The founders of San Jose Taiko, Roy and PJ Hirabayashi have helped to create a new Asian American art form by infusing the traditional rhythms of Japanese drumming with musical and cultural influences from around the world.
As post-World War II baby boomers and third-generation Japanese Americans growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, the Hirabayashis were looking for outlets to express their cultural identity, when they discovered taiko, a form of drumming. This was the beginning of San Jose Taiko, created in the heart of San Jose Japantown in 1973.
San Jose Taiko's performances feature visual elements and choreography requiring physical strength, endurance, and energy. Members of the group participate in composing, choreographing, designing and fabricating costumes, and handcrafting the drums. This collective effort produces a performance that highlights group unity and purpose.
In 1987, San Jose Taiko became one of the first American taiko ensembles invited to tour Japan. They have performed in a wide range of venues, from small community centers and schools to Carnegie Hall. In addition to offering extensive educational and community outreach programs, San Jose Taiko is currently working on establishing a Taiko Conservatory, the first of its kind in the United States. Roy and PJ are credited for developing a holistic art form that embraces artistic excellence while also encouraging San Jose Taiko members to become leaders and community builders.
San Jose Taiko has collaborated with internationally renowned Japanese performing artists including Kodo, Ondekoza, Eitetsu Hayashi, and with artists from other disciplines, including Brenda Wong-Aoki, Mark Izu, Eth-Noh-Tec, George Coates Performance Works, Abhinaya Dance Company, Hiroshima, and Keith Terry.
In 1994, San Jose Taiko was honored by the Arts Council of Silicon Valley with a commendation for community leadership for its efforts to foster cultural diversity in the arts. Roy and PJ were advisors for the Big Drum, Taiko in the US exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles in 2005. The Hirabayashis received recognition from the Preservation Action Council of San Jose in 2004 for their role in the preservation and revitalization of San Jose Japantown (one of only three Japantowns remaining in the United States). In 2010, San Jose Taiko received the Foreign Minister of Japan Commendation Award for sharing the Japanese culture in the U.S.
When San Jose Taiko was founded, only a few taiko organizations existed in the United States; today, there are hundreds, with San Jose Taiko as one of the nation's leaders. As composers and performers, the Hirabayashis have maintained a respect for cultural tradition, while moving the taiko art form forward through innovation; collaboration; and outstanding performance, training, and education programs.
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