The Formation of Tomo no Taiko

Jodaiko, Cultural Night 1994
Jodaiko, Cultural Night 1994

The formation of the group is primarily attributed to a pair of students, Peggy Kamon and David Shiwota, who became the group's first directors. Peggy brought the vast majority of experience to the group, having learned from Tom Fukuman, taiko "sensei" at Gardena Buddhist Church. Fukuman-sensei's expertise had been in Obon taiko (visually a very different style than most kumi-daiko groups perform today), and in this way Peggy had been trained. When Cultural Night was incepted, she and David laid down the foundations of a training regimen that Jodaiko continues today. In the summer of 1992, Peggy began teaching the First Generation of Jodaiko, made up of Tomo No Kai cabinet and general members. The songs first used for this training, Omatsuri and Renshu are still the first two songs prospective members of Jodaiko learn. Practices were originally held Monday evenings at the Kamon Residence in Torrance, California. The group, however, had no equipment to speak of, and began learning the proper striking technique and stances on automobile tires and wooden tables. Progress was very slow, as few members had any musical experience of any kind, but the new members of Tomo No Taiko persevered.

Tomo no Taiko's First Performance

Jodaiko, Undated
Jodaiko, Undated

While preparations continued for Cultural Night 1993, Tomo No Taiko continued to practice. The group debuted at UC Irvine in the Fall of 1992 at the Annual UCI Rainbow Fest, with a generous loan of drums and stands from Reverend George Matsubayashi of Venice Buddhist Church. The group's first costumes, happi coats, were procured from Japan Airlines, and bachi were made and given to the group by Peggy. By all accounts, the performance was a success: Omatsuri and Renshu were well received by the audience, and Tomo No Taiko had its first performance under its obi.

Cultural Night 1993 was a step up in scope for Tomo No Kai: in previous years, all the Culturally Oriented Performances had been performed by groups outside of Tomo, and were paid to participate in the show. It was in 1993 that Tomo members strove to present a show entirely independent of outside groups, establishing the organization's current tradition. Tomo No Taiko performed four songs that evening, split more or less evenly between the twenty members that had been trained by Peggy. The first song, Tomo, was a rearrangement of the traditional Omatsuri, gradually adding players and increasing in tempo as the song progressed to communicate the power of community and friendship.

Tomo No Taiko's second piece was titled Oni, meaning "demon" in Japanese. The song was innovative in its presentation, calling for traditional oni masks to be worn on the backs of performers heads while they played with their backs to the audience, but it has since been retired from the repertoire. The third song was a combination of two traditional obon songs, played to accompany the obon dancers performing that evening. Peggy combined and rearranged the two pieces, calling on her experience as an obon taiko player.

The final song of the evening was titled Senshin, and survives today as a portion of the song Nesshin, a piece performed regularly by Jodaiko. This song was the first to include flipping bachi one full rotation, an element found consistently in a number of Jodaiko's older pieces.

Tomo no Taiko and Asian Heritage Week

Jodaiko Reunion: Members Past and Present, May 20 2012
Jodaiko Reunion: Members Past and Present, May 20 2012

Though founded with the intention of performing at Cultural Night, the members of Tomo No Taiko resolved to continue playing taiko for the remainder of the year, and fully expected to participate in the following year's presentation of Tomo No Kai's Cultural Night. However, an important lesson was learned when the group planned a performance for Asian Heritage Week, another Annual Festival at UCI. That year, the fact that UCI had such a large Asian-American Population and no Asian Studies program was hotly debated, and the theme of the Week-Long Festival was centered around protesting this situation. The precise day Tomo No Taiko was to perform at Asian Heritage Week has not been recorded; however, the quality of the performance has been remembered, and it is far from inspiring. After Cultural Night, Tomo No Taiko had abandoned the formal practice regimen that had been the norm for the members since the previous summer. The members had agreed that further practice was impractical, as it required a serious time commitment, and practices for Asian Heritage Week began a few weeks prior to the event. For a group that had realistically just begun learning how to play Taiko, this was insufficient. Additionally, Tomo No Taiko had accepted new members that had shown interest in the weeks following Cultural Night, and these members had only the few weeks of experience allotted to them by the late start in preparing for Asian Heritage Week. Ultimately, the performance was much poorer than the one presented at Cultural Night, with members dropping bachi and forgetting entire portions of songs. The songs performed that day are recorded as Tomo, Senshin, and a rearranged version of the piece Oni that had debuted at Cultural Night 1993.

The experiences of Tomo No Taiko at Asian Cultural Week also served to highlight an important philosophical question that any taiko player should consider asking themselves. David Shiwota records that the Tomo No Taiko performance was used as a means of drawing attention to the beginning of the sit-in protest planned for that afternoon. Once the performance had ended, he and Peggy Kamon took two of the taiko and carried them to the Chancellor's office, improvising and backing each other up. The two directors of Tomo No Taiko used the voice of the drum to support their own voices of protest.

It is also recorded that both David and Peggy were criticized by the group who had loaned them the drums for their involvement in the protest. Taiko is a very powerful and moving art, and there are those that believe that this power should not be used lightly. Others feel that it has no place in political issues, that it is disrespectful to the Spirit of Taiko to involve it in such matters. Still others feel that the power of the Taiko can be used responsibly for positive change. This is a serious matter all Taiko groups should make as a whole, and each person much decide for themselves. Jodaiko has since participated in similar and loosely related political events, and may continue to do so: but Jodaiko now maintains its own equipment, and is free to make this decision without offending another group that may maintain different guiding principles.


The construction of Jodaiko's first chu-daiko. Peggy Kamon-Mato, David Shiwota and John Shen.
The construction of Jodaiko's first chu-daiko.
Peggy Kamon-Mato, David Shiwota, and John Shen.

The Summer of 1993 saw Tomo No Taiko members return to the structured training schedule they had developed the previous year, with the intent to maintain practice year-round. It was this summer that the group adopted the name Jodaiko in remembrance of the spirit of the original founding members, Peggy Kamon in particular. Her original vision of a spirited, independent collegiate Taiko group perseveres in Jodaiko today and while Jodaiko continues to change in structure, demographic, playing style and individual talent, the lessons learned in the first year remain some of the most important. Jodaiko has since received a generous donation of six chudaiko and a single odaiko from Victor Fukuhara, a respected and talented drum maker and Taiko Player from Kokoro Taiko Kai. The group has since added shimes, and various percussion instruments. Much is now behind Jodaiko, and a prosperous future is in sight. But the first year is not forgotten and remains a model for current Jodaiko members to look upon for guidance, both in execution and in spirit.