Legacy & Reduction Concerts Seek
Musical Synergies of New and Old
• Traditional Japanese drum (“taiko”) performance displayed a taste of
the avant-garde through a collaboration with contemporary musicians and
performers during Tsukasa Taiko’s annual Taiko Legacy/Reduction concerts
• The annual “Taiko Legacy” concert has been featuring
the performers of Tsukasa Taiko, the largest taiko ensemble in the Midwest,
over the past 15 years, accompanied by the “Reduction” performance. Its
15th anniversary performance, “Taiko Legacy 15,” was held at the Museum
of Contemporary Art Chicago on December 9. “Reduction 6” to celebrate
the 60th year birthday of Tsukasa Taiko Director Tatsu Aoki was performed
on December 8.
• Grounded in the aesthetics of Japanese traditional
arts, Aoki’s vision expands over the boundary of Japanese classical arts
and adds to taiko musicality “theatrical elements which can be missing
in mainstream taiko drumming.”
• Taiko Legacy 15 showcased the achievements of Tsukasa
Taiko’s 22-year journey with programs such as “Pashiri,” “Tama,” Yanagimachi,”
“Karami,” and “O-Daiko.”
Reduction 6’s programs intended to present collaboration and interplay
between taiko, jazz sound and traditional Japanese instruments.
• The first program, “Araiba” (“Washed Wash”), began with a calm ensemble
of the small taiko, tsuzumi (hand drum) and shamisen, which left a ghost
of deep sounds in the intervals. Then, with an addition of a Western drum
set, it morphed into the performance of “Kai Zan-ei,” a story of the heroic
samurai lord Takeda Shingen, by the Japanese classic dance Grandmaster
• In between the listed programs, shamisen Grandmaster Chizuru Kineya
from Japan and Chicago’s jazz greats such as Mwata Bowden and Edward Wilkerson,
Jr. together mesmerized the audience with their collaborative performance.
• “Chindonya” performer Yasushi Shimazaki added a theatrical, entertaining
facet to the stage with the characteristic bell/small drum sounds in collaboration
• Renowned bassist Aoki and three female taiko drummers shared the stage
in an elegant ensemble.
• A traditional Japanese dance by Grandmaster Yoshinojo Fujima and the
taiko ensemble were joined by jazz sounds by Bowden and others, and the
concert culminated in the collaboration of the Japanese taiko set led
by Eigen Aoki and three sets of Western drums.
• Reduction 6, dubbed as Tatsu Aoki’s Kanreki (60th year
birthday celebration) Special, featured programs entitled “Pashiri,” “ESL,”
“Yu,” and “Kanreki Iwai” (“Kanreki Celebration”) as well as “Araiba.”
• After the Reduction 6 concert, an exhausted but satisfied
Aoki summed it up: “I’m happy that I did what I wanted to do in the program
Shamisen Master Chizuru
• Chizuru Kineya is one of the familiar faces in the
Taiko Legacy series over the past 10 years.
• “As a specialist of nagauta [a type of traditional Japanese music that
accompanies the Kabuki theater], I’m ready to play any nagauta classics,
but here [on the stage of Taiko Legacy series] you must be capable of
playing a lot more than that. Almost all my performances today were improvisation,”
she commented after Reduction 6.
• Maintaining traditions and introducing something new means “defending”
and “attacking,” Kineya explained.
• “You can’t really defend [what you have] unless you are able to attack
effectively,” she said. “If you just keep defending, you can’t go beyond
the existing boundaries. I love what Mr. Aoki is doing, searching for
something new. That’s why I continue to participate in the [Taiko Legacy]
• Kineya holds a dinner-show style recital in Japan every year to feature
a wide range of traditional musical and theatrical performers. The live
show, which attracts an average of 300 guests, seeks to present the audience
with performances that grab their hearts.
• “I believe we, the performers of Japanese traditional music, must strive
to attract the first-time listeners and make them want to come back again,”
• For this year’s recital in March, which features Japan’s good-luck symbols
such as dragon, Kineya ordered a new kimono and obi (sash) with dragons
hand-drawn by a master artist. That cost her as much as a luxury car.
• Kineya wore them on the Reduction 6 stage.
• The kimono and obi with the master’s dragons emanate the powerful energy
of the artist, and wearing them made her feel as if she had been given
that power, Kineya said. “You must have a strong determination to not
be overwhelmed by them [when you put them on]. I believe there definitely
is such a power.”
• Was it all right to wear such an invaluable kimono and obi in Chicago
before the dinner show in Japan?
• “I truly wanted to wear them here – it’s such an important occasion.
I don’t regret it,” said Kineya.
Yasushi Shimazaki, Chindonya
• Chindonya is a traditional Japanese street performer.
A dying breed, a chindonya performer is elaborately dressed and parades
through the streets playing music and singing to advertise for clients.
• One of today’s rare chindonya specialists, Shimazaki presented a hands-on
workshop after having performed in Reduction 6.
• A former stage actor, Shimazaki joined Kikunoya, one of the old chindonya
agencies, in the late 1990s to be trained as a chindonya performer.
• Back then, not many people wanted to take up the disappearing profession
of chindonya, a job to be lowly regarded. When he started, Shimazaki decided
to not compete with his master (trainer). That meant to develop new business
• In 2001, Shimazaki performed overseas for the first time as a chindonya
performer. After the event in the U.K., a theater in Scotland invited
him for further performance, and it was followed by performances in two
other countries. He further performed in Portland, New York and Hawaii
in the U.S., and Australia, Taiwan and the ASEAN countries. Receiving
a Consul-General’s Commendation after his performances in the U.K. brought
him such opportunities performing abroad.
• In Japan, Shimazaki has been a regular competitor in
the chindonya performers’ competition held in Toyama since 2000. He has
won several awards including the grand prize.
• He has engaged in some of the government’s public relations activities,
such as the Tax Office’s “blue return” advertisement and the voting campaign
by the Election Administration Committee. This has helped turning around
the public image of chindonya and now the private sectors are willing
to invite Shimazaki to perform at their corporate events.
• Around 2009, Shimazaki saw an increasing number of young graduates of
the art and music colleges who came to join his profession. The technical
and artistic level of the performers also went up, resulting in more performing
opportunities. But then, the hope and optimism was crushed by the 2011
Great Earthquake and Tsunami – due to the unprecedented level of disaster,
demand for the gay chindonya performance died out suddenly.
• The recovery began in 2014 and 2015, along with the
general slowdown of the pachinko business.
• As demand from the pachinko parlors disappeared, the negative image
of chindonya that had been associated with pachinko diminished, and large-scale
restaurant chains and other family-oriented industries now want to use
chindonya for PR events. Young talents are also developing new types of
performance, such as improvising and interacting with the audience in
front of them.
• Chindonya is an art form based on its own traditions.
For instance, the music that has long been used by the performers is traditional
Japanese music such as nagauta. Today, they don’t teach traditional Japanese
music at school and the younger generations, who have learned the Western
music at school, are not well-equipped to learn the old chindonya repertoires.
• Shimazaki, who has experienced the Kabuki stage in the past, is one
of the rare performers who still maintain a link to that old tradition.
• “Theater and chindonya performance are not two separate things for me
– they always exist side by side in me,” he said.