The Best Team-Building Activity You Can Do in Japan

Learning About Teamwork through the Most Intense Taiko Drumming!

Mary Sedarous
Nov 12, 2018 · 5 min read

On a Friday night, we gathered in Yotsuya, a neighborhood in central Tokyo, and headed to a team-building workshop. Only a short walk from the station, the location was in an unassuming building on a quiet residential street. For most of us, this lesson came as a total surprise — we were only told that we were doing a team-building exercise, nothing more.

Luckily, the lesson was accessible even for total beginners. Our instructor, Kazuhiro Tsumura, briefly introduced us to the history of Miyake Taiko and the rich culture and craftsmanship underlying the equipment we would use. Then, we dove right in.

When Kazuhiro’s father, Akio Tsumura, and his family were forced to evacuate from Miyake Island due to a volcanic eruption in 2000, they brought with them a style of taiko drumming unique to the island. In the early 1980s, Mr. Tsumura taught this style to world-renowned taiko ensemble “Kodo,” and it became popular with concert-goers and taiko players around the globe. As a result, after their relocation, the Tsumura family started teaching Miyake Taiko to preserve the art form due to popular demand, sharing it with anyone willing to learn and help uphold the tradition.

With roots in local festivals from the early 1800s, Miyake Taiko is different for two reasons: simplicity and intensity.

[Miyake Taiko] is distinguished from other taiko styles by its quick and powerful beat. The intensity…is such that the drum heads used for Miyake Taiko must be changed once a year, though those used for other taiko styles are usually changed once every 10 years.

Photo from Miyake Taiko’s official website.

This “simplicity” means that Miyake Taiko is accessible to beginners, and the Tsumura family teach classes for all ages across Tokyo as well as further afield in Japan and — more recently — abroad. The “intensity” means that you have to be willing to push yourself to your limits repeatedly to master the routine.

How does this tie in with the concept of a growth mindset — and what makes it a great team-building experience?

A popular article recently defined a growth mindset as follows:

[Individuals] with a “growth mindset” believe that interests or passions can be developed or cultivated through experience, investment, and struggle. There is not a single, “right” path to be discovered or revealed; instead, many different interests are viable, even simultaneously. With a growth mindset, success in one arena doesn’t preclude or limit exploration of other interests, nor does difficulty signal the need to change course.

We couldn’t agree more.

We want to make sure we practice what we preach. So, one of our co-founders secretly signed the whole Code Chrysalis staff up for a Miyake Taiko group workshop to put us to the test.

We teach students to become “comfortable with being uncomfortable” to deal with the high pace of our software engineering immersive. One of the biggest challenges our students face is the mental challenge of remaining positive and curious when confronted with so much new information.

With the help of our fantastic taiko master, and an interpreter, we learned the fundamentals of the style within the first 2 hours.

The rest of the 3-hour workshop was spent learning how to perform as a group, with a increasingly rapid rhythm. It was challenging. It was fun. And it made us work together as a team in a totally new way.

Unexpectedly, the most difficult role was actually playing as the base rhythm, not the lead. The supporting beats had to remain consistent while complementing the lead drumming — a dual task that proved much harder than it would seem at a glance. We found that to be a true metaphor outside of taiko as well.

By the time the workshop ended, the entire 10-person team of Code Chrysalis was performing as a synchronized group, rotating between 3 drums placed around the studio. It was a valuable and totally unique look at how individuals react when faced with uncertainty, and how we as a team perform with each other under pressure.


Workshop Photos: Takashi Okamoto.

Want to try out Tokyo’s most unique team-building event? Or just want to try out Miyake Taiko as an individual? They offer corporate workshops (in Japanese, with an interpreter on request) in Tokyo and further afield and weekly classes (in Japanese) at multiple locations in and around Tokyo.

Code Chrysalis is a 12-week, full-time advanced coding bootcamp located in the heart of Tokyo. See why we are an industry leader in technical education in Japan.

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Code Chrysalis

Code Chrysalis is a 12-week advanced software engineering immersive with a rigorous industry-aligned curriculum designed to transform students into autonomous full-stack engineers.

Mary Sedarous

Written by

Code Chrysalis Cohort 11. Researched Cold War spies at University of Tokyo. Feel free to follow me @MarySedJP on Twitter!

Code Chrysalis

Code Chrysalis is a 12-week advanced software engineering immersive with a rigorous industry-aligned curriculum designed to transform students into autonomous full-stack engineers.

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