Ei Ja Nai Ka: A ‘good’ taiko collaboration


San Jose Taiko playing “Ei Ja Nai Ka” at Bon Odori. photo by Pear Urushima

San Jose Taiko playing "Ei Ja Nai Ka" at Bon Odori. photo by Pear Urushima
San Jose Taiko playing “Ei Ja Nai Ka” at Bon Odori. photo by Pear Urushima

SAN JOSE — Those planning to attend an Obon festival this year might experience “Ei Ja Nai Ka,” a unique and high energy taiko performance that combines song, dance, chanting, and of course, taiko drumming.

The title, “Ei Ja Nai Ka,” literally translates to, “Isn’t it good?” or more directly, “It’s good!” The performance was created by PJ Hirabayashi for San Jose Taiko. Hirabayashi, together with her husband, Roy Hirabayashi, are the co-founders of San Jose Taiko, where PJ Hirabayashi formerly served as its artistic director.

Today, she continues to work with the group in different capacities, in addition to pursuing her own independent taiko projects.
When discussing the making of “Ei Ja Nai Ka,” Hirabayashi says the elements of the performance didn’t come together all at once. “Actually, the taiko rhythm patterns and choreographic movement with taiko on a moving cart were developed first, then the dance and chant were layered a few years later, and finally the song with lyrics was composed.”

Since its debut at the San Jose Obon festival in 2004, “Ei Ja Nai Ka” has gained in popularity and is performed at Obon festivals nationwide. The main reason? “It’s fun!” says Hirabayashi.

The performance has made a big impact in the community as well. Hirabayashi said, “I have made “Ei Ja Nai Ka” an open source composition and encourage individuals to share the piece with their groups and with their communities. Many taiko groups want to learn the elements of “Ei Ja Nai Ka” so that they can play at their Obon. I conduct “Ei Ja Nai Ka” workshops for the biennial North American Taiko Conference, teach (it) to non-taiko groups for team building, and collaborate with other artists and art groups.”

“Ei Ja Nai Ka” has extended its reach to international communities as well: “It has been played for community healing and uplifting in Japan after the Tohoku tsunami, and even in Bethlehem with Palestinian teenagers,” said Hirabayashi.

San Jose Taiko, a nonprofit organization, has been an integral part of the local Japanese American community for many years. Hirabayashi reflected,“Being homegrown in San Jose Japantown and how we interconnect with the community and its community organizations, we are grateful to have a symbiotic and respectful relationship. We are ambassadors for San Jose Japantown, for the city of San Jose, and for the North American taiko community. We recruit potential members to San Jose Taiko not just to be taiko players, but also community builders with open minds and open hearts. With this character, we are able to connect with anyone and any community.”

For more information, visit www.taiko.org.

Timeline: Development Process for “Ei Ja Nai Ka”

1994-1996: Taiko rhythm patterns are created, followed by dance choreography.

1997: At the first North American Taiko Conference, Hirabayashi makes “Ei Ja Nai Ka” an open source song for the taiko community. The purpose was to encourage the taiko community to work cooperatively together to create more open sourced songs for the future, so groups could play songs together.

2001: Hirabayashi requests Yoko Fujimoto, veteran member of Kodo, to write a song with lyrics to accompany the “Ei Ja Nai Ka” dance for the “Triangle Project,” a collaboration with Yoko Fujimoto, Nobuko Miyamoto and PJ.

2004: “Ei Ja Nai Ka” becomes part of the San Jose Buddhist Temple’s Bon Odori

2004 — present: Since its debut, “Ei Ja Nai Ka” is performed/danced at regional and nationwide Obon festivals.


One response to “Ei Ja Nai Ka: A ‘good’ taiko collaboration”

  1. Lily Ann Inouye Avatar
    Lily Ann Inouye

    I feel lucky to have been informed about the San Jose Buddhist Temple Bon Odori history. My deceased husband was from this area. If he were alive, He would have surely attended.

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