Taiko Drums at the Santa Barbara Presidio

By M. Kay Van Horn

The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation began plans in 2009 for an Asian Festival to honor and remember the Japanese and Chinese American families who once lived on the Presidio property located on Canon Perdido and Santa Barbara Streets prior to and after World War II.

Togen Daiko. Photo by Clint Weisman.

I reminded the Asian American History Advisory Committee that in 1991, we celebrated “Nihonmachi Revisited” with a two day exhibition at the Presidio.  We had two Taiko drum troops from Los Angeles County, of which one was an excellent youth group.  We wanted to revive that festival spirit for “Presidio Pastimes, the Santa Barbara Presidio’s Asian American Neighborhood” to be held in 2010, and nothing could be more exciting than to watch and hear Taiko drums. To my surprise there were committee members who had never heard of Taiko drumming.   At that point, I decided to make it my mission to find a Taiko drum group.

The Santa Barbara Buddhist Temple was located on the Presidio site at 131 Canon Perdido Street, the center of Nihonmachi, or Japan Town, where they had the traditional memorial Obon festivals each year.  My sister, Dianne Takeuchi, and I took Japanese dance lessons when we were teenagers at the Buddhist Temple and participated in Obon Festivals there.  I contacted the Priest who presided over the memorial service in 2008 for my mother, Masako Saruwatari, who gave me a few leads, and I was finally able to contact the Oxnard Taiko drum group, Togen Daiko.  SBTHP arranged to have Togen Daiko, with their colorful “hapi coats” or “hanten festival coats,” perform in 2010 and again this year, on October 1, 2011.

Togen Daiko. Photo by Clint Weisman.

The first American Taiko group was formed in 1968, so it is relatively new to the states.  Many years ago in Japan drums were carved from trees that were 1200 years old.  Drums of various sizes would create difference pitches, so many were carved out of the same tree.  Today, drums are made from wine barrels.  While Taiko drums are usually performed at Obon festivals, there are now troops that give concerts or use them in theatrical performances such as Cirque du Soleil.  Last year, the San Jose Taiko drums appeared at the Granada Theater.  Look for our announcements for the third annual Asian American Pastime in 2012.  You won’t want to miss the excitement of Taiko drumming.

M. Kay Van Horn is a member of the Asian American History Advisory Committee. Her family’s relationship to the Presidio neighborhood goes back almost a century to 1912, when her grandfather operated a barbershop in Nihonmachi.

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