Tsukasa Taiko was founded in 1996 by Hide Yoshihashi with the help of Wakayagi Shiyu. Shiyu, a master of Japanese classical dance had founded her own taiko group Waka Daiko under her Wakayagi Ryu dance school. Yoshihashi later created Tsukasa Taiko 司太鼓, taking kanji from Shiyu’s name司友 and started to teach small weekly classes at the Wakayagi residence. He led community performances with his students, most notably at the Bon Odori Festival at Mitsuwa Marketplace when it was formerly known as Yaohan-. This summer festival became Tsukasa Taiko’s first annual event.
The birth of Tsukasa Taiko broke new ground in the Chicago taiko community, incubating the idea of independence. Before Tsukasa, community taiko was associated with Buddhist Temples as membership was offered exclusively to those within each respective temple. Tsukasa Taiko became the first private taiko group independent of these exclusive organizations. The inclusiveness attracted many students to Tsukasa Taiko including some of the current core members. And consequently, Yoshihashi became the first independent taiko drummer. Encouraged by his success, Yoshihashi’s colleagues began creating their own groups. Many of these groups are still active today. Yoshihashi was a catalyst for this trend and an important contributor to Chicago taiko culture.
Under this new structure, Yoshihashi was introduced into the scene as one of the first taiko players to be associated with professional music scenes . Yoshihashi performed at major venues, events and artistic projects representing Tsukasa Taiko, joined by Aoki’s two eldest children who were 4 & 7 at the time. Stages and events included the old HotHouse, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago Jazz Festival, Chicago Blues Festival and Asian American Jazz Festival. These years reveal Tsukasa Taiko’s early involvement in professional settings. Tsukasa was also the frontman to bring children and youth to the large stage. The first generation of Tsukasa Taiko’s regular performers consisted of students from around age 4 to 16, who were all performing with Yoshihashi at these venues and events.
The Gintenkai Unit’s role is to actualize the artistic goal in preserving, developing and passing on traditional concepts of Japanese art. Westernization and commercialization has created mass misinterpretation. Taiko music is often misrepresented as a form which values fast rhythmic patterns similar to those played on drum sets and drum lines. However, the aesthetic roots are found in theatrical concepts of kabuki and nichibu (Japanese classical dance). The concept of ma (the space between) is emphasized. Choreography is also important in presenting the movement of the body. These movements stem from classical Japanese dance, reinforcing the connection between music, dance and theatre. The Gintenkai Unit focuses on compositions that Aoki grew up playing during the 1970s. The reincarnated pieces are are complex, refined arrangements that embody all the elements to preserve an authentic, Japanese aesthetic. Instead of a rhythm, melody and orchestration is valued and created. This important aesthetic value is specific only to Tsukasa Taiko, and is what predominantly distinguishes Tsukasa from other groups. Tsukasa also reincorporated geza music to the stage using shamisen and shinobue as regular components.
Tsukasa Taiko has many other milestone accomplishments. Tsukasa is currently the only community taiko group in Chicago with CD releases, recognizing the changing generations of Tsukasa’s history. The first CD was released in 2006 which highlighted Yoshihashi and a second was in produced in 2011 featuring Amy Homma and the Gintenkai Performance Unit. An exclusive CD of Gintenkai Performance Unit was released in 2013 and the newest album was just released in 2017 featuring the National Gintenkai Unit comprised of members from Tsukasa Taiko and Gen Ryu Arts. Tsukasa Taiko was also featured in Yoko Ono's Skylanding album from 2016 as part of Tatsu Aoki's The Miyumi Project which was chosen as the official music for Ms. Ono's first permanent sculpture in the United States.
Tsukasa Taiko has actively participated in public events supporting the recovery from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster around Chicago at the Richard J. Daley Center and at the Japanese Consulate.
Tsukasa Taiko is distinguished as being the sole Japanese speaking taiko group. Tsukasa emphasizes the preservation of language as part of the cultural legacy. Gintenkai Leader Kiyomi Negi and Gintenkai Captain Kioto Aoki are bilingual, second generation Japanese Americans. Though not all members are of Japanese descent classes are taught in English and Japanese, stressing cultural etiquette in the Chicago setting. As part of the educational outreach Tsukasa also offers lectures, workshops and classes for public schools and universities studying the Japanese language in the Chicagoland and Midwest area.
One of the most important performances of the year for Tsukasa Taiko is the annual Taiko Legacy performance, hosted consecutively for the last few years at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Taiko Legacy is the largest show hosted by a community taiko group in Chicago, and is now part of the permanent museum archive. The show is a presentation of the traditional taiko arts both as a preservation and advancement of musical culture in the modern world. Each year we invite special guests from Japan and the Bay Area.
Taiko Legacy is important in truly portraying the national and international art legacy practice that Tsukasa Taiko works to preserve. International artist Grand Master Chizuru Kineya from Japan has been a part of Taiko Legacy for the last few years, as have Grandmaster Fujima Shunojo and Fujima Yoshinojo from Fujima Ryu of Chicago.Takane Umeya comes from Japan for the first time and Hyakkyou Fukuhara joins Tsukasa for a second time this year, and Melody Takata brings Gen Taiko from San Francisco. In addition to the aforementioned AACM members, Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang come back to form a dynamic trio with Gintenkai member Eigen Aoki.
2017 ended with our Taiko Legacy 14 event and Reduction 5, with special guests Grandmaster Chizuru Kineya, Umeya Takane, and puppetmaster Nishikawa Koryu V. This year Artistic Director Tatsu Aoki was awarded the Japanese Foreign Minister's Commendation, presented by the Consulate General of Japan during the Taiko Legacy show. This award acknowledges the continued effort and influence of those who have spread Japanese culture outside of Japan.
Tsukasa Taiko aims to continue to use the cultural arts to deepen the Japanese and Japanese American Communities’ understanding of its heritage and cultural legacy.