San Jose Taiko celebrates 50th anniversary of sharing Japanese culture through performance

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Friday, May 19, 2023
Celebrating 50 years of expanding Japanese art form of taiko
Birthed in the heart of San Jose Japantown, San Jose Taiko is a non-profit performing-arts company dedicated to the development of the taiko art form.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The powerful sound of the taiko drum has been echoing through the streets of the Bay Area for 50 years, connecting communities and serving as a symbol of strength, resilience, and cultural identity.

Birthed in the heart of San Jose Japantown, San Jose Taiko is a nonprofit performing arts company dedicated to the development of the taiko art form as well as educational programs.

"What most people won't know is that the taiko itself, the Japanese drum, is thousands of years old but the art form of putting a lot of taiko together in ensemble format and using that as performance is relatively new even in Japan," says executive director Wisa Uemura.

As the third taiko group to take form in North America, San Jose taiko have utilized the taiko to reconnect with their roots and express themselves through music. The deep, thunderous beats resonate not only in the air, but also within the bodies of those who experience them.

"Our start was with third-generation Asian Americans, mostly Japanese Americans who were searching for a way to express their cultural identity," expressed Uemura.

The significance of taiko drumming in the Bay Area is deeply intertwined with the history of Japanese Americans in the region. During World War II, Japanese Americans faced unjust internment, forcibly removed from their homes and stripped of their possessions and cultural traditions.

This traumatic experience left many with a profound sense of loss and fractured cultural identity.

"It was sort of an awakening at that time trying to realize who I was as an Asian American, as a Japanese American, what was really important for me, what was going on around us at the same time," said founder of San Jose Taiko Roy Hirabayashi.

For individuals like Roy, taiko drumming became a catalyst for reclaiming their cultural heritage and resisting the oppression they had endured. Through taiko, they discovered what was truly important to them and found a way to navigate the world around them.

"We just all got involved because we just thought it's a great sound, great instrument, great fun. We really didn't know exactly what we were doing because we were just jumping in there basically, and we were just having a lot of fun," said Hirabayashi.

Over time, the art of taiko has evolved, incorporating new influences and techniques. It has become a vibrant and dynamic art form, representing not only the Japanese American experience but also the spirit of innovation and adaptation.

As drummers strike the taiko, they create a rhythmic beat that draws listeners in, forging connections between the music, the performers, and the audience. In this way, taiko serves as a bridge, fostering a sense of community and unity.

"We have a very popular program called our school outreach assemblies and our underlying message is really we are sharing with you some of our culture and we really encourage you to embrace and learn about your own culture and share it with others," said Uemura.

The beats of the taiko transcend language and cultural barriers, resonating with individuals from all backgrounds. It has become a defining element of the Bay Area's cultural landscape, serving as a testament to the strength, resilience, and artistic creativity of the Japanese American community.

"We hope that the work that we put out there is able to tell components of the Japanese-American experience here in the U.S.," said Uemura.

San Jose Taiko will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this Saturday, May 20, with several performances at San Jose Japantown starting at 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit here.

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For the latest updates, follow @sanjosetaiko on social media.

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