San Jose Taiko

Roy and PJ Hirabayashi

Not many folks can say they have evolved—if not created—a new type of art. But starting in 1973 when Roy Hirabayashi cofounded San Jose Taiko, a professional performing company, Roy and PJ Hirabayashi have cultivated a new Asian American art form. Taking the traditional rhythms of the taiko—a type of Japanese barrel-shaped drum—and infusing Western and other musical influences, San Jose Taiko pioneered the American taiko sound, which has since been met with traditional Japanese approval. The Hirabayashis have performed around the world, receiving countless commendations both for their efforts in cultivating and showcasing a new art form and for consistently advocating for San Jose’s Japantown. These awards include arguably the highest arts honor awarded in the United States—the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship in Folk and Traditional Arts, in 2011—as well as the highly prestigious City of San Jose Cornerstone of the Arts Award, in 2016, for enduring and effective leadership in the arts.

“In the early ’70s we worked with the Buddhist temple in San Jose, and the minister there was really interested in doing something to bring more youth back to his temple. He suggested we look at using the taiko—the Japanese drum—as perhaps a way to do that. So we started with the intention of involving the youth, but it rapidly became more of a community group because people in the area heard about what we were doing and wanted to come check it out and participate. We use the taiko as a tool to organize people, but it has also given us a chance to learn more about our heritage.”

Written by Tad Malone
Photography by Daniel Garcia

This article originally appeared in Issue 8.4 “Profiles”

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