Monday, February 27, 2012

Interview with TOMO Contributor Chloë Dalby

Chloë Dalby (author of the Tomo story “The Mountain Drum”) studies Comparative Literature and Japanese at Oberlin College. She builds taiko drums in her spare time. She recently returned from a semester abroad at Kansai Gaikoku Daigaku where she studied obake and yokai.
Chloë Dalby playing a taiko drum (photo courtesy of Dale Preston, 2011)
Tell us about your connection to Japan and your experience studying there.
Since I can remember, Japan has always been a part of my life. My mom (Liza Dalby) is a scholar of Japan, and was writing and travelling to Japan throughout my childhood. My brother and sister and I grew up eating boxes of mikan oranges during the fall, celebrating New Years by roasting mochi ricecakes, and reading Japanese children’s books that my mom brought back from Japan. I began studying Japanese formally in High school, and visited Japan for the first time when I was seventeen. Then in the spring of 2011 I took time off from my regular studies at Oberlin College to study abroad at Kansai Gaikokugo Daigaku, which is almost equidistantly located between Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto.

Outside of my classes at Kansai Gaidai, I explored the area with my friends and played music (mostly wadaiko, but also shamisen) in Kyoto and Kyushu. It was an incredible opportunity to learn about the many musical differences of wadaiko in Japan, and to allow my own playing style to be shaped by those influences.

What is your experience with taiko drums?
While writing "The Mountain Drum," I was building my own (much smaller!) taiko drum from scratch. See progress picture below!
Chloë Dalby's drum in progress

I was introduced to taiko drumming through watching the San Francisco Taiko Dojo perform when I was a kid, and I was fascinated by their graceful rhythmic and athletic group dynamic. In my freshman year at Oberlin College, a few of my peers, college faculty, and community members chartered Oberlin College Taiko, which I joined shortly afterward. Since then we have grown as a group, and we now have 10+ drums (which we build out of recycled wine barrels and cow rawhide,) we teach a beginning taiko class to students and community members in Oberlin, and regularly perform in the greater Cleveland area.

Here is a link to an Oberlin College Taiko Fall 2011 performance. We are playing our arrangement of the traditional piece “Chichibu Yatai Bayashi.” 

The story features tanuki. Can you give us some background about both the real and the mythical tanuki?
Tanuki are one of the most well known creatures in Japan, though it is sometimes tricky to tease apart what is real and what is myth. There is a real animal “tanuki,” which in English is often translated as “raccoon dog.” There were tanuki families rumored to run around after dark at the campus of my University in Japan. The mythical “tanuki” has been a staple of Japanese folklore for centuries. As my story suggests, the tanuki are often referred to as the trickster spirits (along with foxes, although tanuki are usually benign.) Big-bellied tanuki statues can be found everywhere in Japan as signs of prosperity and good fortune. For reference, see nineteenth century print artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s particularly humorous ukiyo-e of tanuki frightening wayward humans with their shape shifting.

Why did you weave tanuki folklore into your story?
We have a couple tanuki statues in our garden at home, and I’ve always found them appealing—mysterious, but not dangerous. When I learned about the tanuki’s connection to drums (their bellies are purportedly very resonant) I thought they would be perfect to incorporate into my story.

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?
In the wake of the disaster, the bravery and kindness you have shown for one another is beautiful and touching. I hope that you can carry this strength into the future. 頑張って、日本!

1 comment:

  1. I'm really looking forward to this anthology, but "The Mountain Drum" holds special interest for me as I'm also a taiko drummer. Thanks for the insights into your story. (And your drum looks beautiful!)