Congratulations on the dawn of a new year!
It was great to return home over the holidays and be with the people I love so much. It was the perfect place to sweep away the old, dried detritus of the past, take the seeds, and plant them to grow in the warmth of the coming year. Thank you. I am grateful to you.
It was hard leaving, heart-wrenching actually. There are so many things in life that are. That's the other edge of the sword, isn't it? It cuts both ways. No happiness without pain. I think all we can do is just choose to carry that love and happiness in our heart and endure the rest. And so, as the earth travels around the sun, and life is constantly ended and renewed, each day opens a new year which is really just a continuation of the old year without end. Everything begins and ends without beginning and ending at all. Revisiting the past, sharing in the present, together we open new doors to the future. Though an ocean separates us, those people I love are with me even now.
In the spirit of new beginnings with old roots, I've started learning the shamisen, tsugaru-jamisen to be exact. Tsugaru-jamisen music was created by blind, itinerant, beggars called bosama in Tsugaru, Aomori, in northern Japan, at the turn of the last century. The spirit of tsugaru-jamisen is innovation; it owes its existence to the innovation of the bosama taking an old instrument that came to Japan from China centuries ago and giving it a new life with a style of playing unlike anything heard before.
It's great to be making music again. It soothes this body and mind given to me by millenia of music-making ancestors. For a long time, I've been longing to start playing music again. Even singing traditional songs for the benefit of my Japanese students' education in Western culture struck a chord deep within me. We humans need music. Not just hearing, but making it too. At a Japanese taiko drum performance over a year ago, there were a couple of brothers who played tsugaru-jamisen. Their lively, dynamic playing resonated deep inside and lifted my spirits. Later, when my new friend Juergen practiced his shakuhachi at the summer camp we were working at, I knew I needed to start playing something again. What though? Taiko? It was taiko that made me fall in love with Japan after all. Not something you can play on your own too easily though. I wanted something that I could do anytime, not just when practice was held. Shamisen? Nah, too expensive. Shakuhachi? Beautiful, but maybe a little too somber. What's more lively? Shamisen. Damn, it's expensive. Tough, shamisen. Ok.
Juergen and his friends helped me find a teacher, and I've begun. Got a long way to go, but that's ok. Just playing a few random notes makes me happy. Even though I can't play anything, I want to share this experience with those people I love so much across the Pacific. If I were there, you'd be complaining about the terrible racket I was making. So that you don't miss out on that experience, here you go:
Someday, I hope to look back at this video and think, "wow, I've come a long way." In the meantime, I pity my neighbors. For comparison, here's what tsugaru-jamisen should sound like: