Sunday, October 10, 2010

Eating Guts and Lucky Me (Honto Ni, Really) I Went to a Taiko Concert

In 2009 my girlfriend and I went to the City of Fukuoka for four days to attend the sumo basho. We walked around the district near our hotel one night looking for a place to eat and we saw this weird looking restaurant with big pipes leading down from the ceiling and pointing to the middle of the tables. On top of that the place was full of smoke. We decided to go in.

The employees saw us and started yelling for one of their people who knew a little English to come and greet us. I spoke to him in Japanese but when he tried to tell us about the food they served he reverted to English, rubbed his belly and said, "Guts." Indeed, that's what they served, internal organs and intestines. We stayed.

I have no problem eating liver, kidney, heart and tongue so we order a little. After you order they bring a hibachi with charcoal glowing away and place it under one of the pipes coming down from the ceiling. There's a grill over the coals so you cook your own guts. We ate and left, nothing crazy.

Just the other night my friend that now works for his families towel company asked me to join his friends for dinner in Chiba, a city near the airport. He and his friend from his former company get together once a month and go out for dinner. They had known of me as a customer when my friend worked at the previous company so I said yes and met them at the train station in Meguro. We traveled by car, which took about ninety minutes, from Meguro. During the trip my friend told me we were going to a Horumon Restaurant which it turns out is a restaurant that serves guts. In fact it turns out horumon is the Japanese word for guts and internal organs and the name of the restaurant was Horumon. I mentally prepared myself. Like I said, I don't mind eating certain kind of internal organs but I didn't know what to expect.

We arrived and the first thing were served was a bowl of soup. There was a slice of tongue in a clear broth with a dab of something like wasabi on the side of the bowl. The tougue was about three inches by four inches and about a quarter inch thick. It was a little tough but it tasted really good and as I always say when I eat tongue, I don't know if I was tasting it or it was tasting me. What was exceptional about the soup was the broth. Not strong in flavor but very beefy; rich without coating your own tongue with fat. I added the dab of mustard like stuff but didn't notice a change in flavor. It didn't matter, it was so good I like it the way it was.

My friend isn't crazy about the crazy parts of the animals at all so he made sure to order some of the somewhat regular looking meat and it was very tasty but, it didn't have the flavor of the various guts that we ate. The only thing I really recognized was tripe. Some of the stuff I asked about but no one could really say the word in English because my friend had asked that they speak to me in Japanese only so I didn't know what I was chewing on most of the time.

It didn't matter, everything we cooked, except for one item, I ate and enjoyed. We cooked everything to be well done so the burnt meat flavor was excellent. Everything was a bit chewy but we knew that going in. The tripe had a more beefy taste than I experienced in the past but I've only eaten it in Chinese food where it is most often steamed. This night it was more tender that any tripe I've had before. The rest of the stuff was very fatty. I am pretty finicky about removing fat from my meat so I thought I may have had a problem but that wasn't the case. The burnt edges on the fat really added to the flavor so it was easy to eat.

There was even a sausage that was cut into inch long pieces and it looked like only fat when it wasn't cooked and it looked like only fat when it was cooked and when you bit into it, it turned to liquid fat and coated your whole mouth with deliciousness. The casing added some chew to the experience but it was good.

We also had three-eights inch thick sliced bacon to grill and when you got a piece of that all burnt on the sides you had a marvelous bacon flavored taste-bomb go off in your mouth. The meat that goes good with bacon is liver and my friend said to me, "Have you ever had liver sashimi?" I haven't and I really wasn't too keen on having the new experience in the immediate future. Too late, they had already ordered it. It wasn't completely sashimi style, it had been seared but the center was raw liver, red and bloody. It came with a finely chopped onion and sesame oil garnish which added a nice flavor but it didn't really need it. The taste on its own was mild beef liver and the texture was soft as pudding. Makes you want to eat some right now doesn't it. Well, if you get the chance you should take it.

The thing I didn't eat, I looked at for a minute then looked at the young lady sitting across from me. I didn't say a word and she said in perfect English, "Don't even ask." I didn't ask and I didn't eat it. It turns out the young lady lived in New Jersey for a number of years and could have explained every part of the meal but she was told to speak Japanese only.

What ever the substance was, I'll never know, so I just think of it as the most gross and obnoxious part of any animal that I don't ever want to think about. It could probably pass gas so I consider myself lucky that I never ate it. It's safe for you to try that thought at home but, imagining the opposite ending doesn't seem like it would be any fun.

The beer was cold, the friends were great and the guts were really tasty but I wouldn't think there would be much chance for success with a restaurant that only served guts in the US or Canada.

