Kodo ensemble turns drumming into art

QUINCY — It’s the rumble that gets you: the thumping, thunderous sounds of the taiko drums that are both unsettling and more than a bit exhilarating. For Kodo, one of Japan’s premier taiko groups, that rumbling is as deeply spiritual as it is dramatic – really, a window into an entire Japanese subculture flush with rites and history.


KODO At Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $32-$58 available at the box office and by calling 617-266-1492.

The current Kodo group, which performs at Symphony Hall on Sunday afternoon, is more than two decades old. Its forerunner developed on the island of Sado, off Japan’s northwest coast and near Okinawa, which had long had been a refuge for exiles and intellectuals, a magnet for gold diggers (gold was discovered there during the Edo period) and, later, a de facto artist colony, thanks to an influx of students in the 1960s and 70s.

The tight-knit artist community gave birth to a touring drum ensemble – an extension of the intense percussion sounds that have been a part of Japanese music for centuries. The first version of the group, called Ondekoza, debuted in the 70s, and the first Kodo was formed by several of the Ondekoza musicians in 1981. While the contemporary Kodo group draws on a number of styles, taiko drumming remains the core characteristic.

“Taiko is not simply percussion, and for that, it’s very fortunate for Kodo that we’ve had a chance to perform at Symphony Hall,” said company manager Jun Akimoto, who was preparing for what will be the group’s second trip to the hallowed concert hall. “We bring this experience to a broader audience, and to bring it to classical music lovers and jazz lovers and lots of different kinds of backgrounds gets it to people who appreciate music most.”

The Kodo musicians – there are 50 – still live on Sado and harvest rice, run an apprentice program and exist in the same communal fashion as their forebears and the island’s historical inhabitants. Musically, they continue to involve more modern Japanese sounds along with the ancient pieces that form the repertoire. Over the years, Akimoto said, Kodo has attracted former rock drummers, young composers and women.

“We have come to know that female drummers have different ideas than male drummers,” Akimoto wrote in Kodo’s press notes. “And because our different physical characteristics influence how we play, we are finding techniques and styles which male drummers never imagined.”

Akimoto said he wished the group had more time to spend in Boston, but Kodo will most certainly return. Next time, he said, he would like to broaden the visit to include other cultural activities and provide more perspective on Kodo, Sado and the taiko drum’s cultural importance.

“There are many Japanese groups that use taiko drums,” he said. “Kodo is not the same thing as taiko. Kodo is a community.”


SCI-TECH: Japanese scientist unveil humanoid walking robot

(NECN/APTV) - Japanese scientists on Monday unveiled a new humanoid walking robot at Tsukuba City, in Ibaraki prefecture, northeast of Tokyo.

HRP-4C, the latest model showcased to the media by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) has a female face which can express various emotions.

Developers at the government-backed organization, said their "cybernetic human," wasn't ready to help with daily chores or work side by side with humans - as robotics has been billed to do in the future.

Japan has been leading the sphere of robotics technology, and the government is pushing to develop the industry as a road to growth.

Yet, scientists said it was a challenge to develop a robot which looks like human and moves like human.

At AIST, Japan's national body for the state of art technology, developers have been working on such integration for past three years.

Other robots, like the ones from Hiroshi Kobayashi at the Tokyo University of Science and Hiroshi Ishiguro at Osaka University, have human-like faces and have been tested as receptionists.

Demands are growing for socially useful robots, such as those for caring for the elderly and the sick, government officials said.

HRP-4C was designed to look like an average Japanese woman, although its silver-and-black body makes it appear to be wearing a space-suit.

The robotic framework for the HRP-4C without the face and other coverings will

go on sale for about 20 (m) million yen (200-thousand US dollars) each, and its programming technology will be made public so other people can come up with fun moves for the robot, the scientists said.

The robot shown Monday has 30 motors in its body that allows it to walk and move its arms as well as eight motors on its face to create expressions like anger and surprise.

In a demonstration for reporters, the robot waddled out, blinking, a bit like an animation figure come to life, and said, "Hello, everyone," in a tiny feminine voice while its mouth moved.

The big challenge in creating HRP-4C was making the parts small so it looks female, especially its thinner legs, said Shuji Kajita, who leads the institute's humanoid research group.

The robot will appear in a Tokyo fashion show, although without any clothes, in a special section just for the robot next week.

The following story and video is from APTV.


Rape Victim Presses Case of Police Abuse in Japan

Run Date: 01/02/09
By Catherine Makino
WeNews correspondent

In Japan, rape is often kept hush-hush. But the high-profile case of one rape victim is challenging the silent treatment and raising questions about police practices. 'Jane,' as the victim is known, is suing police who required her to re-enact the crime.

(WOMENSENEWS)--An Australian woman who was raped by a U.S. Navy sailor in Japan in 2002 has settled the score, at least for the time being, with her assailant.

"Jane" as she calls herself, filed a civil suit against her assailant, a Wisconsin man named Bloke Deans, after the police here failed to bring criminal charges against him. In November 2004, she was awarded $49,555 in compensation from Japan's Ministry of Defense.

