Run! Can Not Stop….


It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the Boston Marathon bombings. I’ve been doing a lot for reflecting the past couple weeks, sometimes it feels like it just happened yesterday, and other days it seems like it was years ago. Then I remembered I wrote a blog shortly after the event about my views of being a new runner and living in Boston which you can view here:

Salem Black Cat 10 Miler

I shake my head every time in disbelief when I read the first sentence. “I may not be fast a fast runner, and I am may not be able to run a marathon, but I’m definitely a runner.” I wrote this blog just under a year ago and it’s hard to believe I’m about to run The Big Sur International Marathon this Sunday.

I had barely finished my first 10K when registration opened for the marathon last July. I was already planning a trip back home since I haven’t seen my family in years, and thought I would try to get in even though I knew it would sell out being the #1 most scenic marathon in the US. My heart wasn’t set on it, so I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed if I couldn’t get in because I knew I wasn’t ready for a full marathon yet. So you can imagine what my stomach felt and what my face looked like when I got the “Congratulations” email confirming my registration. The marathon sold out a few minutes later at a record time of 59 minutes.

My trail runs through the winter.

So I started immediately training for a half marathon while still performing with The Genki Spark. I also discovered , a wonderful organization that matches runners with buddies who can’t run, bringing awareness to diseases and disabilities of all types. The wait list is very long as you can imagine, taking up to 2-3 months to get matched. I was matched with Ian and his mom the night before The Susan G. Komen 5K in September. Perfect timing since I knew this race would make or break me knowing I lost my mom to this terrible disease. And I was even debating being a no show. But after getting the wonderful news, I ran my very first race for Ian and also ran my fastest 5K yet.


My run buddy Ian and his mom.

Autumn is my favorite time of year, and training during this season felt more like a vacation getaway than actual work. I love seeing the autumn leaves turn, making my surroundings a canvas of color. However this didn’t last very long. I ran my first half marathon in early October and winter set in quickly after. As you know, this was one of the most brutal winters New England has had, but I did still manage to run five half marathons by mid December with temps averaging in the 20s to single digits, and I hadn’t even started training for the marathon.

Knowing what was up ahead, I was faced with a really hard decision knowing I couldn’t train for this race and be a taiko performer. A marathon is actually hundreds of miles, the race itself happens to be the last 26.2 of it.  I had to step back from The Genki Spark which meant stepping away from one of my biggest support circles. I knew I needed them to help me get through training, and they needed me to help them get through one of their biggest performances in March. It was a hard sacrifice for both parties, but one we all understood had to happen. All of my training was done on my own, with this brutal winter and being in isolation for hours, made my mind play tricks on me. There were several periods of self doubt and wanting to give up on this crazy idea, and I didn’t have my Genki sisters to pick me right back up and tell me otherwise. Luckily as the weekly mileage increased I was able to find a few races that worked perfectly with my my training schedule. Even though I never really interacted with other runners, just having them around me was enough to pick me up.  Even though the weather was awful every time, these runners were doing exactly what I was doing and wanted to do.


The Eastern States 20 Miler

However, this energy is nothing like I get from my Genki sisters. The night before my longest training run, a 20 miler up in NH which I had been absolutely terrified about, was first performance The Making Women’s History show this year. I hadn’t seen them all together in months, and I wanted to go not only to show them my support, but to see my family again. I sat in the front row so they could see me and something amazing happened .  We started kiaiing back and forth feeding off each other’s energy, communicating and bonding without words. By the time I headed home I was 100% confident I would be able to finish the race the next day even though the forecast was 100% chance of rain. I did finish strong, and added another medal to my wall.

So now that my longest training run was over with, the only thing left to do was to start cutting back and avoid illness and injury before the big day. Unfortunately I jinxed myself because I ended up getting a cold, and took a nasty fall at a half marathon I ran last week. I ended up spraining my left ankle and bruised up my entire right shin when I went down. However, I did ended up running my fasted half marathon yet, and I’m confident my ankle will be healed up in time for the marathon.


One of the views I’ll be seeing at Big Sur.

