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Neighbourhood Watch can act as your eyes and ears

John Gibb

If you live in a neighbourhood where people are serious about security, then there may already be a neighbourhood watch scheme and if there isn t, it s not too difficult to get one started.

A neighbourhood watch is an organisation of people who live in an area and have agreed to be vigilant about crime. This generally means that they will keep an eye out for anything suspicious, and bring it to the attention of the authorities. Neighbourhood watches are not bands of vigilantes they do not arrest or accuse people but are supposed to act as extra eyes and ears for the police force, working closely together with them.

You can see whether your area has a neighbourhood watch or not quite easily, as the police will put up this is a neighbour hood watch area signs in areas that do, in order to deter criminals. Many people think of it as a bunch of suburbanite housewives with nothing better to do than twitch their curtains, but in fact there are successful neighbourhood watch schemes in some of the most deprived inner-city areas too.

If you want to join a neighbourhood watch, you need to speak to the neighbourhood watch co-ordinator. They will often send a letter to you when you move in, but if they don t then asking around will usually let you find out quite quickly who they are they will often be a prominent person in the community. If there is no neighbourhood watch scheme already, then contact your local police, as they will give you all sorts of support to help you found one and drum up membership. However, you should understand that you will be taking on a duty as leader of the watch if you do this, and so you shouldn t go ahead with it unless you have a reasonable amount of time to devote to it.

Anything but quiet - taiko drumming

Natural History , March, 1998 by Samuel Fromartz

Seiichi Tanaka never planned to be a founder of taiko - Japanese drumming - in the United States. He actually came to San Francisco from Japan in 1967, at the age of twenty-four, to pursue a martial arts career. But then, at a local spring Cherry Blossom Festival, he was surprised by the absence of the familiar drums, which he remembered playing even as a child. ("The drummers would get drunk and then fall asleep. That`s when I would try taiko.") The following year, he borrowed some drums from a Buddhist temple in San Francisco and organized his own contingent of players, at first consisting mostly of Japanese nationals living in the Bay Area. Tanaka`s martial arts background helped shape his philosophy and approach, which emphasizes the drummers` intense physical and mental training and their disciplined and graceful movement. His group, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, has since grown and influenced the development of others in the United States and Canada.

The first major gathering marking this three-decade-long movement in North America was held in 1997 and drew nearly 500 people to Little Tokyo, the predominantly Japanese American community of downtown Los Angeles. During one jam session, while others were relying on brute force, Tanaka`s drumming seemed effortless, as if it were an afterthought to the fluid movement of his entire body. In a master class he held afterwards - ninety students rotating through the drums - he urged: "You have to totally relax. Let the energy come from your ki [center]. Feel the energy come from the mother earth, from the bottom of your feet." He stressed a kind of loose intensity, in which the mind focuses on the tips of the bachi, or drumsticks. And he heartily endorsed the yelps one often hears from performers at taiko concerts. "Screaming is very important! After you scream you feel good."

Taiko rarely strays from an emphasis on percussion instruments. The pulse is maintained by the resonant tones of large and small drums, the clackety-clack that these wood-and-skin instruments make when they are hit on the side, and the shrill sound of the atarigane (a bowl-shaped metal instrument struck with deer antlers attached to a bamboo stick). Gongs of various size and shape add musical depth, and a bamboo flute occasionally offers a melody. When the drummers solo, they improvise in response to the rhythms, engaging in a kind of dance with the strong undercurrents.

This music has ancient roots. The drums, which vary in form and use, probably came to Japan from China and Korea beginning around the fifth century, following the paths of Buddhism and theatrical arts. The drums are used in gagaku, the traditional Japanese court music that has changed little since the eleventh century. Regional folk styles of taiko have developed throughout Japan, tied to festivals and religious rites. But strictly speaking, the group drumming (kumi-daiko) popular today - in which several performers play drums of various sizes, some keeping the beat, others soloing - is a post-World War II development.

In Japan, the rise of kumi-daiko coincided with the late 1960s counter-culture movement, which led some young people to reexplore folk arts that had been neglected as a consequence of the rapid modernization and Western bias of the post-war era. Ondekoza and its offspring, Kodo, now among Japan`s best-known taiko groups, were established as rural communes in which the participants self-consciously sought to rediscover their roots. Japanese American youth began to explore taiko during the same turbulent times, when they were battling what was viewed as the stiff assimilationist outlook of their parents` generation and the prevalent stereotype of the "quiet Japanese" (taiko is anything but quiet). The 1997 taiko conference was organized by the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) and held at their headquarters in Little Tokyo. Founded in 1980, JACCC is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve and promote Japanese and Japanese American heritage and arts.

Masao Kodani is the minister of the Senshin Buddhist temple in Los Angeles. According to him, before Pearl Harbor, "Every adult was expected to offer something in terms of entertainment, whether it was a poem, singing, or dancing." But the war - and the internment by the United States of 110,000 Japanese Americans in barbed-wire-ringed camps - had a corrosive effect on that tradition. Despite huge economic and emotional losses suffered by Japanese Americans, their overwhelming response to that experience was assimilation. And among the things that got left behind were the small celebrations of the community`s cultural spirit.

Kodani took charge of the temple as a young minister in 1968. This gated compound lies in an African American and Latino neighborhood of south-central Los Angeles that had been largely Japanese American until the 1970s. Taiko drums are used in some of the temple ceremonies and festivals, but usually with other instruments and not for the kind of athletic group performances with which they are now associated. After the 1969 Obon Festival (a summertime celebration of the ancestors), Kodani remembers, he and a member of the temple, George Abe, were putting the drums away for another year when they began playing them. They played for about four hours, until they were sweating, their hands bleeding. "George, I think we should do something about this!" Kodani remembers saying. Shortly thereafter (just one year after Tanaka formed his group in San Francisco) Kinnara Taiko was founded. It was the first contemporary taiko group to come directly from the Japanese American community.


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