Now she's focused on what she calls her second rape by police officers at the nearby station where she sought help after the attack. The police didn't literally rape her, but they asked her to re-enact the crime in a way that she says left her feeling doubly assaulted.
She is seeking $182,000 in compensation.

She also says she's pressing the case to change a culture that prevents many women from bringing charges. "It is a silent culture where nobody says anything. But things are changing as more women begin to speak out," she told Women's eNews.

Although Jane has kept her real name out of news coverage, she has nonetheless become famous in Japan for talking about the taboo topic of her rape.

She sued the Kanagawa police for mistreatment and last week a judge dismissed her case in Tokyo's High Court.

Jane's lawyer, Mami Nakano, criticized the ruling. "If this kind of idea is tolerated in society, it would hinder rape victims from reporting their cases to police," she said.

In statements to the courts, the Kanagawa police have argued they are not obligated to provide rape victims with underwear or showers and it is an unreasonable request that investigations require the participation of a female officer. The police also said that because rape victims do not need urgent medical treatment they are not required to take them to emergency rooms and they do not believe Jane's assertion that she was too depressed by the crime to return to the scene. Taking re-enactment photos is normal protocol.

On Dec. 22 she appealed to Japan's Supreme Court. Jane says more than 40 lawyers from Kanagawa, Tokyo and Yokohama have offered to represent her appeal for free.

Rape in Van in Parking Lot

In the port city of Yokosuka, Jane was raped six years ago in her van in a parking lot after she left a bar in the early hours.

She says Deans, who was discharged from the USS Kitty Hawk in November 2002, has been allowed to avoid punishment by an unresponsive U.S. government despite her requests to learn how his case would be handled.

"I have been asking since the day I was raped," she says. "I even wrote letters to President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. military and government officials. They still have not gotten back to me."

Jane alleges that after the rape, she went to the police who then kept her in custody for 12 hours. She was afraid they would arrest her if she left and says she was in shock. The police moved her from a small room, then to the scene of the crime, then back to the station in a large room with other people.

She claims she was not fed, allowed to see a doctor, or given fresh underwear.

"I went to the Japanese police to seek help, sadly they didn't believe me," said Jane, who made her standard request for anonymity to protect the privacy of her three sons. "They interrogated me for several hours and the entire time I begged them to take me to the hospital. But they said I wasn't hurt enough and, if I was, then I had to show them where. I was told that on-duty doctors are for urgent patients and rape victims were not urgent."

Asked to Re-Enact the Crime

The worst offense, she says, occurred two months later, when the Kanagawa police asked her to return to the station to help investigators take re-enactment photographs. The photographer asked her to assume the various positions that the rape entailed. Incapable of doing so, Jane gave instructions to male and female officers so the photos could be taken.

"I was forced to become the director of my own rape," Jane says. "Re-enactment photographs must be banned. No human being should have to go through that. The police treated me without compassion or dignity."

Michael O'Connell, commissioner for Victim's Rights Australia, a government advocacy group, calls it one of the worst cases of police re-victimization that he has ever encountered.
"On hearing about Jane's plight, I was appalled that a victim of sexual assault would be treated with so little respect and dignity," he said in an e-mail to Women's eNews. "Internationally, the most progressive police know that their responsibilities to victims include protecting the victim, collecting and preserving evidence, and supporting the victim."

A report in late October by the United Nations Human Rights Committee found Japanese police practices in rape cases insufficient under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also found a shortage of doctors and nurses in Japan trained to handle sexual violence and raised concern about weak-to-nonexistent punishment of sexual violence.

Call for Rape Crisis Centers

"Japan urgently needs to develop a national network of rape crisis centers and hotlines, linking different professionals to support sexual assault victims," Dr. Hisako Motoyama, executive director of Asia-Japan Women's Resource Center in Tokyo, said in a recent interview. "We definitely need to reform our out-of-date criminal justice system, including review of the penal code, systemic training of judges and prosecutors, and enforceable guidelines."

Rape is widely regarded as one of the most shameful experiences in Japan, said Dr. Hisako Watanabe, a child psychiatrist and assistant professor at Keio University in Tokyo who has treated rape victims, including small children, for 35 years. Many victims, she said, suffer the aftermath on their own, without proper medical and mental care or any chances of suing the perpetrator.

In 2006, Japan's Gender Equality Bureau released a study finding that of 1,578 female respondents around 7 percent said they had been raped, at least once. Of those, only about 5 percent--6 out of 114--reported the crime to the police. Of those who remained silent, nearly 40 percent said they were "embarrassed."

"The public assumption in Japan continues to be that rape does not exist; therefore there isn't any need for 24-hour rape crisis centers or support groups," Watanabe said. "Rape is still considered rare and, even when it happens, the victim could be suspected of having enticed the perpetrator into the act. Such an attitude by people around the victim could be more detrimental than the trauma of rape itself."

Catherine Makino is currently the Japan foreign correspondent for Inter Press Service and is president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. She has worked for numerous other major publications and broadcasters.