Watching the Boston Marathon this past Monday has rekindled my spirits at least tenfold. It’s clear the Boston has healed and became stronger.  I can’t help but to think that the bombings last year had something to do with my running choices. I’m very excited and proud of myself for getting this far. After seeing the picture of me holding a sign for the runners back in 2011 and wondering what was going through their head during that crazy race, I get to put the shoe on the other foot and experience that myself. What’s even better is that I get to experience this while hearing and feeling the spirit of taiko while running! I am so honored that Watsonville Taiko will be drumming for The Big Sur Marathon runners at the bottom of the biggest hill, just like we did for Boston!

Months of speed intervals, hill training, long runs, polar vortexes, windy and rainy races, dizziness and nausea, my training is finally over. It looks like I paid my dues because the forecast on race day is going to be near perfect. I have to hurdle Hurricane Point, but I will make it thanks to Watsonville Taiko and knowing my Genki sisters will be checking for updates on Facebook every second when I’m running. And I can get some decent pictures and miles in for my run buddy finally! I’m ready.


Oct 2012- Present. Two more have been added since, and a spot waiting for my first marathon medal.

Peace, Love, Drum, and Run.

-Deena (Genki Alumni)



Racism in our Backyard


photo(24)Last week, a Newton North High School put on a musical called Thoroughly Modern Millie.   The script to this musical portrays some extremely racist characters who perpetuate Asian stereotypes.  Consequently, many community members, many of them Asian parents, teachers, and students, expressed disappointment, anger, and frustration.  There was a Talk Back a day or two after the musical was put on.  I did not attend the event, nor did I even hear about the musical being put on until it was already done.  However, as a member of an arts and advocacy organization, and specifically one that promotes Asian American culture and works to bring awareness and break down oppression, this was something I wanted to learn more about.

From the little research I’ve done on the musical and the process in which Newton North took to put on the musical, I have many questions.  Who should we hold accountable for the fallout?  Who is being targeted by the musical’s content?  Who is speaking up?  Who is being silenced?  I found out the school tried to address the racism before and after the performance.  They even wrote a letter in response to the community’s outcry.  In it, the principal talked about the discussions, consulting one of their Asian teachers (ok, this felt a little like tokenizing), having the students of the Asian club talk to the director, inviting people to the Talk Back, and even asking the company who owns the rights to Thoroughly Modern Millie to see if they had another script without the racism (surprise! they didn’t).  You can read the whole response here: Millieresponse While reading this, I just kept thinking, “This obviously isn’t enough!”  I kept wondering why a school would choose to put on a musical knowing it would cause such negative reactions.  Was this a way to open a dialogue about racism?  This wouldn’t be the route I would take, but I’m not a theater director at a majority White suburban high school.

I haven’t seen the musical and don’t know anyone who participated in the production.  This incident is just another reminder that racism still is a problem and should be addressed.  From what I’ve learned about the fallout in Newton, I’m hoping more work can be done to raise more awareness on why people reacted so passionately.  Check out some reactions from the Talk Back.  What it showed me wasn’t so much people wanting to fight one another or even looking for apologies, but people from the Newton community wanting visibility around the issue–to not brush it under the rug as racism often is, especially when it comes to anti-Asian racism.  I look forward to learning more about how this community will continue to figure out how to address a complex issue such as this.

—- Trisha




Lee Ann

Born in Philippines
Age 2 immigrated to Queens, NY
Age 27 move to Boston, MA
Filipino, female, queer, activist, artist
*Taiko drummer & photographer*

Photo by: Michael Simonitsch.

A memory… is when I brought my girlfriend (now wife) to Easter dinner with my family. At that point, I hadn’t even come out to most of them so I introduced her as my friend. When you are intimate with someone, it is difficult to hide that connection and I could tell that my family quickly realized that she was not just my friend. I felt it in the room that they understood and were not happy. After dinner, one of my aunts, who I thought would be the most understand, sent me an email flatly asking me if I was gay. I thought to myself, ‘This is easy. She asked me. So I’ll answer.’ I was still afraid, but she was the ‘cool’ aunt so I wrote to her and said ‘Yes, I am dating Jenn. I hope you can be happy for me because I am finally in a place where I am learning to be happy with who I am.’ I was surprised that the response was not as understanding as I thought it would be. It stuck with me until today. My family has slowly come around to accepting our relationship and who I am. They have always said they had an issue with the relationship and not me, but if you can’t accept the relationship and who I love- you aren’t accepting me as a whole. That memory sticks with me so much because I was really hurt by that response. Being visible for me is also being visible in my family. At one point, I had asked myself, ‘If they don’t accept me… how involved with my family do I really need to be? Do I stick around? Do I fight for this or do I walk away?’ I made the decision to fight to keep my family, and to work through this with them. As much as this was a process for me, it is also a process for them. It took me all this time to be honest with myself and to learn to love myself, I should only expect that it will also take time for them. Visibility isn’t always being on a stage claiming who I am (though I often am doing that with The Genki Spark), but is also being visible with my family.

