NATIONAL/ETHNIC IDENTITY: Japanese
Two distinct Japanese performing arts traditions are interwoven into the presentation offered by Gen Taiko: the ritually-based male drumming discipline, taiko, and the folk dance, odori, which was begun by female entertainers.
Taiko, meaning "fat drum" has had many uses in Japan over several hundred centuries. Initially played in the battlefield, these voluminous, deeply resounding drums were used to intimidate the enemy and to issue army commands. The drums were also used in temple rituals to beckon the gods, they were heard in the refined Gagaku music of the imperial courts, and they were used in villages to signal various activities and to help communities navigate. For example, fishing villages would use the drum to assist those who had gone off to sea find their way home. With all of these uses going back to Japan's antiquity, the group drumming form popular today is strictly a post World War II development.
Odori, referring to any dance other than classical, derives it roots from 17th century shrine dances done by women for entertainment purposes. There are many kinds of odori dances performed for different social, ritual and entertainment occasions. Yet over the years odori dance has become most popularly associated with the Obon Festival, an annual summer street fair honoring ancestors. Many Japanese Buddhists gather in front of temples or town squares to perform the circular swirling bon odori to the beat of the taiko drum.
Since 1995, Gen Taiko has served over 100,000 people from the Asian American and multicultural San Francisco Bay Area community. The mission of Gen Taiko is to promote, preserve and present the Matsuri (festival) spirit in Japanese culture through taiko, traditional folk dance and folk song forms. The meaning of Matsuri is deeply significant to Japanese American heritage in its focus on maintaining one's connection with ancestors, nature and community. The character for "Gen" translates to "from the origin."
For the 2004 Festival, Gen Taiko offers Hachijo, a piece named after the island near Tokyo. The piece expresses the inner strength of village woman and their will to live as they expectantly wait for their men to return from an arduous fishing expedition. The lyrics to the song describe attributes of the island as seen through the eyes of different people. The women's black and white costumes are typical of the region and reflect the traditional soft, graceful aesthetic, while the men's blue jackets symbolize the fishermen.