KAILUA-KONA — Mixing high amounts of energy and commitment with massive taiko drums and bachis, the Kona Daifukuji Taiko youth group is putting its all into preparing for its next show.
All its effort, energy and discipline is being summoned for its upcoming 30th anniversary concert at the Aloha Theatre in Kealakekua.
And as they practice at the Kona Daifukuji Mission in southern Kona, high schoolers, alumni and instructors fit snugly into a small, green side-room filled with the humid summer heat and taiko drums. Every step, swing and move have been carefully planned over the course of months.
“The preparation process has been pretty grueling,” said ninth-year student Noa Roth. “We have had to orchestrate what songs we are playing as well as plan transitions. It has been tough, but it has been good.”
The group is no stranger to being on center stage. They recently performed at the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival and the Aloha Week Festival but have a history that stretches further back than that.
In 1988, Ryuji Tamiya formed the Kona Daifukuji Taiko youth group. Its first performance was in 1989 during Daifukuji’s Bon Festival, and it is now celebrating 30 years of performing.
Since the beginning, the group has received instruction from a number of taiko masters from Hawaii, the mainland and Japan.
For this year’s 30th anniversary performance, Kona Daifukuji Taiko has around 22 to 23 alumni returning. The alumni represent every class, and they are also bringing back the group’s two founders.
The Daifukuji Taiko group is not only sharing Japanese culture, but also honoring Daifukuji history at the concert with this year’s theme, “honoring the past, treasuring the present and embracing the future.”
“We are showing gratitude and appreciation for those that started Kona Daifukuji Taiko and everyone that helped to get us to the point we are at now,” said Akemi Iwamoto, the group’s artistic director and instructor. “When we say ‘embracing the future,’ I always tell the current performing members that they are the current torch holders for Kona Daifukuji Taiko. It is their job to keep the culture alive and pass it on to the next generation.”
They’ve been practicing consistently since March and performed at the Big Island Taiko Festival in Hilo at the beginning of June, a festival that only occurs every other year.
“I though that from March until now, we could do half of our practices for Hilo and half of our practices for this,” Iwamoto said. “It did not work out that way. All of our focus was on the Hilo concert. They have been working very hard for over a month just to get ready for this. It has been a lot of long practices, sweat, energy and passion to get this ready.”
After countless years and sessions, the Kona Daifukuji Taiko group has become a tight-knit family.
“Back in high school, this was my family,” said alumnus James Victor. “It was more of my family than home.”
As the years have passed, new student leaders have stepped in place. Students who have practiced the art for years are now stepping into leadership roles. Roth is one of those leaders.
“The process has been really cool,” Roth said. “When my friend and I started, we were the youngest in the group, but now we have taken a leadership role. Now that everyone else has either graduated or gone to college, we are the experienced ones. We are leading, and that has been really cool.”
The Kona Daifukuji Taiko group will be performing 6 p.m. July 20 and at noon on July 21.