This campaign as part of MAP Health’s visibility social media campaign. After a community wide nomination process Genki Spark member, Lee Ann Teylan was selected to be honored. Please check out the profiles of the other amazing Boston based honorees which include Sarath Suong, Narong Sokham, Hema Sarang-Simenski, Cassie Luna, and Maxwell Ng.

Congratulations Lee Ann!

Taiko Baka 2014


2014-01-21 12.55.19Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, flap, flap, flap
Wiggle, wiggle wiggle, flap flap flap
This is the constant refrain I heard as Tiffany sensei began to deftly take apart my drumming technique so that I can play more efficiently and with less strain. During the weekend long workshop, we wiggled and we flapped with visions of spaghetti arms floating in and out of my consciousness. The technique worked because how else could I have lasted 4 days of daily drumming, sometimes up to 45 minutes at a stretch without acquiring a single blister on my hands. Lots of sore muscles. No blisters.
Four days of taiko intensive workshop with Tiffany Tamaribuchi, an internationally known taiko master is first and foremost a lot of FUN! Yes, we did learn to play the Odaiko but a funny thing happened before we played our solos. I learned to overcome my self-doubts, my fears. (Play a solo? Oh no. Not me.) I learned to relax and enjoy the moment. I felt connected and balanced. So what if I made a mistake. So what if I couldn’t play a pattern after the first or fifth repetition. So what if after learning a drill one day, I couldn’t remember how to play it the next. All I know is no one is keeping score (maybe me, still). No one will remember how badly or how well I played my solo except me. And in my mind at that moment, I was flawless. The corrections, the do overs….those can wait until the following day.
I still have plenty of challenges to work on and who doesn’t? But after Taiko Baka, I am less intimidated. It isn’t as daunting a task anymore. True, I still get nervous. But it’s all relative. At the very least, I don’t feel like Sissyphus pushing a big boulder up a steep hill all the time.
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, Flap, flap flap.

— Mary Ann

When Your Family Doesn’t Fit in a Box


I saw this post today and thought I would share it. Being mixed heritage Chinese/Japanese raised in a mixed race/mixed family, I remember getting all kinds of strange comments from people. My mom was Chinese, my stepmom was white, my dad was mixed Chinese/Japanese, my siblings were mixed and we called ourselves a family.

Screenshot 2014-02-26 10.57.07

I think what I appreciate most about what this single mom is doing is that she isn’t letting her adopted daughters quietly internalize these comments. She decided to rally with her daughters and figure out how to use this situations as a ‘teachable moment.’ Many times I’ve been so stunned I haven’t known how to respond when targeted by ignorance and racial comments. My ‘be polite and agreeable’ upbringing didn’t teach me how to confront or strike back when someone cast an ignorant comment and so many issues would be left unchallenged. Often as a young one I would be left silent and alone with these experiences thinking that it was somehow my fault these experiences were happening to me. ‘If I wasn’t Chinese this wouldn’t happen to me …  If I didn’t look the way I do … If I wasn’t a girl … If I wasn’t big-boned, … If, … If,… If …’

Ignorant comments and targeting happens all the time.  It’s always ugly but I think the hardest and most damaging part is being left alone. Congrats to this mom and her daughters for figuring out how to talk about these experiences and not go silent.

— Karen


We can do it!

