For San Jose Taiko, “community” is a word that is used often. But as the years go by and membership changes, how do we maintain a connection to the community in which has supported us from the beginning?
In San Jose Japantown, the annual “Day of Remembrance” marks the commemoration of Executive Order 9066, signed by Roosevelt during WWII that led to approximately 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry being interned across the country in 10 different camps. Individuals and families were forced to leave their homes and belongings for reasons like “national security” and “individual safety”.
How does all this relate to San Jose Taiko? Why is it important that SJT members realize what the connection is?
SJT is a professional taiko group but we’ve kept a foot firmly planted in the San Jose Japantown community both literally and figuratively. We’ve been a part of the Day of Remembrance ceremony for 33 years. Still, we wanted the members of SJT to understand the relevance of the ceremony rather than just telling them it is.
A week before this past Day of Remembrance, SJT welcomed a panel composed of Roy and PJ Hirabayashi, members of the Nihonmachi Outreach Community (NOC), and Maha Elgenaidi, founder of the Islamic Network Group. They had been invited to our studio to speak to SJT members about what the Day of Remembrance means to not only them but their community. Questions were asked and answered on both sides of the table.
Susan Hayase, co-founder of NOC and former SJT member, told us that Buddhism was once vilified after WWII like Islam is today. Maha told us that it was the Japanese-American community that was the first to come to the aid of the Muslim-American community after the events of September 11th., recognizing similar prejudice and discriminatory attitudes. This link between the two communities continues to grow.
During the session, Maha asked the rhetorical question, “how does a community maintain its identity?” Later on, Roy later said that “history doesn’t change but communities do.” And those two parts form a very interesting question: If history helps define a community but that community continues to transform, how does the history remain significant?
As for the event itself, SJT is merely a part. Speakers range from community leaders to politicians, from people who experienced relocation to those who lie outside the Japanese-American community but are facing the same issues from back then even now. SJT leads the candlelight procession, a solemn yet not somber show of recognition of what transpired before and what we deal with today. At the end, we get to perform a short set. It may seem weird to have something joyful and musical at the end of such a powerful, gripping several hours, but it is a way to lift people’s spirits and leave people with a sense of hope. In this way, the taiko become the messenger, telling the stories of what was and what can yet be.
For SJT, we can bring people to such events by simply performing at them; drawing a crowd. We can cause a ripple effect as performers, this time with the epicenter at an event such as this. We can continue to be a living link to the Day of Remembrance by being able to understand and communicate the stories of those affected by Executive Order 9066.
Being able to help our community - and all communities - with issues of justice, courage, and equality is something that San Jose Taiko still finds a great value in 40 years after our creation.
Each of the four organizations created a 10- to 12-week curriculum, focused on cultural enrichment, hands-on drumming instruction, and communication skills, to teach to elementary school students in Santa Clara County. The BuddaBOOM! classes meet twice a week and is integrated into local YMCA After School Programs.
San Jose Taiko’s program was organized by Executive Director Wisa Uemura, Artistic Director Franco Imperial, and is taught by Artistic Staff Members Yurika Chiba, Geoff Noone, and Meg Suzuki. Classes began at Russo/McEntee Elementary in San Jose’s Alum Rock School District in September and concluded with a recital on December 19.
Video #3 in a series of behind-the-scenes videos of our Rhythm Spirit 2012 concerts production. This is the first video that explores a specific “playdate” session where a certain type of technology & taiko meet.
In this playdate we explore the sonification of seismic activity = earthquake data that’s been turned into sound. What’s interesting is that certain qualities of earthquakes can be better detected by listening to this audio vs looking at data plotted on something like a graph. Who knew that our ears could be a better tool than a computer? It’s also interesting that the sonified data can have an emotional impact on the listener. As taiko artists this is an intriguing point of connection.
Special thanks to Dr. Michael Fienen of the USGS for all his help in guiding SJT through this information. He’s given us a wealth of material to draw inspiration from.
RS12: Taiko+Technology - Connection between SJT & ZERO1
Video #2 of a YouTube series that shares our process of developing Rhythm Spirit 2012: Taiko+Technology. SJT co-founder Roy Hirabayashi recalls George Coates utilizing a large number of slide projectors to create these stunning visuals. Difficult to imagine the amount of coordination required to pull this off in a pre-laptop era. Fantastic use of scrim and lighting techniques to transition artistically between pieces.
