Flashback Friday – PJ Hirabayashi Presents: TaikoPeace

In 2015, through TCA’s Taikothon event, PJ Hirabayashi spoke about the movement TaikoPeace, and of her experience transitioning into “re-wire-ment.” What is her next stage? Does her taiko passion have a place in our world that’s going through troubled times and intense change? How can she take her taiko passion to have a deeper and more meaningful impact? Learn about PJ’s response to these questions through her work with TaikoPeace in our latest #FlashbackFriday segment above.

Subtitles are available on the video itself, and a full transcript is available below:

Welcome to TCA Taikothon 2015. I’m honored to share with you today my creative initiative called TaikoPeace. After 38 years playing, and practicing, and promoting San Jose Taiko culture, in 2011, Roy and I transitioned seamlessly out of leadership to pass it on to the next generation of San Jose Taiko leaders. When people ask me, “How’s retirement?” I respond, “Not retirement – re-wire-ment.”

Preparing for San Jose Taiko’s succession was very humbling. Considering that I had already been doing what I truly love to do, I had to go deep inside myself to ask, “What is my next stage? Does my taiko passion have a place in our world that’s going through troubled times and intense change? How can I take my taiko passion to have a deeper and more meaningful impact?”

In my 40+ years of being a taiko practitioner, I have seen and I have personally experienced how the misuse of power and ego shut down communication and unity and group. On the plus side, there are more taiko groups, often created because of bad feelings and unresolved disagreements. Isn’t this kind of a microcosm of what’s already happening in our world? As taiko players, we each hold incredible power by merely playing taiko. We affect ourselves and we affect others in a dynamic way.

Besides taiko being an extraordinary musical artwork, it would be profound if we can just all embody that taiko is also a tool for empowerment and transformation. Taiko can open our hearts, our minds, and release our limiting habits and judgements. We can start to see our own taiko playing come from deep inside of us from an authentic place that reveals why we play taiko and how we connect to ourselves and others.

Thus, the creation of TaikoPeace. What is TaikoPeace? TaikoPeace is a creative initiative and grassroots movement dedicated to unleash creativity, spark new creations of co-connectivity, and heal the human spirit through the dynamic energy of taiko drumming. TaikoPeace is inspired by the Charter for Compassion – a document supported by leading thinkers from many traditions around the world that activate the golden rule: From the way we speak, the way we think, the way we act, TaikoPeace invites heart-centered and gratitude-conscious individuals, taiko players and non-taiko players alike, and especially musicians, dancers, writers, and artists of all genres and walks of life.

The TaikoPeace intensive workshop integrated taiko drumming with artistic form such as dancing, chanting, spoken-word, taiko playing, writing, and Japanese butoh movement in order to activate and awaken self-expression in disruptive, yet positive ways. TaikoPeace workshops catalyze our energies to genuinely connect with each other, to ignite our life’s passion, and to expand our awareness, to shift our world from competition to cooperation, from exploitation to sustainability, from insensitivity and disrespect to compassion.

One of the community-building tools for TaikoPeace is the dance Ei Ja Nai Ka? Many of you in the taiko community are familiar with the piece Ei Ja Nai Ka? It is a piece that I have made as an open source song that incorporates dance, taiko, and kakegoe. Ei Ja Nai Ka? celebrates our Japanese American history. The dance movements commemorate the work through which our Issei made their living. I asked Yoko Fujimoto to compose lyrics for Ei Ja Nai Ka? Her words are so alive, bringing the past into the present and into our future. The ripple effects of Ei Ja Nai Ka? is expanding throughout our global community.

In summer 2014 through the coordinated efforts of Hannah-Jasmine Brunskill of Taiko Journey in the UK, TaikoPeace was invited to Bethlehem for the 2nd annual Bethlehem Live 2014 Festival. It was here in Bethlehem that TaikoPeace’s true potential came alive. Bethlehem Live Festival was conceived by the Holy Land Trust to inspire a community walled by concrete and barbed wire in a military occupied area of the West Bank. Our purpose was to bring taiko and Ei Ja Nai Ka? to Bethlehem as a gesture of peace and good will in a week-long adventure with workshops targeting groups of Palestinian youth and teenage girls culminating in a joint performance at Bethlehem Live Festival.

When I learned that the mayor of Bethlehem was a woman, I wanted to meet her. She graciously invited me and Sami Awad, the Holy Land Trust director, to her home. As we sat on her veranda, she sadly said, pointing towards the horizon, “See all those huge buildings on that hill? 10 years ago there was only forest and our farm land. Those buildings are Israeli settlements that are growing so fast and robbing us of our land and our freedom of movement.” It was so wrenching to hear her words, because I went completely unprepared to understand the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. It was a most humbling experience. I replied, “Vera, as I look at this walled-off territory, I’m reminded of my own family’s internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. What I’ve experienced this week working with your young people and seeing the daily life inside Bethlehem, your people and your culture are beautiful. It is through these young people that have the capacity to take compassion forward.” She was moved to see that the young people could dance Ei Ja Nai Ka? and play taiko, and she even heard a young Palestinian girl recite the Charter for Compassion in Arabic.

I now close with how Ei Ja Nai Ka? ripples can be a part of the continuum to heal and uplift our communities and our world.