Through spoken, written, and embodied vocabulary; workshops and talks; online and live presentations; and, of course, through the power of the playing taiko — TaikoPeace activities are mindfully fine-tuned to activate self-empowerment, unleash creativity, spark co-collaboration, and heal the human spirit.
Here in our feature “Grateful Changemakers,” we celebrate programs and projects that serve as beacons of gratefulness. These efforts elevate the values of grateful living and illuminate their potential to transform both individuals and communities. Join us in appreciating the inspiring and catalyzing contribution these Changemakers offer to shaping a more grateful world.
TaikoPeace is a movement started by renowned taiko drumming pioneer and community builder, PJ Hirabayashi, to spread the kinetic energy, spiritual vibration, and pure joy of Japanese taiko drumming for positive social change and a peaceful world. Dedicated to transforming the limiting beliefs, judgments, misuse of power and ego within the taiko community, TaikoPeace empowers the taiko community to focus its collective creativity, musicality, and energy towards positive social change and peace in co-creation and partnership with the broader arts community and beyond.
Through spoken, written, and embodied vocabulary; workshops and talks; online and live presentations; and, of course, through the power of the playing taiko — TaikoPeace activities are mindfully fine-tuned to activate self-empowerment, unleash creativity, spark co-collaboration, and heal the human spirit. In this conversation, founder PJ Hirabayashi shares the stories that have shaped — and continue to shape — this growing movement, grounded in community, imagination, joy, and gratitude.
What sparked the founding/creation of TaikoPeace?
Let me provide some background since TaikoPeace was not on my radar when I first started playing taiko…
It was in the early 1970’s when I first saw San Francisco Taiko Dojo playing on huge drums (taiko!) at a cultural event where I saw a mother and daughter playing onstage together as powerfully and equally as the men. No gender difference. Their performance shook me to the core: “I NEED to play taiko!”
But, WHY do I need to play taiko? Because…
- I had poor self-esteem from being bullied in an all white elementary school. It was post WWII, and being of Japanese ancestry, I was regarded as the enemy. I was born an American but was often told, “Go back to where you came from!” I hated being Japanese and wanted to be invisible and silent. This self-persecution lingered into my high school years.
- In my first year in college, I became angry when I first learned about the U.S. incarceration camps during WWII where my parents and their families were imprisoned behind barbed wire along with 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry. The civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements and the creation of ethnic studies on college campuses began to define my Japanese American identity, core values, and worldview. It was during this period I experienced the visceral impact that taiko would have on me.
Yes, I HAD to play taiko! I found my voice! I could be loud and break my invisibility and silence and step into a new self-confidence. Liberation through creative expression while creating, exploring, and playing on taiko with other Asian Americans who experienced discrimination as I did.
I stepped into taiko as a seminal charter member of San Jose Taiko along with my husband, who was also a founding member of the group in 1973. San Jose Taiko was born in San Jose Japantown, one of only three Japantowns now remaining in the U.S. San Jose Japantown is my home and is at the heart of my concentric communities.
For almost four decades, I had the privilege of being a leader and follower in San Jose Taiko. Back in the 1970s, taiko was not yet a conceived art form. We were developing it. We were creating it. We were pioneering it. It was not an ancient art form from Japan. Taiko became my life’s path that allowed me to finally embrace my Japanese American identity and culture to share with others as a taiko practitioner and performing artist. We created an organizational structure where collective decision-making was fostered and community-building was essential in our practice and philosophy. In current terms, social justice and activism provided our foundation for why we play taiko.
In 2008, my husband and I were preparing to transition out of directorship of San Jose Taiko. We worked with a succession planner/consultant to prepare the organization for this change. During that time the consultant asked me, “PJ, what is it that you want to do next?”
