The early morning tones are palpable here in Ogi. There's just something in the air here, as the pounding taiko drums in the distance spray the area with a tense, synchronized timbre.
We're within walking distance of Kodo village, so it's easy to sample their morning beats.
I reconvened with Rizumu for some morning tea, as we prepare for our Taiko Workshop. Usually, having such access to the famous drum group is nearly impossible.
Aside from these workshops being booked far in advance, they are usually done in Japanese (with few exceptions).
Fortunately, Rizumu knows a few people in the group that are bilingual and can do a one-off workshop for us. The village is a short walk from her house, so we were there within minutes.
We were greeted by one of her friends, who has been a member of the Kodo group for years.
The village has a few different buildings, but the first of which we came upon was the "apprentice hall".
To join the famous group, applicants must spend two years living here, learning the art of Taiko.
What struck me on this visit was how insistent the staff was on having their apprentices perform chores. Everything from washing dishes to scrubbing the floors was a part of their daily routine.
On top of that, each member must participate in a morning workout routine, consisting of a run and various bodyweight/stretching exercises.
They went on to explain the history of the group, as their origins now span four decades. The original members of Kodo came from another drum group, named Ondekoza.
The group soon changed its name to "Kodo", at the suggestion of one of their former members. The meaning behind the name is twofold.
First, the name is synonymous with the term "children of the drum". The idea of the group is to play in one, harmonious chorus of beats, hence the 2nd meaning behind the name (heartbeat).
The goal of Kodo is to export their Taiko-themed style to the world and in the process, collaborate with other musical groups, for the sake of art and craftsmanship.
After seeing their initial presentation, it's easy to see their appeal.
Before our workshop took place, we were treated to a morning practice by the group. The thunderous chorus of slams from them gives off a powerful aura.
It's hard to quantify the amplitude of their playing, but strength in numbers can't be their only alibi.
It was abundantly clear that every member had impeccable technique, as their motions flowed like water.
Every movement, no matter how small, had a purpose and contributed to the pie of their performance.
Maybe the most impressive part of their demonstration was the ability to convey emotions, projecting everything as an ardent moment of the performance.
As a musician, it's one thing to be able to play, and perform, a musical number. The hidden factor behind every performance is the audience, and how you react to them.
I've played plenty of shows where an audience member can disrupt a performance. It can be a humbling and oftentimes, embarrassing experience.
It's easy to be deterred and lose focus from your show. Kodo exemplifies how to block out such energy.
The sheer enthusiasm and concentration showed by each member feel unbreakable, as each measure of their performance is connected by their uber-focus and dedication to the art.
Watching Kodo rehearse is like witnessing a group of soldiers preparing for battle. Fierce and energetic, but focused on the task at hand.
I was very impressed by their rehearsal and I was all too eager to get my hands on one of their drums.
The first thing we learned in the workshop was how to hold their sticks, otherwise known as "Bachi".
There are a variety of ways to hold the Bachi, but the method shown to us was to use all of our fingers.
Depending on your drumming experience, you could use as few as two fingers to hold the sticks.
The next thing they had us work on was our stance. It became clear to us that we had to find a posture that was relaxed, but sturdy enough for us to play freely.
This was a bit of a challenge, as finding the right posture and playing angle had a bit of a learning curve to it.
Not only did the posture have to be right, but playing in the right spot of the Taiko also proved to be crucial.
Playing in the center of the drum is ideal, but more experienced players use all parts of the drum head, to add tension to their performance.
Finally, they emphasized how important it was to "snap" your wrist while playing. The idea of their playing style is to move with one, flowing motion.
That especially includes your wrist flexion. Having stiff and rigid motion in your wrists can cause several issues for Taiko players.
After trying to hit the Taiko a few times, I quickly saw why wrist flexion was so key.
Rizumu had an easier time adapting, as I suspect she's had a few strikes at a Taiko before. Eventually, I get the hang of the movements and find my flow.
We proceeded to play around for a bit, before finishing our workshop with another tour of the property.
Another thing overlooked by casual fans is the group's ability to mix in other instruments.
For example, all members are cross-trained on other instruments, if they can utilize one of them in an upcoming performance.
The two most common instruments used are the "fue" and "shamisen", which are flute and guitar-like instruments.
These are two popular instruments within Japanese culture and are often used in their performances.
Certain instruments from other countries are occasionally used, which signifies Kodo's message of collaborating with other artistic cultures.
Perhaps the coolest instruments on display were two, gigantic Kodo drums they carved from an old log. When I say old, I mean over 600 years old.
Being able to craft an instrument from a piece of wood is a rewarding, but tiring process. I can't imagine the time, and energy, it took to carve out these drums from such an old log.
Hearing those things alone is enough to rattle in my memory bank, for years to come.
As the afternoon drew to a close, so did our tour. Rizumu and I bid adieu to her friend and returned to her home studio.
They invited us to one of their performances, which will be in Ogi later this week.
If today's sampling was any indication, then I know that their upcoming performance can be a creative battle cry that few have ever heard before.
At their core, the Kodo group is the purest embodiment of commitment to a craft.
Everything from their training to the wood they used to build their village has all centered on the idea of playing as one, thundering beat.
There is no such thing as shortcuts or favoritism here. Every member earned their roster spot through blood, sweat, tears, and most importantly, dedication to all things Taiko.
It shouldn't be that surprising, as the motto they stand for is synonymous with Japanese culture. What was so striking about Kodo, though, was the constant commitment they have to their music.
What they do daily is reminiscent of what a Samurai would have done in the Edo Period.
Their warrior ancestry plays a vital role in their craft, as the pursuit of their art is akin to their sword-wielding ancestors.
The raucous, yet refined Taiko noises loudly emanate from my mind. I couldn't help but return to the studio and find a guitar that would match the same intensity.
I can't quantify the feeling that these drums have gifted me with today, but I will surely try to be a peer to them through my playing.
Tomorrow, I'm going to take a spin down the Osada highway and get a scenic view of the island landscape.
Thanks again and I'll see you soon!