Celebrating Japan’s Past and Looking to Its Future with San Jose Taiko

March 11, 2024

Where tradition meets contemporary… Get a glimpse into Japanese/Japanese American culture through taiko drumming with San Jose Taiko at their March 14, 2024 performance. You’ll have the rare opportunity to experience a story that balances a respect for cultural roots while still being innovative. Artistic events like this help educate people on diverse cultures, fostering a world of understanding and acceptance. The ensemble’s Executive Director, Wisa Uemura and Artistic Director, Franco Imperial, discuss the deeper context of San Jose Taiko’s mission, engaging with students and what audiences can expect at their upcoming performance at the Center.

Purchase your tickets to the 7:30 p.m. performance here. Learn more about the taiko art form by staying in the theater immediately following the performance for a 15–20-minute question and answer session with members of the ensemble. This event is free for San Jose Taiko ticket holders with community support from Community First Credit Union.

Started in 1973 by third-generation Asian Americans wanting to share their cultural identity, San Jose Taiko celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2023. The company has performed in 46 of 50 states. Having both auditioned for San Jose Taiko in 1998, Wisa and Franco have been with the company for nearly 26 years.

I love being a part of something greater than myself. The pursuit of group goals with people I respect and trust is rewarding. To represent a cultural community like our San Jose Japantown is a tremendous honor.
Franco Imperial - San Jose Taiko's Artistic Director

Though taiko drums have been around for thousands of years, the style San Jose Taiko presents is post-World War II, the Kumidaiko, having begun in the 1950s by a Japanese jazz drummer, Daihachi Oguchi. “As one of three kumidaiko groups to have formed outside of Japan, our founding members studied with the preceding North American taiko groups – San Francisco Taiko Dojo and Kinnara Taiko from LA – to learn fundamentals and how to make drums,” Wisa shared. Early taiko groups in North America in the 1960s and ‘70s were resourceful, turning ordinary objects including furniture tacks and couch legs into instruments. Kinnara Taiko from Los Angeles first developed the wine barrel taiko which allowed the art form to flourish in this country. “For 50 years, San Jose Taiko has taught, performed and expanded the art form of taiko to create a strong Asian image, uplift a powerful voice for Asian Americans, and celebrate our Asian American identity and experience to challenge racial and gender stereotypes.”

For San Jose Taiko, cultural education is a significant part of the ensemble’s legacy. Through various education programs, San Jose Taiko shares Asian American stories in an imaginative, joyful, and fun way. During their visit to the Center, San Jose Taiko will connect classroom lessons for students during a performance through the Amcor Education Series. “Students will learn more about where taiko comes from, San Jose Taiko’s approach to the art form, and possibly even get to try the drums for themselves,” Wisa remarked. “Through the arts, we provide multiple ways for students to work through feelings and experiences that words alone cannot address.”

Hard of hearing and Deaf students from the region will also have the opportunity to attend an interactive workshop with San Jose Taiko in partnership with the Fond du Lac School District. In this workshop, students will learn more about rhythms, beats and vibrations. Though San Jose Taiko has worked with hard of hearing and Deaf students for many years, the ensemble has been more actively seeking out opportunities to connect with this community to better serve them in the past two years. “Being able to forge new connections between the venues and the deaf community is very exciting and hopefully enriches the arts spaces we visit even after we’re gone,” Franco commented. Support for this interactive education workshop is provided by Community First Credit Union.

Audiences at the March 14 performance can expect a dynamic and exciting show that blends movement, rhythm and group unity in a way that draws them in and makes them feel like a part of the show. I hope audiences learn and connect with the Japanese American culture through our show and in doing so, seek and find the beauty of all cultures.
Wisa Uemura - San Jose Taiko's Executive Director

Written by Philomena Dorobek, Brand Storyteller
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center