Japanese American taiko is not Japanese taiko

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The significance about that, he [Tanaka sensei] came down to Los Angeles, and he wanted to come to Kinnara’s taiko practice. It just so happens that he came down to play at a Broadway department store for a Asian, or Japanese, theme sales promotion—so these different Broadway department stores which I think are now Macy’s or something. So he came to Kinnara’s practice, and at that time we didn’t practice all year round because we mainly practiced during summertime for obon season. This might’ve been in the wintertime, he came down. And we had his young kid start to playing, and he came to practice with his skateboard, chewing gum, and we started playing. So in one sense, a very disrespectful of, in the traditional sense, of playing taiko. But for us, it’s like, “He’s here—great! He wants to play”—this young kid—“Let him play.” So he played. So it was very ironic, too, because he’s stayed at my house.

Then Kenny Endo, who used to play with Kinnara, moved up to San Francisco, and he’s living there. So he was practicing and playing with Tanaka Sensei. There was this big discussion in the corner about all this other stuff. Then next day, Kenny approached Kinnara. He came close to me. He goes, “You know, Sensei asked me,” very traditionally—you know, not talking directly—saying, “He wanted to know whether or not Kinnara could not use to word ‘taiko.’” He goes, “Why?” He goes, “Because you guys are not playing taiko. One way, you’re kind of being disrespectful to the drum. What you guys are playing is not taiko. You’re playing on these barrels. What you’re playing is not Japanese traditional rhythms. Nothing about it is Japanese.” And I’m sitting there, “Man. Not calling this taiko… And all these years, saying that we’re playing taiko.”

So I took this back to the practice, right, and it’s like… I was saying, “You know, Tanaka Sensei asked us not to call this ‘taiko.’ We’re not playing taiko. We’re disrespectful. Chewing gum. Laughing. We’re kidding around. We’re having too much fun playing taiko.”

And so we thought about it, and then all of a sudden at the same time, it was like, “Wait a minute. Everybody at Senshin considers it to be taiko.” They’re very, very proud of it. This is some years after. They finally got over the fact that… They accepted us, and they’re very proud of us because we were able to play all these different venues and stuff. We were getting kind of good. We thought we were getting good. So all of a sudden, we go, “Well wait a minute. We’re not playing traditional Japanese taiko. We’re playing Japanese American taiko.” Japanese American Buddhist taiko. So that kind of made us reflect upon what we were doing. To put a name on what we were trying to do. So that helped us.

Date: October 15, 2004
Location: California, US
Interviewer: Art Hansen, Sojin Kim
Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

kinnara taiko

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