Facing eviction, community rallies around S.F. Taiko Dojo

Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka of San Francisco Taiko Dojo photo by William Lee

An iconic Japanese American institution that has inspired the proliferation of the art of Japanese drumming in America is facing eviction due to rising rents, and the potential of losing the beloved taiko group has sent reverberations throughout the taiko community and beyond.

But without missing a beat, supporters of San Francisco Taiko Dojo — and its famed leader and cultural icon Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka — have responded to an urgent call to raise funds to help it find a new home.

According to San Francisco Taiko Dojo General Manager Ryuma Tanaka, the new owners of its space at 212 Ryan Way in South San Francisco are nearly tripling their lease on Sept. 1, leaving them to scramble for rental options for the historic cultural arts performance group that appeared in Hollywood films like “Rising Sun” as well as hundreds of festivals since its inception in 1968.

While the group had been paying a rent of $2,700 a month for a 2,700 square foot space, they were told by the new owners that it would raise to nearly $7,000 on Sept. 1, which Tanaka acknowledges is the “going rate.”

Ryuma Tanaka had kept the impending skyrocketed rental rates to himself, saying he didn’t want to spoil the celebratory nature of the Los Angeles Taiko Festival on Aug. 6, held to “express gratitude to Tanaka-sensei for his continued support and tutelage,” the festival Website states. “It is because of Tanaka-sensei that so many taiko groups across America can experience the joy of playing taiko,” the site added.

“I couldn’t tell anyone (before the taiko festival),” Ryuma Tanaka said. “Once I told someone, I would ruin the mood. I wanted them to remember Taiko Dojo at its best.”

But once the music subsided, the painful reality arose, and he had to inform both his father and the taiko community that its foundation was cracking after two years of the pandemic.

“All of our big corporate gigs have been cancelled since COVID,” the younger Tanaka explained to the Nichi Bei Weekly, who said he’s looked around “for months” for alternative space. “There’s nothing around. Unless someone could give us a discount, it’s really hard. Storage units are expensive.”

To make ends meet in the short-term, Tanaka said he would sell some of the 70 or so taiko drums that the group possesses.

Rising rents not only threatened the availability of practice space, but it very well could threaten the existence of America’s first taiko group altogether.

But the predicament faced by the group was met by a groundswell of support, including from many of the 79-year-old taiko legend’s pupils, who went on to establish their own performance groups across the country.

A GoFundMe page designed to help the group find its own space has easily surpassed its initial $50,000 goal, and in five days has amassed close to $60,000 through 518 donations through Aug. 17.

And while the GoFundMe page was initially set up to address short-term survival, the goal has been expanded to “invest in SFTD’s long-term vision, which includes securing a more permanent space and considering different approaches to ensuring SFTD’s financial viability over time.”

Just as San Francisco Taiko Dojo and its leader Seiichi Tanaka literally put taiko on the American map, supporters are determined that the beat will, indeed, go on.

For more information, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-taiko-dojo.

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