This question felt like asking a little child what do you want to be when you grow up? I never gave it any thought. I felt a panic enter my body being asked that question. I had no idea how to respond. The first thing that flew out of my mouth was, “TaikoPeace!” She asked, “Oh, What is that? Is that a program?” I responded, “I don’t know where that came from!” I explained to her that peace was not even remotely on my agenda after I leave San Jose Taiko. I told her that I deeply believed that the philosophy of San José Taiko inherently embraces peace values.
During this time of transition, I was inspired by changemakers that mirrored my TaikoPeace vision: The Charter for Compassion with its mission “to promote and cultivate the principle of compassion and the Compassionate Way of Life, as articulated by the Charter for Compassion, so that compassion characterizes all human society and all relationships.” Another inspiration was Deepak Chopra’s book Peace is the Way—merging politics and spirituality with peace practice.
…Thus, the seeding of TaikoPeace…
How does TaikoPeace speak to the needs of and possibilities for our world? What is the importance of your work at this time in particular?
I have 2020 to thank. The year was one of complete introspection and outer-spection. Before 2020, I was never able to articulate in concrete terms what TaikoPeace is because it has to be viscerally experienced. TaikoPeace shows up in the world by leading by example — through the way I teach, play, interact, and serve. Therefore, defining TaikoPeace was elusive.
In August 2019, I attended an event at Stanford University where I was listening to a panel of Japanese governors from Japan who are considered innovative changemakers. As I was listening to them, I was thinking, those are TaikoPeace principles and values! Suddenly, I got an epiphany that “peace” is such an elusive term because everybody has their own concept of what peace is. The “Peace” in TaikoPeace needs an acronym for clarity!
The epiphany instantly downloaded in my body this acronym for TaikoPeace — Partnerships, Empathy, And Creative Empowerment. “Creative” doesn’t mean that you have to be artistic. It’s the creativity of thinking anew of possibilities for holistic empowerment. Specific to what taiko naturally brings into the world is its vibration to transform, unify, and catalyze peace culture.
TaikoPeace is not just for the taiko community. There are also non-taiko players and communities who want to be partners to explore ways of creative social change through healing and transformation. TaikoPeace values provide a framework that offers tools and support to those who want to unleash their creative to unleash their creative potential, level the playing field, nurture servant* leadership, and live with compassion. (*A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. )
As old systems are breaking down and dismantling, most prolifically during the pandemic, TaikoPeace is an empowering framework that we can use in the world.
How does taiko serve as a practice that inspires “infinite love, infinite light, and infinite peace”?
“ENERGY” is at the foundation of my philosophy. The embodiment of energy for mind-body-spirit unifies with musical frequencies to ground and center while breath flows in rhythm to infinite possibilities.
- Play with open heart, open mind and beginner’s mind
- Where intention goes, energy flows.
How do you see TaikoPeace as embodying and cultivating gratefulness and related qualities (reverence, reciprocity, belonging, etc.) through its work?
TaikoPeace is dedicated to creating “community” where people can feel a vitality with a sense of belonging and being accepted. TaikoPeace respectfully acknowledges those who came before us. One of TaikoPeace’s heart values is okagesama de, a Japanese term that means because of you, I am.
In the TaikoPeace toolbox, there is a dance I created called Ei Ja Nai Ka (“Isn’t it Good”). It is a dance of gratitude dedicated to the first Japanese immigrant pioneers to come to America, like my grandmother and grandfather. Thank you for coming to America and for your hard work that has given me my life now. The dance movements represent the type of work they did for farming, mining, fishing, and for the railroad. Ei Ja Nai Ka is a dance commemorating all immigrants.
In all Indigenous cultures, there is never a separation between dancers, singers, and drummers. They are all integrated. Ei Ja Nai Ka has all these components along with an interplay of call-and-response chanting, which elevates the energy in communal celebration.
Ei Ja Nai Ka, a song by PJ Hirabayashi celebrating Japanese immigrant ancestors.
“Ripples” is a compilation of where Ei Ja Nai Ka has been danced all over the world.
