Genryu Arts

Japanese taiko

Genryu Arts, founded as Gen Taiko in 1995 and incorporated as Genryu Arts in 2008, has the mission to promote, present, and participate in Japanese and Japanese American culture through taiko (Japanese drumming) and other traditional and contemporary music and dance forms.  The word genryu can be interpreted in two ways.  Gen means “from the origin or where the natural spring begins.”  Ryu written in one kanji, or character, means “group or organization,” written in the other is “the stream created from the natural spring.”

Deeply rooted in San Francisco’s Japantown and in the Asian American community, Genryu Arts engages in art-making that merges Japanese cultural forms such as taiko, dance and folk songs with new music, spoken word, and visual design into singular expressions that honor community heritage and address key issues stemming from the legacy of internment and redevelopment.

Genryu Arts has served over 100,000 people from the Asian American and multicultural San Francisco Bay Area community through public performances, their taiko school at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, school-site residencies and assembly performances, and collaborations with both traditional and contemporary artists.

In 2012, Genryu Arts received a grant from  ACTA’s Living Cultures Grants Program  to support The Art of Peace, a multidisciplinary performance work based on the life of Yona Abiko (1880- 1944), a prominent Japanese American woman who was a tireless advocate for women’s rights and world peace.  Under the artistic direction of Melody Takata, several master artists including NEA Heritage Fellow Madame Fujima Kansuma of Los Angeles will integrate Japanese classical dance, shamisen music of several schools, minyo and enka vocal music forms, and video projection to illuminate this chapter of Japanese American history.   The four-day run in April will mark the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of when the Treaty of San Francisco went into force between the U. S. and Japan, formally ending World War II.

In 2011, Genryu Arts received support from ACTA’s Development Program for a one-week residency with shamisen and taiko artist Tatsu Aoki, allowing him to provide ozashiki shamisen and gintenkai taiko training to members of Genryu Arts.

In 2008, Gen Taiko received a grant from ACTA’s Living Cultures Grants Program to support the development of Shochikubai, a an interdisciplinary pieces that uses traditional forms to address the current transition facing San Francisco’s Japantown and Japanese American culture/community as a whole.  Shochikubai — refering to a Japanese cultural icon that combines pine, bamboo, and plum in a floral arrangement symbolizing good luck and harmony — is a work for 5 odori (Japanese folk dance) dancers, a 3-member kumi daiko (drumming) ensemble, two shamisen (3-stringed lute) players, and a minyo singer.

In 2006, Gen Taiko received a grant from ACTA’s Living Cultures Grants Program to develop and perform a work for seven Odori dancers, accompanied by a five-member kumi daiko (drumming) ensemble, and musicians on the shinobue and shakuhachi (two kinds of Japanese flutes).  The score was developed by Melody Takata and the dance was choreographed by master artist Madame Fujima Kansuma, a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow.  The work was presented in conjunction with San Francisco Japantown’s 75th anniversary of the Obon Festival in North America, and in Los Angeles in conjunction with Nisei Week in November 2006.

As a participant in ACTA’s Traditional Arts Development Program in 2007, Gen Taiko worked with consultant Francis Wong to complete the application process for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.  Incorporating itself allowed Gen Taiko to seek more funding and to create the infrastructure for organizational sustainability.

In 2005, as a participant in ACTA’s Traditional Arts Development Program, Gen Taiko’s artistic director Melody Takata was mentored by Madame Fujima Kansuma to learn the Nihon Buyo (Japanese classical) dance called Kojo No Tsuki (Moonlit Castle Ruins).  Melody then taught the dance to four of her students and they performed it at Gen Taiko’s 10th Anniversary Concert in November 2005.