The Japanese Beat Goes On

What weighs 882 pounds, makes beautiful Japanese music and is no stranger to controversy?

A drum — one of many that will come pounding through Akron this month when the muscular members of Kodo perform at E.J. Thomas Hall. Kodo's claim that its music stems from a centuries-old form of Japanese drumming has some ethnomusicologists making noise, too.

"To call it traditional Japanese is not right," says retired Kent State University professor Terry Miller, former co-director of the Center for the Study of World Musics, who likens the group's style more to African drumming. "Traditionally, visual motion was very restrained. The philosophy was the maximum effect from minimum means. ... There are strands drawn from [Japanese] tradition. But it is a great contradiction of Japanese culture."

Historically, taiko, the traditional Japanese drum, was used to intimidate enemies in war. But according to Jun Akimoto, the company manager on Kodo's "One Earth" tour, it has evolved into a form of entertainment. "To tell the truth, the history of drumming onstage is very new," he says.

But Kodo does use traditional Japanese rhythms in its music. The fast, heart-pounding combination of drumming, dancing and singing has led to more than 2,600 performances on five continents.

Another connection to Kodo's military roots takes place in the 25-acre Kodo Village located on Sado Island, where prospective members attend a kind of boot camp. There, they sleep in dormitory-style rooms and practice eight hours a day.

"It is hard for younger people to leave and be separated from their family for two years," Akimoto says. "We take on 10 apprentices every year and generally only one or two survive."

Kodo performs at 8 p.m. March 12 at E.J. Thomas Hall. Tickets range from $24.50 to $39.50. For more information, call (330) 972-7570.

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