This interactive and uplifting dance keeps growing and growing. Now, Ei Ja Nai Ka is being danced at many Obon (a summer Buddhist festival). It is being danced and played by taiko groups outside of America, even in Japan and different places around the world. I had no plans for how this was going to grow. It wasn’t my insistence, like I want France to be dancing this. People are asking, “May I have the permission to play this? Can we dance this?” Because I’ve made Ei Ja Nai Ka open-source, please dance it! if it’s going to get your people, your community to get up and dance, hallelujah.
This year is going to be a significant year for me: Even though we haven’t really officialized this yet, Ei Ja Nai Ka celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. I would like to celebrate this as it has been having its own ripple effect in countless communities. Ei Ja Nai Ka is an example of how TaikoPeace is sharing core values through embodied experience.
How does gratefulness inspire you (personally) to make change in the world?
Gratefulness is a practicing heart value of TaikoPeace. Personally, I am grateful for all of my life experiences and all relations. Working through my trials and tribulations, gratefulness becomes a practice to flow like water around a challenge. Gratefulness is a potent medicine (a vaccine!) that brings in light.
What is the importance of unleashing the “infinite, untapped creative potential” within the TaikoPeace community?
TaikoPeace exists because within the taiko community and all communities lies an infinite, untapped creative potential and a legion of talented, mindful activators ready to be disruptive in ways that heal, serve, and bring more joy to the world.
What is the lasting impact of TaikoPeace’s work? What are the ripple effects?
Going back to when I first started to play taiko and the first performance, one of the first performances was playing for Japanese seniors in their 80s and 90s. When they saw us play, there were some who came up to me with tears in their eyes. It makes me want to well up with tears now when I remember their comments: “I’m so proud that you are playing the taiko. I remember hearing it when I was a young child growing up in Japan at festivals. I am so glad that you have found something that you can connect to your cultural heritage. This is beautiful.” Those tears of support and appreciation we received were also a kick in the butt for me — yes, it was validating that I’m not doing taiko just because it’s fun.
This is the ripple effect into the community. For my grandparents, for other people that are feeling this openness and going, “Ah,” tapping their toes and moving. It’s what’s connecting us. I really feel a relationship, a connectedness. I want to create a community. I want to use taiko as the community to explore who we are, to explore how we can live together better.
What are some of the barriers and obstacles faced by TaikoPeace as it works toward its vision?
When I transitioned out of leadership from San Jose Taiko, a prominent and respected group where my identity was deeply embedded, fearfully I became a solo artist without a group. Many people in the taiko community who knew me for my work with San Jose Taiko found it difficult to understand TaikoPeace, my new vision. I received comments such as: “Wow! Peace is such a daunting vision! Good Luck!” and “TaikoPeace sounds so noble. I don’t think the taiko community is ready for it.”
I was perturbed and dismayed by these comments. Did they expect me to do this by myself?! I came to my senses realizing this is WHY I want to bring peace culture and social change into a community I know so well that has the potential to have an optimum impact.
TaikoPeace is a “slow movement.” It may not be for everybody. It takes time. You are not going to get it overnight or just by taking a workshop. It is an experiential process where meaning, purpose, and change emerge and unfold slowly. This is not so much an obstacle. It is more of a challenge presented to us to embrace the slowness with patience.
How does TaikoPeace plan to grow and expand its work?
When the Charter for Compassion movement began in 2008, it became a global beacon for individuals, groups, and cities to foster building compassionate communities. I wondered what would it take to develop a “Compassionate Silicon Valley”? It’s such an illuminating oxymoron: Silicon Valley? A compassionate community? So as an extension of TaikoPeace values that could reach beyond the taiko community, I co-founded the Creatives for Compassionate Communities (CCC) in December 2019.
This project is a perfect example of how just a handful of people with like-minds can come together to be agents of creative social change by merging spirituality, art, and activism into immersive, life-changing experiences. The original plan was to host quarterly mini-retreats led by artists to creatively explore compassion in our lives. We experienced only one retreat where people came together in-person before the pandemic. Amazingly, we were able to build CCC by holding virtual online events throughout 2020, which the community was hungry for during a dire time of separation.
