The Roku Shichi Taiko group, one of Vancouver’s only youth taiko groups, will be performing at Minoru Park for the Richmond World Maritime Festival (Sept. 5). Elementary school teacher Doug Masuhara originally started the group based out of Admiral Seymour Elementary School, where he was teaching at the time. Now ten years later, Roku Shichi Taiko is performing all over Greater Vancouver.
Masuhara started learning taiko 15 years ago when his children became involved in taiko lessons at the Steveston Buddhist Temple. As a Vancouver native, Masuhara was not immersed in Japanese culture growing up. But through taiko drumming, he discovered something about Japanese culture that sparked his interest.
“I have only been to Japan once,” says Masuhara. “I only learned to count to ten in Japanese after I started learning taiko.”
An opportunity for Masuhara to start a taiko group arose after a taiko workshop was held at his elementary school and the students were keen on learning more. Soon he was able to get a grant to buy more equipment and uniforms for his students.
Masuhara says his group is in search of a new identity. Their current name “Roku Shichi” means six or seven, implying the group will have six or seven members playing at a performance. Currently, the group consists of students who were formerly from Seymour elementary and Waverly elementary, as well as some new students from Douglas elementary. Masuhara says they do not actively recruit students.
Connecting through taiko
One of the first students to join the taiko group was Kevin Tran, 17. He continues, with his older and younger brother, to practice and perform with Masuhara.
“It [taiko] has a lot of meaning for me, and even if I learn other instruments it won’t mean as much,” says Tran. “I was hooked after learning.”
He says learning taiko has given him the opportunity to perform at major shows and venues: the experience has improved his confidence on stage.
Masuhara says he tries to provide experiences for the youth to be the stars of the show. Last week, they had the opportunity to play at the BC Lions halftime show.
Besides being able to perform more, Ryan Ng, 14, says being a part of the taiko group has allowed him to call them family.
“I wouldn’t have met my two best friends and I’d be at home a lot,” says Ng.
Kayla Charchuk, 14, who is half-Japanese with a mix of European heritage, says through learning drumming and participating in festivals, she has been able to connect more with her roots.
“It’s a way to grasp a part of Japanese culture that I don’t usually see,” says Charchuk.
Although Masuhara is not an expert in taiko, he tries to incorporate Japanese cultural elements into his teaching, such as: by explaining the roots of a song; by incorporating other Japanese instruments; and by teaching the specific Japanese drumming words used to learn a song.
With the success of the youth group, Masuhara was approached by the senior coordinator of South Arm Community Centre to help start a taiko group for seniors. The group, which he calls Taiko 55, is taught by his two daughters.
Masuhara says interest in the senior group is growing: he started with only one class and has now added two more intermediate classes.
Shelley Hamaguchi and Mabel Oikawa have been with the group since the beginning, where they first met and became friends. Both women are Chinese and both have married a Japanese man. Initially, Hamaguchi was pleased to learn how to drum, but after going to extra practice sessions with the youth group, she realized the unexpected benefit of being able to play with the kids.
“It’s an amazing experience because we all bonded together young and old alike,” says Hamaguchi.
Hamaguchi adds they may be the only intergenerational taiko group in Vancouver.
“We’ve taught them that we can keep up too!” says Oikawa.
For more information on joining the Taiko 55 group, please visit www.richmond.ca/parksrec/centres/southarmcentre/programsandevents.htm