Our Roots

When did you first realize that identifying, living, and being perceived as a woman affected your experiences as a taiko player? Perhaps it was the joy you found in playing alongside other women; perhaps it was when you noticed that the women in your group always volunteered for certain tasks; perhaps it was when you realized all your taiko teachers were men.

We’ve all had those moments.

This website represents a movement that has emerged slowly, often through conversations first held in our individual heads. When we started talking with one another about taiko and gender, we realized we had shared hopes. One thing led to another, and the circle has widened!

In August 2017, several of us organized the Summer Taiko Intensive preceding the North American Taiko Conference, and focused it on Women and Taiko: Past, Present, and Future. Organizers Tiffany Tamaribuchi, Karen Young, Sarah Ayako, and Sascha Molina curated two and a half days of workshops, panel discussions, strategy sessions, and of course taiko jamming, all focused on gender issues in taiko. It was attended by 47 taiko enthusiasts from North America and Europe, and our sessions were remarkably warm and intense – we discovered we not only had a lot to talk about but were full of ideas about how we could try to create change.

Sarah Ayako wrote this personal testimony about the origins of the Women and Taiko Movement, shared here with her permission:

Late at night, in front of the fireplace, the staff of the first TaikoBaka Odaiko and Fue Intensive gathered to celebrate our program’s successful completion and to explore next steps. Was it the beer? The sleep deprivation? The euphoria from a wildly successful first program? Hopes and dreams for ourselves, the program, our community, and the world flowed easily, building on one another and branching out in a million different directions. Our ideas seemed to hang in the smoke, and we all stared into the fire, as if the future were hidden in the dancing flames. This is where I first took note of Tiffany Tamaribuchi’s long-held desire for a Women and Taiko event. It wouldn’t be until years later in 2017 that this dream would come to life.

Meanwhile, the topic of Women and Taiko built momentum with events such as the North American Taiko Conference panel sessions conceived by Wisa Uemura. We also gained valuable insight about non-skills-based intensives from the 2016 TaikoBaka Leaders Conference, which we used to build a team and create a framework for a Women and Taiko event. On a trip to the east coast, Tiffany brought Karen Young on board. Karen’s work in social justice and community building is imbued with her infectious enthusiasm and positivity, as well she founded the pan Asian women’s group, The Genki Spark and put the call out for taiko players to march in the 2017 DC Women’s March which made her a strong addition to the team. Together, Tiffany and Karen developed a curriculum for the Women and Taiko program that focused on promoting and developing women taiko artists, and exploring how women have shaped taiko culture both on and off stage. We agreed that the TaikoBaka core staff -- Sascha Molina and I – would team up again to power the logistics. We sent a proposal to the Taiko Community Alliance (TCA) offering a Women and Taiko workshop through the Summer Taiko Institute, in conjunction with the 2017 North American Taiko Conference. NATC co-coordinator Mark Rooney agreed and pitched our plan to the TCA.

However, there had never been a Summer Taiko Institute proposal quite like ours. Most have focused on repertoire or technique rather than issues. The TCA was unsure how to navigate this unfamiliar territory. The logistics were new, different, and complicated. We believed that this topic was long overdue for examination, and that NOW was the time to tackle it head-on… so we kept planning. In the end, the TCA worked hard to accommodate us, and we were able to sort out the details. The Summer Taiko Institute Women and Taiko: Past, Present, and Future was offered August 8–10, 2017, co-sponsored by the TCA.

47 people participated in the three-day workshop: solo professionals/artists, leaders, community organizers, activists, collegiate players, teachers, researchers, academics, event producers, and more! During the program, some of the women taiko pioneers and professional artists shared their stories of overcoming gender discrimination and stereotypes. We also broke into age-based groups to discuss issues unique to our generation and how taiko can play a vital role in social change. One key issue that came up repeatedly was visibility. We had many conversations about how to be more visible and how to help other women be more visible.

Of course, we also played taiko! Tiffany led skills-based workshops and a composition process based on her open-source piece, “Joy Bubble,” which was written after the divisive 2016 US presidential election. With Tiffany’s guidance, we created a piece that also incorporated the “Tanko Bushi Rock” popularized by Chris Iijima and Nobuko Miyamoto during the Asian American Movement days of the 1970s. Drawing on the strengths of the participants, we combined taiko, movement, and spoken word that expressed key points generated in our discussions: feelings of isolation, the tendency to hold back, visibility issues, and the common (Japanese) perception of women on the taiko stage as kazarimono, or mere decoration. Thanks to Derek Oye and the TCA, we were able to perform this piece for the community at the opening plenary of the 2017 North American Taiko Conference.

We formed strong bonds during our days together. In the months following, many participants of the program stayed in touch via monthly online calls organized by Pat Calvelo. We continue to share ideas, challenges, and triumphs, and turn to each other for professional and personal support and advice. We have carried forward several projects proposed during the workshop. Our in-depth documentation of the workshop is an on-going resource. We created a committee that launched a mentoring program for women that works directly with the TCA. Another committee took responsibility for curating the Visibility Campaign seen on this website, which shines a spotlight on some amazing women in the taiko community.

Tiffany, Karen, Sascha, and Sarah are grateful to Kathy Fuller, Elise Fujimoto, and all those who stood by us, fought for us, and who showed up and opened their hearts and souls for the very first Women and Taiko session at STI. We are so humbled by all the work, the programs, and the conversations ignited around the world. It has been inspiring to see all the different directions the participants have gone, and we cannot wait to see what happens next!

Change is coming now!

LANGUAGE AND TERMINOLOGY

Terminology is important. It shapes how we think. When it changes, it helps us think in more inclusive ways. Women, queer, third gender, male, womyn, transgender, female, Chicanx, gender fluid, man, LGBTQ, feminine, etc. – each of these terms signals different ways to think about gender and sexuality. What pronoun do you ask others to use when referencing you? We acknowledge that gender binaries are a problem; we believe that gender-neutral language – and restrooms! – are the best practice. Remember when “mankind” was an acceptable way to reference all humankind? We do too. We are keenly aware that terminology is important. On this website, we use different terms depending on the context. This website is women-centered AND we acknowledge that the cultural and political category of “women” is a problem. We use gender-driven language in order to address the gendered inequalities that shape our worlds. This website addresses these issues and how they shape the taiko community.

Women AND Taiko or Women IN Taiko (AND vs. IN)

Some of our materials are titled “Women and Taiko” and others are “Women in Taiko.” What’s the difference?

We use Women and Taiko as a frame to talk about the topic – e.g., anyone who wants to address the broad topic of women and taiko. All genders are welcome to think about/address/learn about/care about women and the art form of taiko!

We use Women in Taiko to mean that something is for women, is about women, is meant to develop women, etc.

The distinction is sometimes clear, sometimes not, but our use of AND vs. IN has helped us think about how we direct a question or project.