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Full Circle

Day 27: Sado Island

Sado Island, Japan 
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Pre-dawn punishment. Running with the Kodo apprentices.
Michael Palin - Full CircleWoken by alarm at 4.15 a.m. Strike head on door to bathroom. The only vaguely encouraging thought as I climb into my shorts and trainers is that this will probably be the earliest I've ever run in my life. We tip-toe out of the Pension Nagakura to find Japan is still very dark.

Up at the school the eleven young apprentices, eight men and three women, look blearier than I do, and they've been getting up before five every day, except Sunday, for the last five months.

It's not easy to join Kodo, which translated into English means both 'heartbeat' - as in the rhythm of a child's heartbeat in the womb - and 'children of the drum'. Once accepted, pupils are required to spend a year living communally in a spartan, highly disciplined regime - no tobacco, alcohol, TV or radio - practising five or six hours drumming a day. As I am being told this by Sayo, a twenty-four-year-old Tokyo woman who once taught English, I can't help noticing a dusty TV set in the corner.

'Yes we do have a television,' Sayo corrects herself.

'But we don't have an aerial. So we can watch only videos.'

'What sort of videos?'

'Oh, videos of drumming.'

There is a strong element of tradition and ritual in all this. Though Kodo itself was founded less than twenty-five years ago, it harks back to a pre-industrial, rural Japan when the size of a village was defined by how far the sound of the taiko drum would travel.

The run is quite bearable. As we pad along by the side of the road, a flat, warm, humid dawn comes up, heralded by a light, unrefreshing drizzle. The pace is steady but polite. No one seems to want to offend their guest by leaving him behind - not for the first few miles anyway.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 27
  • Country/sea: Japan
  • Place: Sado Island
  • Book page no: 49

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