In the spirit of planning an Asian Womens’ Leadership conference, Women MBA conference, as well as a Breakfast event celebrating women in leadership in Boston, *and* Karen’s (The Genki Spark’s Founder and Artistic Director) encouragement…a simple experience on how every little bit counts…

I received an email last week from one of my Genki sisters to sign a petition about the band: Day Above Ground and their recent release: Asian Girlz.  Some of you may already be familiar with the song (check out RockGenius link for lyrics), so I’m not going to re-hash the inappropriate lyrics and subjugation of women portrayed in the video (although, to be fair, I am not saying they are the only band who subjugates women..,) I will share that I was disappointed to see an Asian actress in the video.

*It should be noted that the actress, Levy Tran, has apologized for her participation and calls the band “Sweet boys, [who are] not at all racist”.  (Well, thanks Levy, for that vote of confidence and clearing the air on that… )

Having said all that, it’s taken me a few days to gather my thoughts about the situation and at first I really just felt angry that someone thought it would OK to write such a loaded song even “just for satire” as the band has said in interviews.  My second thought was: I’m sufficiently annoyed, now, how do I *stop* this song from being played?”  In addition to signing the petition, there was a call from several blogs to let the House of Blues know how we feel — simple enough.  I found the FB page for the House of Blues in LA and posted:

Hi – I’d like to urge you to cancel the scheduled show of Day Above Ground on August 10.  I am deeply offended and outraged at the blatant racism, sexism, and subjugation of women in their lyrics.  I would never patronize a venue that chooses to allow them to perform.  Thanks for your consideration.  

Simple enough right?  To be honest, I didn’t really expect much from this little FB post (but rather, far more from to the petition put together by AF3IRM – Association of Filipinas, Feminists Fighting Imperialism, Re-feudalization and Marginalization).

I will NOT...

To my surprise, the House of Blues actually responded and indicated that they are changing the line up and Day Above Ground will not be playing after all!

House of Blues Sunset Strip – Thank you for your feedback. The August 10, 2013 Kelly McGarry Presents line-up has changed. Please always check for the latest band line-ups.

It’s not an apology, but it’s change.

On a related, but slight tangent, one of my friends from the Netherlands commented on our new postcards with: “Wow Jen!  Celebrity!” and while it was a sweet thought, my comment back was something to the extent of “Celebrity?  probably not, but inspiration?  I can only hope….”

So I hope that this helps or affects some one to make a difference because YOU MATTER.

Here’s the link to the petition, resulting in the bank removing their video and (obscenely) offensive lyrics!

(Please note, the lyrics are listed and contain vulgarity!)


Taiko Baka: Oh, Taiko


I went to Taiko Baka (an intensive on how to play the Odaiko) with a healthy share of trepidation about my: abilities as a Taiko player, strength, physical limitations, finesse, capacities, etc. There were people there who’ve been playing Taiko for decades- to newbies- 2 years, to fledglings – 9 months. Our rhythmic and musical skills varied as did our physical capacities and our reasons for being there. Yet, as I settled into the experience I began to see how each of us was bringing our own heart, soul and body to the drum. We were approaching the drum with all of what brought us to that very moment in time…all of it, nothing left behind!
Tiffany Tamaribuchi, our Sensei-extraordinaire emphasized that the most important piece in all she was teaching us was who we are as Odaiko players. Who we are as we approach the drum, settle into our stance, raise our bachi and begin the conversation that is wanting and waiting to happen in that moment. How who we are in front of the drum is how we live in the rest of our lives. It is not something that just happens while playing; it is what informs our playing and the very living of our lives.

While I began to understand this through the course of the weekend, the lessons I learned have been unfolding profoundly for me as I process and integrate all that I experienced. Here’s the jist at this moment:
1.) Play to the level of my ability and don’t try to be someone else. My self-expression on the Odaiko is what it is in that moment. I cannot play as if I have 4, 8, 20 years of experience, because I DON’T! I’m a relative newbie to this art form and am in a learning process that will continue as I continue to play. So, let myself be where I am!

One of the many drills...

