptional street in a featureless seaside town in one of the poorest parts of Japan. But then, one of the pleasures of travel is having to readjust perspective and re-examine assumptions. Ironically, it's the very Britishness of Japan's character, its insular off-shore reserve, that makes it much less easy to penetrate than the up-front brashness of Alaska or the manic honesty of the Russians.

Typhoon Ryan has hit Tokyo, but only lightly slapped Sado Island, and we are ferried safely back to Honshu in time to drive along a depressingly Americanized urban sprawl of malls and fast-food outlets to the town of Maki. Here, in the Cultural Hall, we catch the Kodo Roadshow, the ultimate result of all the rigorous, demanding training we saw yesterday.

It is quite an experience. The display of controlled power, the extraordinary dexterity, the scale of athleticism and agility, is thrilling. Great feats of group strength and stamina are interspersed with quiet, almost wistful solos, and the whole performance, lasting nearly two hours without a break, is staged with a sparse, austere beauty. Yoshi Kazu is their star, and his solo is the supreme demonstration of the Kodo technique. He begins on the massive O-daiko, deceptively gently, almost tapping, teasing out a beat, then gradually turning up the intensity. A single white light picks out every straining sinew as his body piles on the pressure. He pushes the tempo forward, beyond what you think is humanly possible, raining blows down on the skin of the drum with a fierce, irresistible, compulsive rhythm. Then he leaps from the scaffold to the drums on the floor and continues pummelling away at a speed the eye can barely follow, before slowly and deliberately bringing back the beat and the volume to the barely perceptible level at which he started. It is a stunning display of strength and energy. And he'll be forty-eight next week.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 28
  • Country/sea: Japan
  • Place: Maki
  • Book page no: 53

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