San Jose Taiko shares ‘playdate’ process for Rhythm Spirit 2012 Concerts
San José, CA —- June 20, 2012 —- San Jose Taiko draws inspiration from the digital-driven Silicon Valley for its “Rhythm Spirit 2012: Taiko+Technology” production September 21 and 22. The company will be at an exciting new venue this year: the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza., and SJT will partner with the Zero1 Festival to explore the art form of taiko through the medium of digital expression. The production can already be enjoyed by audiences as SJT shares the process of merging the traditional with the technological.
“We hosted a number of ‘playdates’ with specialists in various technological and scientific fields with the intent of bringing the audience along on this journey.The playdates are meant to be freeform idea jam sessions, where we explore possibilities without fear of failure or worrying about whether it would fit into a typical San Jose Taiko production,” explains Artistic Director Franco Imperial.“We’ve tried to use true play as a way to create and explore.From the ideas generated at these sessions, we will choose a few that resonate with us and will continue to develop them.CreaTV and LiveSV will help us document these sessions, which will be shared with our audiences through social media and during our September concerts.By the time any audience member steps into the theater in September, they will have an idea of what it took to create a particular piece.We feel the entire audience experience will be enhanced because of this.”
To date, playdate topics have included the sonification of seismic data and use of the Xbox360 Kinect Sensor.Idea partners range from PhDs from the USGS(United States Geological Survey)in Madison, Wisconsin to the software hacking community in San Francisco.
Executive Director Wisa Uemura adds, “Zero1 has been an amazing thought-partner in the early stages of this concept.This year, we’ll be presenting our concert program differently than we have in the past – we will be speaking to the process and actually allowing audience members to come onstage to experience the technology.Our hope is to provide a more interactive and engaging experience.”
There are three performances of Rhythm Spirit 2012: Taiko+Technology: Friday, September 21 at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, September 22 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. All shows will be held at the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Avenue,San Jose, CA 95116.
Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students and seniors if purchased in advance ($30/$25 at the door).All seats are reserved, and group rates are available. Ticket information is available by visiting www.taiko.org or by calling 408-293-9344.
March 7 Readers’ letters to the Editor in the San Jose Mercury News from Hiroshi Inomata, Consul General of Japan in San Francisco
Thank you, California, for helping us in Japan
One year ago on March 11, 2011, Japan was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes in modern history. The earthquake and accompanying tsunami claimed thousands of lives and, coupled with the nuclear accident, presented one of the gravest challenges Japan has ever faced.
Yet in the darkest hour, Californians from communities large and small, global and local, offered us unbounded compassion, comfort and hope. Please accept our deepest appreciation for every condolence, every show of support and every demonstration of our common humanity.
Japan’s reconstruction has advanced greatly with your help and friendship, but there is still much to do in the days ahead.
Our country is dedicated to working with you to share lessons from the earthquake, build disaster-resistant societies and promote human security and economic stability. We will continue to keep you updated on Japan’s recovery and development. Thank you once again for everything you have done for us.
Consul General of Japan in San Francisco
San Jose Taiko performers share their own perspectives on the Japanese-American festival and how the company’s participation in them connects with the reasons why they play taiko in the first place. This year’s Rhythm Spirit Concerts explore the festival; taking glimpses of the matsuri (festival) experience and sharing them with theater audiences in a stylized way.
San Jose Taiko has performed at various obon throughout California since its inception, making their first obon performance at the San Jose Japantown Obon in 1974. Here are some links for friends and fans of SJT who want to learn more about the cultural context of obon, and its importance both to us and the greater community.
What is obon? Obon or “Festival of the Dead” is celebrated in Japanese-American communities all over the country in the middle of July or August. In America, obon has become a key event for both the Buddhist temples and the local community, as well as a celebration of the rich Japanese-American cultural heritage. Obon features bon odori folk dancing, live music and taiko, games, and lots of food.
Perspectives on obon Thoughts and reflections on obon by members in the taiko and Japantown community.