One of the many drills…

2.) Comparative judgment will shut me down completely. Judging my abilities against others’ abilities will only leave me on the short end of the stick and feeling badly about myself. Or, I can judge myself as better to puff up my ego at the expense of another which is not in integrity with who I really am. Either way, my capacities and abilities are my own. Others’ are theirs. When I admire them for who they are and let myself be inspired by what they have accomplished as players rather than diminish or puff up myself, I have more room to be me in front of the drum.
3.) Breakdown leads to breakthrough. We were challenged daily to keep playing through physical exhaustion, way beyond the limit of what we thought we were capable of. With muscles aching all over, I explored different ways of keeping going. Getting pissed off was what came up first. That created tension and holding and made it harder. Feeling sorry for myself (exacerbated by comparative judging) had me want to quit and go home. Finally, on Sunday I found myself relaxing my body (Tiffany said this was a possibility) to find the easiest way to play. Indeed, an ease came; the wrist that had started to throb stopped hurting as much and I found a quiet inner place that provided the stamina to keep at it. Relaxing, breaking through the hard-edged effort, not tensing powered me in that moment.

a very special ji

A very special ji (base beat)

4.) A flash of Joy! As I approached the Odaiko to play my solo on the last day, I experienced a flash of joy that arose from the depths of my soul. Joy has been an experience I’ve not had full or easy access to as a taiko player because I have been very hard on myself (See # 2, above!). I realized as I was settling in before the drum that the Odaiko was here as a non-judgmental witness to my self-expression in that moment. I could play to the best of my ability and it would be, simply, a loving presence, sending out its glorious reverberations into the world. What if this was true every time I approached a drum? (It is!)
5.) Community is supportive. Big lesson here. I’ve been challenged by my itty bitty shitty committee’s agenda of fears -people’s opinions, not measuring up, not being safe; not expecting to be supported. This has meant feeling insular and isolated when with other people. In the last 7 years or so have I found myself better able to let others support me, even then with some difficulty. The community of players that came together for this Taiko Baka encouraged each other genuinely, contributing to growing my trust in community.

At one with the drum

At one with the drum

6.) My heart is as big as the Odaiko we played. In a meditation following my return home, I experienced the drum and my heart as ONE. The drum expresses and mirrors back to me how open my heart is, how grounded my body is, how in tune I am with who I am as the most authentic expression of myself in that moment. What a gift to be in the presence of such an instrument.
The lessons of Taiko Baka will continue to inform my presence and skill as a Taiko player and who I am as a human being. I have been touched deeply by Taiko Baka 2014 and thank the tree in Cameroon that became the body of the drum, the two cows who provided the heads upon which we played and the community of people who came together to make this such a powerful experience. Banzai!

Genki Sista, Monique Morimoto

This is Halloween.


Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

twin towers

Burning 9/11 Twin Towers


Mom dressed her 7 year old as a member of the KKK because it was a family tradition.

Marathon victim

Boston Marathon Victim

These were all Halloween costumes this year. I don’t really think I need to explain how offensive these are do I?  Lynn’s 11/1/13 mentioned about focusing on stereotypes/myths linked to different ethnicities or cultures that could be potentially offensive. Have we really come down to this as Halloween fun?

The Boston Marathon Victim costume struck me particularly hard. One being that I live in Boston, and another that I am a runner, a long distance runner even. She did apologize, although I am not sure how sincere she was, or if she even understands how hurtful it was. “It seems as though my outfit was too soon, and will always be that way, it was wrong of me and very distasteful.”  Too soon? How about NEVER wearing something related to such a tragic event? Maybe, just maybe if all the marathon victims grew back the limbs they lost it would be. She did lose her job over it, and did try to apologize several times. I honestly do think she was punished enough for it and has learned her lesson.

However, even though I was furious about her poor choice, I am more disgusted with people’s reaction towards it. Death threats towards herself and her family. Really? Did this young girl really deserve death threats because she made a bad choice in a costume? You can read up about it here: . “Nice costume. Hope your mom gets cancer.” Have we become really this detached to humanity? Now she has become a victim of cyber bullying.  Cyber bullying is NOT OK! It has taken too many young lives recently. I’m relieved that some folks did try to speak up, including a fellow Bostonian.

Amanda Todd was only 15 years old when she took her life. She had been so tormented by cyber bullies that she thought it was the only way out. She had shown her breasts to a man online that she trusted. He took a pic and posted it online. As you can imagine it spread like a wildfire. She attempted suicide shortly after by drinking bleach, but luckily she was saved. Her parents even moved her to another city to help, but the internet found her and bullying started again even worse this time. She was not only picked on by the picture that was posted of her, but now the unsuccessful bleach suicide attempt was added. Sadly, she made sure there wouldn’t be a third attempt and hung herself. She made a video that told her story: What’s awful is that people are still making fun of her to this day. It’s known as “Todding”.  Social media seems to be desensitizing us which is a very scary thing.

