TAIKOPEACE: A movement for connection and community


PJ Hirabayashi photo by Bryce Craig

PJ Hirabayashi photo by Bryce Craig

Last year, San Jose Taiko’s artistic director emeritus and long-time community activist PJ Hirabayashi launched the Website for a movement she calls TaikoPeace. According to Hirabayashi, TaikoPeace is a movement of Japanese traditional drumming for social change and empowerment.

Over the past couple of years, Hirabayashi has spread the movement through creating shared values, guided workshops and through taiko itself. The Nichi Bei Weekly interviewed Hirabayashi through Zoom and discussed her journey toward TaikoPeace and the philosophy behind the movement.

Nichi Bei Weekly: When did you first feel confident in yourself and your identity?
PJ Hirabayashi: My confidence started to form through the radical antiwar movement as I was coming out of my senior year of high school and heading into college. There was a white contingent of antiwar activists and students involved in the Asian American Movement and we were all marching across each other. It was a weird out of body experience.

After graduating from Berkeley, I got involved in community organizing with a lot of the Asian American activists from the Bay Area, and we were doing different projects in the community. One project called Issei Project was a seminal group for creating services for our immigrant grandparents. Working with the Issei Project was the first time I thought, “Wow, I don’t know Japanese, but here I am, dedicated to serving the community.”

Eventually, I ended up at San Jose State and got into urban planning. At the time, Roy Hirabayashi, who is now my husband, was a co-founder of San Jose Taiko, and when I came, I had an immediate attraction and visceral connection to the drum and the practice. I thought, I have to do this, I want to do this.

NBW: When did you first recognize that taiko could be used as an instrument for social change and healing?
PJH: It was pretty immediate. To actually play the first gig with our group (San Jose Taiko) for Issei and see them cry in reaction to us playing was powerful. I quickly realized we were playing for connection, for community; we were bringing people together.

That’s when I knew, this is an immense provocative art form.

NBW: How is taiko uniquely positioned as an art form to catalyze peace culture?
PJH: Taiko is an experience that you embody. It’s not intellectual and it’s not just for yourself. It is holistic and it is multidisciplinary. It’s a dynamic art form that involves group enhancement, awareness and it’s uplifting. During my leadership and directorship for San Jose Taiko, I had to think about what we wanted to hand down as a consistent philosophy and this idea of peace was always a part of it.

NBW: What do you see taiko disrupting?
PJH: What we are trying to disrupt is our own comfort. It’s not the politics that will end oppression, it’s through open communication, through the way we move our bodies or look at each other that is going to help save us. It’s the arts that are our salvation, our medicine and our vaccine.

NBW: In what ways have you seen limiting beliefs, judgments, abuse of power and ego show up within the taiko community?
PJH: As we were evolving, taiko started to grow really quickly and become popular. At the same time, I could see that there was competition. I was thinking, why do we have to compete? Why do we let our egos get in the way when taiko has so much more to give as far as connection. At San Jose Taiko we don’t put ourselves on a pedestal, we don’t create dissension. When other groups would come to us to learn a particular song we would say, “No we can’t teach you the song, instead we would like to help you develop your own voice.”

NBW: Can you talk a little about Be-Hive and the current project of TaikoPeace?
PJH: As taiko players we have tremendous energy, and I want TaikoPeace to be a conduit to allow for that development. Let me put it like this, for MLK Day I worked with a group of people who never played taiko or danced. I used a song I created called “Ei Ja Nai Ka” to allow everyone to come together and experience an embodied movement. Participants shared in groups eight counts of movement of their culture and explained. One participant said, “I never got along with my father but he used to pick peaches so this is my movement,” and as he is sharing he is crying. Each person shares their movement and they all get collaged together so you can see the interconnections. What we are doing with TaikoPeace is asking you to step into your fullness.

For more information on TaikoPeace visit www.taikopeace.love.

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