San Francisco Taiko Dojo
“The essence of taiko is not only the skillful playing of percussion instruments, but also the discipline of mind and body in the spirit of complete respect and unity among the drummers. It is also the ultimate challenge of reaching the point of unity of the drummer’s spirit with the drum.”
— Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka
San Francisco Taiko Dojo brings us the discipline, dignity, and holy thunder of San Francisco Taiko! Reflecting the iemoto system—the teaching of traditional Japanese art by a master—drummers present Sensei Tanaka’s unique blend of traditional and contemporary rhythms, dance, and martial arts.
In ancient Japan, various drums were played for communication and religious ceremony. Drums resembling taiko drums were likely introduced along with Buddhism around the sixth century by Chinese and Korean immigrants. Taiko drumming is still linked to shrines and religious ceremonies, and it also accompanies Noh and Kabuki Theater. Sensei Tanaka has said, “In Japan, taiko drumming is played at practically every occasion—especially special ones like festivals or ceremonies.”
That is why in 1967, when Sensei Tanaka first visited San Francisco, he was surprised to see no taiko drummers in the Cherry Blossom parade, or anywhere else in his travels in the US.
He returned to Japan to study the art, traditions, and philosophies of taiko with Grandmaster Daihachi Oguchi of Osuwa Daiko. Then, after returning to San Francisco in 1968, Tanaka marched as the lone taiko drummer in the parade, and founded San Francisco Taiko Dojo. 2018 marked the groups’ fiftieth anniversary, and over 20,000 people have studied under the Grandmaster, his students establishing over 250 other taiko groups throughout the United States and Canada. Perhaps Sensei Tanaka best described the relationship between Taiko and community when he said: “Taiko drumming can be expressed in one word—heartbeat. We listen to it before we are born, it is instinctive.”
San Francisco Taiko Dojo was founded by Tokyo-born Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka, who is widely considered the father of taiko in North America. San Francisco Taiko Dojo was the first taiko group in North America. Sensei Tanaka and San Francisco Taiko Dojo have collaborated with a number of renowned artists, including Art Blakey, Tito Puente, Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck; and have been featured in movie soundtracks for “Apocalypse Now,” “The Right Stuff,” “Return of the Jedi,” and “Rising Sun.”
July 6 & 7
Dance Origin: Japan
Title: Many Sides; Shishi Mai (Japanese lion dance); Yodan Uchi
Artists: Nosuke Akiyama, Masako Asahina, Carissa Chen, Nobu Kagami, Leslie Lam, Dexter Lee, Nancy Lee, Benji Pastel, Ken Rhee, Miwa Smith, Clara Takahashi, Seiichi Tanaka, Christine Wilkinson
Photo: RJ Muna