Sadly, Amanda is not the only one that thought suicide was the only way out:

  • Tyler Clementi, 18 yrs old, was cyber bullied because he was gay. His college room mate spied on him by leaving a webcam on in their dorm room while he was on a date. His room mate had multiple viewing parties with other students. Tyler jumped off the George Washington Bridge.
  • Ryan Hlligan, 13 yrs old, was cyber bullied because he had a learning disorder and a passion for the arts. His best friend spread a rumor about him being gay. He hung himself.
  • Megan Meier, 13 years old, was cyber bullied because she had ADD and weight issues. She hung herself.
  • Rehtaeh Parsons, 17 yrs old, was cyber bullied because of pictures that were taken of her being ganged raped while drunk. She was even throwing up in the photos, yet everyone called her a slut/whore. She hung herself, but was in a coma at first. Her family had to make the hard decision to take her off life support.
  • Audre Pott, 15 yrs old, just like Rehtaeh Parsons, she was ganged raped while drunk and photos were taken. She hung herself.
  • Jamey Rodemeyer,  14 yrs old, cyber bullied because he was bisexual. He was an activist against homophobic bullying and even made a video for the “It Gets Better” project. Sadly, he hung himself.

I should mention that all families above while mourning the loss of a loved one, were also cyber bullied. Death is apparently not good enough for some people. I’ve been reading a lot of “I’m glad he/she finally did it, he/she deserved it.” type  stuff. So flashing your breasts online or liking someone of the same sex is enough to get the death penalty, yet bombing a city or shooting an innocent black person is just considered funny. Now that’s truly terrifying.

If you or someone you know is a victim of bullying and/or cyber bullying, there is help! Please visit:


Amanda Todd.

Amanda Todd. 15 yrs old. Cyber bullied for showing her breasts online once and hung herself.

Thinking about Costumes

  • 404675_435075983204601_1505568680_n
    Seeing so many posts and articles about the importance of not wearing potentially offensive Halloween costumes (mainly, those that perpetuate stereotypes/myths linked to different ethnicities or cultures). Being so vigilant about the Halloween masks we wear is masking the real problem, isn’t it?I understand the good intentions behind it, but I’m wondering whether this means people shouldn’t dress as nuns any more, or as zombies or ghosts (which could offend someone who has just lost a loved one). Shouldn’t we extend this concern not to offend to cover not only certain ethnicities but to anyone who might be offended or hurt by a costume? Are witch costumes out, in deference to those who currently practice witchcraft? Nurse costumes? Is almost any costume – which often portrays something that the wearer is not usually identified with – potentially offensive to those who may identify with what is being caricaturized in the costume?

    Maybe so. Maybe we should rethink all these costumes. I’m also thinking that this frenzy of articles and posts may belie a misplaced focus on not having the *appearance* of offending or being insensitive to others, without a corresponding deep questioning or examination of our fundamental beliefs or prejudices. I don’t think the whole costume thing would be an issue if we didn’t all participate in a deep, underlying culture of prejudice and racism. That’s what we need to take a much closer, longer look at – starting with our own unconscious beliefs – and not only pointedly ask whether a particular costume that we might wear one day out of the year might be offensive or hurtful.

    Happy Halloween, everyone! : ) Just wanted to get that off my chest, wondering what other people think, realizing just now that this is just the consequence of fb and social media, and – oh, in case you hadn’t guessed – having a Mega-Fit of Procrastination…!


Taiko: UK Style!

  • Passport
  • Voltage adaptor
  • Camera
  • Raincoat
  • Bachi?

This past summer, I packed a suitcase for a trip to my home country of England with my travel essentials. I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of traveling in my life, and I’d like to think that I’ve mastered the art of packing a carry on suitcase. However, this time the packing list was a little different, thanks to the addition of some items I would need for a visit to a taiko dojo.

