This time last year, I only had one set of drumsticks–the original set of bachi I’d been given upon signing up for wadaiko. My taiko-sensei wanted us to play the shime-daiko, a small, high-pitched drum, which required a different type than what I had.

“What should I buy then?” I asked her.

Sensei hummed thoughtfully for a moment. “Get maple bachi,” she suggested. “Can you buy them by next class?”

I reassured her I could, and three days later found myself in a shop looking at a veritable mountain of wooden sticks.

There appeared to be more than one option for “maple” drumsticks, so I called over a young staff member.

“Excuse me, I need some maple drumsticks,” I said. “To play the shime-daiko.”

“Okay,” she said brightly. “What kind of maple?”

“I… don’t know. My teacher just said ‘maple’, and I didn’t realize you carried multiple sorts.”

Her bright smile faded into a thoughtful look, and she moved beside me, staring at the offered types. “You said you needed them for the shime-daiko, right? Will you be playing only the shime-daiko or other types of drums with it?”

“Other types too, I think,” I said.

“Hm,” she said, and called over another, senior staff member. All of us stared at the drumsticks in confusion.

“What kind of maple did you need?” the senior staff member asked.

“Just maple,” I said.

“Yes, but what kind?”

I shot her an exasperated look. “Okay, how about this,” I said. “I’m going to buy the Japanese maple. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll get the American maple next time. Sound good?”

“But what if you need American maple?”

I suppressed a sigh. “Like I said-”

“If you want the Japanese maple type, let’s take a look at a couple lengths and weights,” the junior staff member said, brightening up now that someone had made a decision. “Do you want to try a few different ones? The weight can make a big difference.”

I picked up two pairs of Japanese maple drumsticks meant for the shime-daiko. They felt exactly the same to me. Glancing at the two staff member eyeing me expectantly, I pretended to think over them. “Hmm. I’m just not sure which is better. Should it be heavier or lighter?” I said.

“Well, that’s up to what works best for your performance,” the senior staff member said, still looking concerned. “Are you certain Japanese maple is all right?”

The only thing I’m certain of is that I want to get out of here, I thought. But instead, I set one of the sets of bachi down and held up the other. “I think these’ll do. I’ll check with my teacher later,” I said.

The staff members exchanged a look. “Is the weight okay?” the junior one asked.

Why are you asking me like I have any clue? Mustering confidence I didn’t really have, I nodded. “Yep. Can you ring these up for me please?”

“If you’re sure,” the senior one said. “But you’ll come back if you need the American ones instead, right? We don’t really do exchanges, though.”

“That’s fine, at least I’ll be prepared if I have both types,” I said.

Her expression cleared. “Sou desu ne. That’s very true,” she said, slowly starting to smile.

So I got rung up, paid for my drumsticks, and escaped, hearing the two discussing the incident behind me as I fled.

A few days later, I went to class and showed the drumsticks to my teacher. “Are these okay?” I asked. “They’re Japanese maple.”

My taiko-sensei barely glanced at them. “Oh yeah those’ll do nicely.”

I paused. “Sensei, which is better? The American maple, or the Japanese maple?”

She grinned. “Doesn’t matter one whit.”

And that is why I need to remember to ask specific questions before going on wadaiko shopping excursions.

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