When the first North American Taiko Conference (NATC) was held in 1997, organizers wanted the event to bring people together. At the same time, they were unsure about how the conference would be perceived by participants. They had no need to worry, for the 500 attendees from 69 groups were blown away by the weekend’s activities. Of those in attendance at that first gathering, there are a small number of individuals that have been present for all or all but one of the conferences. There are believed to be only two dozen or so people who have attended all nine, and that number increases only slightly when those who have attended eight conferences are included. It is these individuals that have helped to make NATC the success that it is. Like the NATC organizers, those attending the first conference, in the words of Qris Yamashita of Kinnara, “had no idea what to expect.” Nevertheless, they were drawn to Los Angeles that summer by a desire, in the words of Karen Young of The Genki Spark, “to see and learn as much as possible.” Coming from around the world, they were brought together by a common love of taiko.
Once the conference began, everyone was immediately struck by a deep sense of community. As Tyrone Nakawatase of Inochi Taiko remembers, “we were at some huge family reunion set in little Tokyo where you got to meet a bunch of your cousins that you never met.” However, it was not only those initial introductions, but also what resulted from them. Performers were able to share knowledge and experiences (something that was rare in the pre-Internet era), helping each other to grow. Twenty years later, the feeling evoked at the first conference have not gone away. Indeed, Tony Jones of Zenshin Daiko muses that “meeting old friends is the best part.”
For other long time attendees, the NATC experience has evolved. Many who first attended as regular participants have transitioned into teaching roles both with their groups and within the larger taiko community. When asked about this change in experience, Karen Young explained, “Now 20 years later I come to NATC as a teacher, eager to share knowledge, meet new people, and contribute to the community that has given so much to me.” And yet, the conference is changing just as the players are changing, not so much in programming or mission, but perhaps in the general atmosphere created over the course of the weekend. Tyrone Nakawatase reflects that “the conference really has given me a lot of what I needed, and just at the time I probably needed it…”
Even with these changes, many attendees’ fundamental reasons for attending the conference remain the same as the tenth NATC approaches. Tony Jones states that the conference remains “an amazing way to meet other taiko people from all over North America and around the world.” Karen Young believes this fulfills an inherent needs amongst taiko players, feeling that “taiko players need a place to convene and learn from each other.” That learning is at the heart of the conference.
NATC is not just about discovering new pieces or new hitting styles, however – it reaches deeper to the core of why people play taiko in North America. When asked about the importance of NATC, Qris Yamashita states: “NATC developed in relationship to the taiko movement in America. It is part of the history of taiko in America.” This relationship of NATC with the history of taiko in North America is echoed by other attendees. Whether in dedicated discussion panels and presentations, or in informal conversations in-between conference activities, people come, according to Tyrone Nakawatase, to”talk about issues that are facing our community,” and “shape the direction of where the art form is going in the future.”
Throughout the month of April, we will be adding to the #20YearstoNATC Timeline by bringing you perspectives of NATC’s significance from various factions of the taiko community. Don’t miss out on NATC 17!
Written by: Ben Pachter, TCA Program Committee. Edited by: Elise Fujimoto, TCA Communications Committee. Special Thanks: Tony Jones, Tyrone Nakawatase, Qris Yamashita, and Karen Young.