Why this Japanese taiko player marches to her own drum

October 24, 2015 08:01
Shoko Fujioka has lived in Hong Kong for more than 30 years and calls it home. Here, she plays the taiko, a traditional Japanese drum. Photo: HKEJ

After living in Hong Kong more than 30 years, Shoko Fujioka has few regrets.

Sometimes, however, she laments that her Cantonese is not good enough and that she could have made time to learn it.

"Not being able to speak Cantonese fluently is probably my biggest regret," she said.

But she will not stop trying, except that her work as a freelancer does not give her much spare time to take a formal language course.

This is just part of Fujioka's long introduction to Hong Kong.

Coming from a society steeped in social graces, she is trying to get used to the Hong Kong attitude.

For instance, she still feels awful if someone steps on her shoes and casually apologizes.

“In Japan, you will have to keep apologizing and checking if the person has been hurt," she said.

"Anyway, this sort of thing rarely happens in Japan because pedestrians walk in an orderly fashion.”

Some of Fujioka's early impressions of Hong Kong shocked her.

“When I first arrived, I couldn’t believe home rents could be so high," she said. "I thought they got the math wrong with an extra zero mistakenly added to the last digit.”

These aside, Hong Kong is home to Fujioka, 62.

When she arrived in the 1980s to visit friends, she had no idea she would stay.

She was attracted by the openness of Hong Kong society and was quite surprised at how many women sat on the boards of local companies.

Back then, Japan had a deeply male-dominated business culture and did not open up to women leaders in politics and industries until much later.

“Hong Kong women can live their dreams because Hong Kong society is comparatively more open-minded," she said.

Fujioka quickly found that her gender was no barrier to opportunity.

She landed a full-time job and eventually obtained permanent residency after which she quit and became a freelance translator.

Fujioka said she is more suited to freelance work than an office job.

She lived in Quarry Bay and Cheung Chau before settling down in Mui Wo, drawn to its "beautiful natural landscape".

There, she was reintroduced to taiko, a traditional Japanese drum mostly played by men.

Soon, Fujioka was part of Hong Kong's first all-female taiko ensemble, O Daiko, after being encouraged to join the group by a friend named Virginia Chu.

The group promotes Japanese culture and women's empowerment and takes its mission seriously.

“Taiko is about teamwork. I enjoy the interaction. Everyone contributes their own unique character and style," she said.

"It makes the performance fun. The music transcends itself.”

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 16.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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Shoko Fujioka (second row, right) is a member of the O Daiko, Hong Kong's first all-female taiko ensemble. Photo: HKEJ
Shoko Fujioka (right) says taiko is about teamwork and the music transcends itself. Photo: HKEJ
Shoko Fujioka (second from left) and her taiko teammates treat their taiko master, Ryo Shimamoto, (third from third) to a meal. Photo: HKEJ
Taiko has allowed Shoko Fujioka (left) to form a strong bond with other players. Photo: HKEJ
Shoko Fujioka shows off another side of her percussive skills with a tin and a stick. She is hard of hearing which she does not consider a disadvantage. Photo: HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal