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North American Taiko Conference

NORTH AMERICAN TAIKO CONFERENCE

The North American Taiko Conference (NATC) is a biennial event sponsored by the Taiko Community Alliance (TCA). Started in 1997, the conference was first held in Los Angeles, hosted by the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC), with the mission of supporting the growth of taiko in North America. Since then NATC has become a central element of the taiko community – a regular gathering of taiko community leaders, players, and supporters from around the world. The conference features workshops and discussion sessions for players of all levels, and public performances featuring a wide variety of taiko groups. 

Originally held in Los Angeles Little Tokyo, NATC has since been held at Sacramento State University, the University of Washington, Stanford University, the University of Nevada Las Vegas, the University of California, San Diego, and Portland State University.

NATC Goals

  • Build a community of taiko groups in North America
  • Share traditions and repertoire
  • Support the artistic development of the art-form
  • Document North American taiko history

Conference Sites and Conference Coordinators

NATC History

The Birth of a Community

When the first NATC was held in 1997, organizers were unsure about how the conference would be received by participants. Spearheaded by the first conference coordinator, Kevin Higa, NATC kicked off with a joyous reception at the Senshin Buddhist Temple. The taiko community took over the JACCC and surrounding buildings for the weekend, enjoying workshops, discussions, and the very first Taiko Jam concert. The atmosphere was electric. At the end of the conference, the late Duane Ebata, artistic director of the JACCC, announced that the center would host the next conference in 1999.

Little Tokyo Hosts a Tradition

The JACCC mobilized the Los Angeles taiko community to host NATC again in 1999 and 2001. At that point, the community encouraged other regions to host the gathering. The challenge was met by Sacramento in 2003 and by the Seattle community in 2007, with the conference returning to Little Tokyo in 2005 and 2009. Throughout those years, the growth of the community was clear, and NATC also became a place to discuss tough issues that accompany growth.

NATC in 2005 coincided with the opening of a landmark exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM)  entitled “Big Drum: Taiko in the United States.” Conference participants enjoyed free admission to the museum to see the Big Drum exhibit, as well as the museum’s collection of artifacts and displays depicting Japanese American culture and history. A DVD featuring taiko footage from around the country and rich interviews with taiko pioneers was created for this exhibit and is still on sale at the JANM Museum Store today. Click here to watch a trailer on YouTube.

New Frontiers

At the end of the 2001 conference, the JACCC put out a call for other communities to host NATC, and the conference was held for the first time away from Little Tokyo. Sacramento Taiko Dan welcomed the taiko community to California State University Sacramento, which put NATC for the first time on the grounds of a college campus. 2003 also gave birth to the first Taiko Ten community concert, a tradition that continues today. In 2007, the conference was held at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington. In 2011, it moved to Northern California and was held at Stanford University. Each of these conferences had a different feel from the conferences held in Little Tokyo. They introduced to us the diversity of the taiko community and highlighted the significance of NATC in supporting the community’s growth.

NATC gives birth to TCA

Due to other organizational priorities, the JACCC decided to delay and ultimately cancel the 2013 North American Taiko Conference. Many members of the community began to express concern for the future of the conference, which had become a major touchpoint for the taiko community. Under the guidance of a group of recognized taiko community leaders, and with the blessing of JACCC leadership, the Taiko Community Alliance (TCA) was formed in October 2012 to administer the conference and give the taiko community a path to greater responsibility and self-determination about its future. The new organization’s first task was clear: to secure the future of the conference and host NATC in 2015. 

At the TCA Launch in 2013, Roy presented a summary of NATC up to that time: NATC Historical Perspective. Information and images thanks to the North American Taiko Conference, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, Roy Hirabayashi, Kevin Higa, Bryan Yamami, Lesley Handa, Darren Endo, Yuta Kato, Linda Uyechi, Peter Spangler, Susan Yuen, and Elise Fujimoto.

Vegas, Baby!

The conference made a triumphant comeback in 2015. Held for the first time away from the West Coast, NATC 2015 was hosted on the campus of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Organizationally, Las Vegas was a big milestone in that it shaped what NATC would look like under the new TCA banner. Many lessons were learned under the hot Vegas sun. TCA emerged strong and more determined than ever to continue the NATC tradition.

NATC celebrates 20 years

NATC 2017 was hosted by the Taiko Community of San Diego at the University of California at San Diego. The 20-year milestone was celebrated with a new 5-session format and the debut of the Mini-Intensive, a series of workshops providing an intensive learning experience with a single topic and small cohort of participants. The conference was a big success for TCA, allowing it to expand programming in non-conference years, such as launching the 50th Anniversary of Taiko in North America celebration in 2018.

Portland goes global

In 2019, NATC moved back to the Pacific Northwest as the Taiko Community of Portland hosted the gathering at Portland State University. With easy access to Portland’s well-known eateries and books, and with a smaller venue than in the past, NATC 2019 sold out rapidly, leading to innovative applications of technology to allow participation in NATC 2019. For the first time, a global audience could access NATC as the opening session, Taiko Ten, and the closing session of the conference were made available via Livestream.