by Kevin Hide Koyama, Nen Daiko member
The deep, strong sound of the Japanese drum: DON. The feeling throughout your whole body as the vibrations of the drum pulses through you. The joy of playing taiko with others is more than a friendship…it’s a family. To me, taiko is home.
Growing up, I was that small, quiet, younger brother – afraid of the world. I definitely was not the social butterfly like my sister. One thing always caught my interest – the Japanese drum, the taiko drum. I remember hearing them during the Japanese O-bon festivals…
Don don KA don. Kara dogo dogo don don KA don.
Each hit building the anticipation for the audience. Slowly. Deliberately. As the volume and speed increased, I became more drawn into the song and the art of taiko.
I was THAT kid – the kid with the mom that had to tell him to stop climbing on the drum stands after watching the performance because I wanted to see the big drums up close. That fascination never left.
At the age of 10, I was able to join Daion Taiko out of the Orange County Buddhist Church (OCBC). To me, this is where my love of music really grew and where I gained my first experiences as a performer. Our instructors were fairly strict, making us learn all the songs while just hitting phone books instead of drums. We made our own drumsticks from wood dowels, learned to make the drums from wine barrels, had to learn songs by mimicking and asking questions, and learned to share our love of the Japanese drumming.
For the next 8 years, I was a member of Daion Taiko, performing at small school cultural events to large Japanese festivals all throughout California. But it isn’t the performances that I remember. It is camaraderie I felt – the feeling of family away from family (even though my cousin and sister were also playing in the same group). While traveling, I remember the late night ghost stories, playing Chubby Bunny with large marshmallows, and caravanning throughout California. This was my first taiko family.
Joining the Military after High School
After high school, I raised my right hand and joined the military which I continue to serve today. This took me across the country to Maryland, where taiko, at that time, was not as well known. But I never forgot my taiko, and continued to play on any type of drums I could get my hands on. I played quints in the Drum and Bugle Corps, as well as the snare and base drum in the Scottish Pipes & Drums (yes, I know I’m not Scottish). But my love for the taiko drums was always number one.
Finally, I was close to home again. I was stationed in Southern California, a two-hour drive away from Daion Taiko. After visiting a morning practice and talking with the instructors I still knew, I was talked into helping to instruct the next generation of young players. Once again, my passion for playing returned. Now I got to share my love of taiko. The scary part was that these kids thought I knew what I was doing!
I would commute every weekend from San Diego to Orange County to spend time with the taiko group. They were still my old family, but with many new additions.
When I deployed to Afghanistan, my taiko family always made sure I knew I was not forgotten. They constantly told me to hurry back.
Moving to the Washington DC area
Moving is a huge part of the military life. This time, my adventures took me back to the Washington D.C. area. When I approached Nen Daiko and asked to play with them, I was welcomed with open arms. They said, “Oh, you’re the one who played taiko in California.” Yes, connections from Daion Taiko reached out to Nen Daiko to let them know I was coming.
It was like meeting a cousin for the first time. Someone new – but still your warm, loving family.
I was an apprentice for the good part of a year with two amazing new players. We were nervous together during evaluations, constantly reviewing songs and setups, and grew together. We were the babies of the family. Finally, there was success. We became full members of this crazy group.
Through the deployments and re-locations, the stresses of dangerous missions and jobs, playing taiko always calmed me and reminded me of my love of music. The drumming may be a physical and mental rush, but it is the people that make the experience and time worth it.
I currently drive an hour and a half to two hours one-way, or up to four hours round trip, to attend a 3 ½ hour practice. But everything is perspective. I am visiting my taiko family, laughing, and often find myself eating some good food. I feel safe, comfortable, and at ease.
I am… home.