Then, the next day I went to a Taiko Concert. Taiko is the drum music that is native to Japan. On out first trip to Japan we went to see the Kodo Taiko Troup and when they came to Mesa, Arizona a year later we went to see them in Arizona as well.

This concert was a mostly amateur concert. The organization that held the concert, Mirai Taiko Doujou, is owned by a professional Taiko artist and he provides lessons at a number of locations through out the Tokyo area. (See my author page at my publisher's website,, to find links to Mirai Taiko Doujou.) Once a year he has his students put on a concert.

I am lucky that The owner of La Rochelle Restaurant, Iron Chef Sakai Hiroyuki, is a student of the Mirai group and as a result one of the young chefs is also a student and he told my young friend, who works at La Rochelle, about the concert. He, the young chef, was also playing in the concert.

It started at noon so I met my friend and we went to the venue which was a pleasant little theatre right next to the train station in Komae. There were twenty two groups that performed and we were there until five thirty. I never got tired, my back never got weary and I wasn't for one minute wishing I was doing something else. From the moment we sat down we could feel the pounding of the drum deep into our stomachs and chests.

Taiko is made up of a wide assortment of wooden drums played by a group who together explore a variety of rhythms. I've been a fan since the first time I heard them at EPCOT center in Florida. The rhythms seem predictable; they build on a pattern and you can easily figure out where the pattern will end but you never know what type of rhythms will be coming after. It could be a change of pace, it could be a change of drums, it could be an addition of different drums, it could be the overlay of a new rhythm, it could be a change in volume, you don't know until it happens and then you start to figure out that new rhythm as well.

But you feel it, you can't help but feel it inside and you can't help but tap your foot or slap your leg or drum your fingers.

The performers came from all age groups. There were kids groups, some all girls and now that I think about it there were more female performers than male performers. One kids group had a boy who looked to be about three and a girl who looked to be four years old. Then you would have a group of all women who were in their fifties and sixties.

They all played with gusto. Many had looks of concentration on their faces and many had smiles. They worked hard and the physical demand was quite evident, sweat was pouring off some of the boys as they played. They often had on slight costumes while the women wore more loose fitting clothes. From our angle I could see back stage and saw many performers drinking from bottles of water after they left the stage.

There was one lady who looked like a normal older woman who might be a teacher or an office lady or a sales clerk during her normal activities but when she stood in front of the drum she was a strong sinewy force that did battle with drumsticks to pound the music out of the instrument before her. Later she moved from one drum to another and as she played she smiled in pure joy at what she was doing.

There was a young boy who was maybe ten years old. They had to put a small wooden platform in front of the drum for him to stand on. He played in an all adult group and the entire time he performed he smiled. His movements were very strong; his wrists were very fluid in their movements and he was on time with every beat. As he played his head was more active than the other players as he swayed his neck during his wind up to strike. Then during one section where all the performers hopped back and forth jumping as they struck the drum he lifted higher and was more bouncy that anyone else on the stage. During the finale, when all the performers were on stage together moving about from drum to drum, he moved with confidence among the adults while the other young ones stayed pretty much in place.

But one lady really caught my attention. She was part of a group and had been playing a standing drum. When it was time for her to change she went to the very back where the biggest drums were stationed and she stood behind the absolute biggest drum on the stage. She did not have drumsticks, she had what looked like a shorter thicker version of a baseball bat and she didn't just use it to strike the drum, she flourished it through a series of wrist twirls, first on one side of her head and then the other, to bring it down skillfully with the force of both hands onto the skin of the large drum. She did the twirl again and again and you could see her shoulder muscles and arms muscle working hard to deliver the blow that was easily heard among all the other drums. She was the only one in the back row and she was the backbone of support for all the other music.

The young chef from La Rochelle was in the sixth group to play and also in the finale. He played on one of the larger back row drums with a pair of thick drumsticks. He is a well muscled young man and the drummers that play in the back row wear sleeveless tunics with thin straps over their shoulders so you can clearly see the muscles and how they have developed from the constant drumming. He started the piece for his group and set the tempo for the other players and the group played well. In the finale he moved from drum to drum and there were about a hundred drummers on the stage playing a famous piece of music that I had heard at all the street festivals I went to in August.

For one of the young women staff members it was possibly her last concert so it was quite emotional for the girls of her age. There were plenty of tears and many people had flowers to present to her and it provided a touching ending to the concert.

I really enjoy the Taiko music and this was an exceptional five and a half hour chance to enjoy it. There was nothing about it that indicated amateur performance. It will rank as one of the highlights of my stay and I will remember the music for a long, long time.

The owner of the group is a member of the professional troupe called, Bonten. When I tested the link it didn't work. It may later so it's on my author page of my publisher's website, They have concerts throughout the year.

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