Ōkura Shōnosuke’s Beat of Life (Video)


The tsuzumi hand drums used in Japan were originally instruments of prayer and invocation, and their natural timbre expressed a longing for a bountiful and peaceful life. The sound of the ōtsuzumi (hip drum), produced by those fully absorbed in their performance have, throughout history, been both electrifying and calming.

Nō, with an unbroken history reaching back more than 600 years, is one of the world’s oldest surviving stage arts, and its aesthetic richness has had a profound impact on Japan’s traditional culture. Born the eldest son of the 15th grandmaster of the Ōkura school of ōtsuzumi (hip drum) and kotsuzumi (shoulder drum) performers, Ōkura Shōnosuke, who trained rigorously since childhood under his father and grandfather, is now a leading nō performer and a master of ōtsuzumi drumming.

Yet, even as he is steeped in tradition, Ōkura is at the same time an innovator, inspiring audiences the world over with impassioned performances and cross-cultural collaborations, including a solo performance at the Vatican in front of Pope John Paul II.

Ōkura has been expressing the dynamism of life and communicating a reverence for nature on his travels to all corners of the world and through collaborative performances with artists from different genres and cultural backgrounds. “My hope in holding solo ōtsuzumi performances,” says Ōkura, “is to point people to the possibility that there is something much greater and more mysterious than can be experienced in our contemporary materialistic lives.”

Human are not driven by the survival instinct alone but are inherently creative, always seeking to beget something new. Over the ages they have produced countless forms of art and culture, Ōkura’s ōtsuzumi performances being but one manifestation. Ōkura seamlessly blends the richness of ancient tradition with modern musical sensibilities to create a unique world of sound and sensation.

Watch this video of a solo ōtsuzumi performance by Ōkura Shōnosuke, created especially for Nippon.com.

(Originally published in Japanese on June 21, 2017. Video shot and edited by Otome Kaita, with additional footage by Hanabusa Ryō. Photo by Yamada Shinji. Interview and text by Miyazaki Yukio. With thanks to the Cerulean Tower Noh Theatre.)

music tradition