TORRANCE, Calif. - If there’s one fun way to raise your heart beat, that’s to beat some drums. Barefoot and clad in sweatpants, Julia Asano is gathering with a group of seniors for a music lesson and a workout.
These seniors have been coming once a week to rehearse for their annual taiko recital.
“We’re stretching,” said taiko instructor Julia Asano. “We’re gonna start playing soon. But before we start playing, we need to warm up.”
Taiko is the Japanese word for drum, but the word has evolved to refer to the art of Japanese drumming. Taiko came to the United States 50 years ago, but Asano’s family has been in the taiko business for over 400 years, since 1609.
Raised in Concorde in Northern California, Asano grew up performing taiko under the tutelage of Seiichi Tanaka. She later moved in Japan where she met her husband, heir to the largest drum-maker in Japan.
“There’s different types of drums,” said Asano.
From a table full of traditional Japanese drums, she shows a small hand-held drum.
“This one is called the Shime Daiko, has the highest pitch and this becomes kind of the leader of the group,” she said.
Next to it, Asano bangs on an enormous drum on a stand.
“But this one is actually my favorite. This is called the O-daiko and the reason why I like is because it’s the hardest to get a good sound,” Asano said.
She and her husband decided to move to Torrance in 2014 and open their first U.S. operation. And though taiko is a traditional form of Japanese music, a West Coast influence was inevitable.
“A lot of the musicians or taiko players based here have a lot of influence from different types of music like jazz, I say hip hop too,” said Asano.
And these seniors are getting down with it. Mike Noguchi started three years ago after he retired from a career in the aerospace industry. Born in Japan, he grew up in Hawaii and got into taiko as a way to stay fit.
“I started coming here for exercise both physically and mentally because we have to memorize the pieces which is kind of difficult for us senior folks,” said Noguchi. “It also gets our frustrations out by beating the drum.”
After the class, Asano continues the lesson. “At our end of the year recital, my senior taiko students perform and these past two years, I cried. And seeing their accomplishments made me feel very special.”