It was all a bit spur of the moment. A week before my trip, I wondered if there were taiko groups near my grandmother’s house in the rural county of Devon. There’s not a sizable Asian community out there- in fact, 94.9% of people in Devon are White British (source)- so it seemed unlikely to me that an artform with Asian roots would be popular.

I was wrong!


Lisa at the Taiko Centre

Being new to the taiko community, I hadn’t a clue that Devon is home to the UK Taiko Festival, an event that attracts taiko groups from all over the UK, Europe, and beyond. Nor did I know that the county is home to The Taiko Centre, the dojo of Kagemusha Taiko, Kagemusha Junior Taiko (KJT), and Tano Taiko. Thanks to Karen, I was put in touch with the founder of Kagemusha Taiko, Jonathan Kirby, who warmly invited me to the Taiko Centre.

My Taiko Centre visit kicked off with a tour of the campus that the dojo is located on, Hannahs at Seale-Hayne, led by Lucy of Tano Taiko. Hannahs is dedicated to enriching the lives of adult and young people with disabilities, and the Taiko Centre helps contribute to that mission through some of their programs and their “Have a Go” sessions. I think that taiko provides such a positive energy outlet, and I was inspired to hear that about their efforts to make the artform accessible all kinds of people- young, old, able bodied, disabled, music lovers or those who are simply intrigued by the prospect of hitting a big loud drum!

Lucy and I returned to the dojo just in time for a public class that was being led by Hannah-Jasmine. HJ invited me to pick up my bachi and join in, and she led us through some fun warm ups to get us smiling and laughing. Next, HJ reviewed the ji (base beat) of the song the class was learning, and I was concentrating so hard that it took me a minute to realize that the song we were about to play was Matsuri, a song that the Genki Spark also has in our repertoire. Many taiko ensembles play Matsuri and the basic rhythm will sound similar, but the form may differ from group to group. When the Genki Spark plays Matsuri, you’ll see us using taiko drums that sit upright (beta style), but the public class was playing Matsuri on drums on a slanted stand (naname style). Having never played naname style before I was a bit nervous, but thanks to the encouragement of HJ and crew I gave it my best shot and ended up having loads of fun.


KJT hard at work at rehearsal.

Two days later I returned to the dojo to observe Kagemusha Junior Taiko (KJT) rehearse. KJT is a performance group of made up of young people, but don’t underestimate them because of their age- they rock! They got right down to business and ran through their sets for the UK Taiko Festival and the National Music for Youth Festival. All of them have years of experience playing taiko, and it shows. Jonathan was there to give guidance when necessary, but for the most part they ran the show and helped each other out. I asked some of the members how they first heard of taiko, and I was surprised to learn that many of them first learned about the art in school. It turns out that Jonathan has done a lot of outreach to schools and music services in the area and taiko has been quite well received.

Taiko in the UK is a very young artform. It arose in the 1980s, from a couple of pioneers. One was a Japanese man who started a performance group in London, and the other was a UK national who studied taiko drumming in Japan and started offering instruction in Scotland. Kagemusha Taiko is unique because they are influenced by North American taiko, but in my eyes they’ve put their own spin on it to create a distinct style of their own. At the same time, I noticed that the senior members ensure that everyone understands the roots of the artform and who they were influenced by. It’s clear that they hold a real respect for the drum and the taiko players that came before them.

My trip ended with a chance to meet the members of Kagemusha Taiko before they had to finish prepping for the UK Taiko Festival. They even indulged me with some very GENKI group photographs.. you know how we love group photos in the Genki Spark!


Kagemusha Taiko looking much too sensible!


Take 2: Now THAT’S Genki!

I honor my Asian heritage in particular when I play with the Genki Spark, but I’m proud of being English as well. Because of that, it made me so happy to find taiko community out in Devon. It’s hard for me to put into words exactly why that is, but it felt like I was coming full circle. I felt like two communities that I love and consider “home”- the taiko community and this little corner of England known as the West Country- were intersecting in a beautiful way.

A sincere thank you to Jonathan and all of members of Tano Taiko, KJT, and Kagemusha Taiko for making that experience possible. To learn more about them and the UK Taiko Festival, check out their website and find them on facebook (Kagemusha Taiko, Tano Taiko, UK Taiko Festival).