Eugene Taiko: Celebrating 30 Years

This is a report submitted by Randy Nishimura of Eugene Taiko, recipients of a 2019 TCA Mini-Grant.

Eugene Taiko’s 30th anniversary was cause for reflection and an opportunity for the current members of the ensemble to recognize the group’s founders. The group had not observed earlier milestones, so honoring its notable history was long overdue. Through the generous support of TCA, Eugene Taiko created a video memorializing its history and achievements. Eugene Taiko: Celebrating 30 Years debuted at a festive concert marking the anniversary, and is now ready to be shared with a wider audience.

Taiko was particularly meaningful to Eugene Taiko’s founders, most of whom are members of the Nisei and Sansei generations of Japanese-Americans. For them, the North American form of taiko was a means to acknowledge their roots in a way that would transcend the ethnic and cultural barriers that defined their upbringings. Importantly, the video includes poignant reminiscences by founding members Misa Joo, Richard Lin, Aimee Yogi, Lois Yoshishige, Ken Nagao, and Irene Nagao about how meaningful the formation of Eugene Taiko was for each of them.

Misa Joo recounts how renowned taiko maker Mark Miyoshi spurred the formation of Eugene Taiko by insisting it would be an affront to him if the drums he crafted for her were not played and merely served as décor. The rest, as they say, is history. Misa cajoled the others to join her in founding the group, initially learning by practicing on tires while transforming old wine barrels into new drums for the fledgling group. Little did they know their efforts and enthusiasm for taiko—still very much a novelty at the time—would become the foundation of a lasting community legacy.

Since its inception in 1989, Eugene Taiko has embraced diversity. As Aimee Yogi notes in the video, female participation in the group’s membership has always been prominent, if not dominant as it is today. The group’s roster through the years further reflects taiko’s appeal far beyond its roots as a Japanese art form. Regardless, Eugene Taiko remains committed to promoting taiko as a folk art whose origins are specific to Japanese culture. For younger audiences in particular, taiko drumming may be their first exposure to a “foreign” music form, perhaps spurring a greater interest in and tolerance for traditions outside their own.

Eugene Taiko resolutely remains a community-based ensemble, comprised of members who participate in taiko drumming solely for the joy it brings them and the audiences the group performs for. The commemorative video helps to tell part of the story, one that we hope will continue to be written for many years to come.