Michelle Obama beats drum in Japan

The US first lady is in Japan to launch the "Let Girls Learn" initiative.

KYOTO // US first lady Michelle Obama beat the drum for Japan on Friday — literally — as she tried her hand at traditional “taiko” drumming in the historic tourist hot spot of Kyoto.

Winding up her three-day stay in the country, she picked up the cosh-like sticks players use to hit the huge drums in complex but hypnotic rhythms.

A smiling Ms Obama, wearing a knee-length jacket in yellows, blues and greens, appeared to be having a great time as she thumped the ancient instruments and blew a whistle alongside high school students in a performance at Fushimi Inari Taisha, a 1,300 year old shrine.

The shrine, one of the most important in Japan’s native Shinto religion, is famed for having 10,000 “torii” gates — red or orange structures that look a little like the symbol for pi.

Passing through the gates is supposed to help wishes come true.

Ms Obama had earlier visited the 1,200-year-old Kiyomizu Buddhist temple, a stunning Unesco World Heritage wooden structure set in the hills around Japan’s ancient capital.

Escorted by the chief monk and accompanied by US ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, she watched “Noh”, a form of classical Japanese musical drama.

Ms Obama was in Japan to launch the “Let Girls Learn” initiative, a programme aimed at helping to get girls around the world into school. Tokyo and Washington are both big donors.

On Thursday, she addressed an audience of women in Tokyo, where she spoke of the value of education and the “crisis” of 62 million girls globally who are being denied the chance to learn.

Later in the day she met prime minister Shinzo Abe, to whom she humorously suggested a lunch date at his wife’s restaurant, a venue the Japanese premier said he had never visited.

* Agence France-Presse