2020 provided me the opportunity to see TaikoPeace entering different realms of engagement. With the launch of my TaikoPeace.Love website and virtual TaikoPeace events, I find that the people coming to TaikoPeace events are not only taiko players. It’s people who are resonating with TaikoPeace heart values: “Oh my god, this is what I need. I feel uplifted,” and, “I’m able to activate my body. I feel embodied with purpose and intention. I’ve been missing this alignment during the pandemic.”
One of the exercises that we use in a TaikoPeace intensive workshop is what I learned from the Mount Fuji Peace Sanctuary in Japan called Bright Word Mandala–drawing a spiral of words with intention. Intention of infinite love, infinite peace, infinite light, infinite possibility — your own bright words that you want to manifest in the world through your own mandala, a template of moving energy spiraling off the page.
I tested a bright word mandala workshop as our first virtual event during the pandemic for Creatives for Compassionate Communities. I had no idea if we could be effective offering online quarterly mini-retreats. I was feeling I’m not a visual artist, I’m a taiko player! And, I’m certainly not comfortable doing virtual events online. I was surprised by people’s feedback that they were so moved to adopt the mandala exercise for their own practice and for their own organizations and public events. As an example, the executive director of Green Foothills, a local non-profit that protects natural landscapes, farmlands, parks, and sacred spaces wanted to do a mandala presentation activity for their supporters who attend their major annual fundraiser (which had to pivot to an online event last fall). This is another example of TaikoPeace values unconsciously rippling out.
I am currently architecting how all members who are engaged with TaikoPeace projects come together consciously as a working pod which I call a BE-Hive (BE=Build Empathy). The BE-Hive is a metaphor for how members communicate and create together. Like bees, each is equally important to sustaining the ecosystem to survive and thrive. We regard each other as equals with our pollen of empathy, kindness, and generosity as a life force. We have the capability to cross-pollinate and co-create with each other without competition, judgment, or ego — just like bees do. Hives are places of replenishment, community, where purposeful life-giving work is happening. Hives are the gathering places where the life force energizes and re-energizes itself. It’s where bees work not alone, but together.
TaikoPeace is a framework for people to make it a part of themselves, infuse their own creativity, and propagate what’s important for the communities with whom they network and have meaningful impact.
If you could share just one message for people who are involved with TaikoPeace, what would that be?
Step into your pure, infinite potential. If I can do it, then you can do it.
If TaikoPeace could share one message about living gratefully with the world, what would it be?
You already are powerful beyond measure. It is all about ENERGY. My mantra is where intention goes, energy flows. With this focus, you can move beyond perceived limitations and direct constructive healing energy where it is needed for transformation.
Once we crack ourselves open from our perceived limitations, we can have an embodied experience of active hope to manifest authentic connection, joy, and buoyancy. These qualities are part of the TaikoPeace heart values, and they are universal values. It is an invitation to “Wake Up!” to our interconnectedness, our interdependence. With this comes the responsibility to cultivate our interdependence as a sacred union to self, to Mother Earth, to others, and to all life. We must cradle this responsibility like a loving parent with respect, humility, and love from our inner core. We then can celebrate our fullness — with gratefulness.
What are some meaningful ways people might engage with and support your work?
TaikoPeace is a creative framework where I invite anybody to become a part to realize and witness your expansiveness…your infinite potential. You are welcome to visit the TaikoPeace.Love website to see if TaikoPeace heart values resonate with you. Programs are periodically offered throughout the year through TaikoPeace and through Creatives for Compassionate Communities.
To read more about this inspiring project, visit the website:
To learn about other Grateful Changemakers, visit: Grateful Changemakers
Do you know of a project/program that elevates the values of grateful living? If so, we invite you to nominate them for our Grateful Changemaker article series.