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This Japanese Musician Plays On Top Of Phoenix's Piestawa Peak Every Morning

Ken Koshio, a Japanese folk artist, hikes Piestewa Peak in Phoenix every day to perform a prayer. He carries his taiko drum and instruments on his back.

"I tell people [it's] 100 pounds — maybe 30 of 40. I don't know. But that's not heavy," said Koshio.

Hiking up the peak is hard even without any extra weight. The more than mile-long trail quickly turns steep. And at the top, you scramble up using hands and feet to clear the rocks.

"I mean, just go without anything. It's much easier. But for me that way, is the very beginning. It was tough. But now every day, you know, it's not heavy, but more like a balance," said Koshio.

At the top Koshio, welcomes the sunrise on a windy day.

Koshio specializes in taiko, an ancient Japanese drumming practice. He started a version of this ceremony at dawn each new year’s day back in 2009 on Camelback Mountain. He’s added more instruments over the years, and he started going more often. But then the pandemic hit. His in-person performances were canceled.

“So, then I thought, OK, I want to start it do as a prayer every day. On top of that, you know, Piestewa."

Koshio says Piestewa Peak was a natural place to go after Camelback closed last year.

“And then also this mountain after the name of the Lori Piestewa. Her memorial day was also March 23. So then, after that, every day, I've been doing this,” he said.

Koshio says this prayer and ceremony allows him to start his day grounded in his culture and spirituality. And now this daily ceremony has captured the attention of other hikers, even international ones. Erez Kessler from Israel is among them.

“We're waiting for that every morning," Kessler said. "I'm waiting to see my my friends over here we like a small community of family, different languages. We all come in here to watch ken and enjoy his spirit.”

Koshio says everyone who watches his 15-minute performance takes time to reflect on their own ideals and beliefs.

"So, maybe what I've been doing, inspired them to feel that so maybe that gives them some kind of feeling," Koshio said.

That’s exactly what Marisa Ramella-Hicks thought when she first experienced Koshio’s performance. She says she started hiking up the peak April 28 last year.

“That was the day my aunt was dying from COVID, and take my mind off things I came up. And it was a really fabulous experience. I landed at the over there. And everybody was looking this way. And we were all magnetized," said Ramella-Hicks.

Abhijit Ganguly from India has been hiking Piestewa for the past 10 years

"So it's becoming more interesting, right. So, I'm usually an early hiker," Ganguly said. "I start at 4:30 in the morning, and by the time I'm here, Ken is here. And then we start we have a great, great morning.”

Koshio maintains that this daily ritual is all for his personal devotion. But for those who watch him like Ramella-Hicks, they too are taking something from this moment on Piestewa Peak.

“And sometimes, it's the whole song that just brings tears to my eyes, and some times i can just smile through the whole song and at the end, just tears tears of joy really come to me," said Ramella-Hicks.

Koshio plans to keep hiking up Piestewa Peak every day until Lori Piestewa’s memorial day, March 23.

Sarandon Raboin is a student at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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