University of New Mexico Celebrates Japanese Taiko

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by Savannah Shih
A Japanese taiko drum. [Photo: Brian Adler]

The University of New Mexico-Valencia hosted a taiko ensemble in February, celebrating the traditional Japanese style of drumming. Taiko refers to various Japanese drums, and is characterized by group performances that include distinctive music, clothing, and a ritualized method of playing the drums. The university brought this unique style to New Mexico with a taiko performance and a lecture on the history of taiko.

The event was led by Anita Lee Gallegos, who has studied taiko for 15 years. She is also the founder of the Bushido Kenkyukai in Albuquerque, a school devoted to Japanese and Okinawan culture, as well as karate and taiko. Gallegos, along with her students, performed several pieces for University of New Mexico students. Between performances, Gallegos explained more about taiko, its history in Japan, and its more recent growth in the United States. The audience members were also able to play the drums at the end of the demonstration, helping them connect with Japanese culture.

The taiko event highlights the cultural ties between New Mexico and Japan. About 2,500 Japanese Americans live in New Mexico, while Japanese students make up 1.6% of all international students in the state. Albuquerque is also home to New Mexico’s Japan-America Society and maintains a sister city relationship with Sasebo, Japan, while there is also a partnership between Santa Fe and Tsuyama.             

The performance also showcases the ongoing importance university artistic exchange has on relations between Asia and the United States. Japanese culture continues to be popular at US schools, from Utah State University, where students learned the art of making Japanese mochi last year, to the University of Nebraska, which hosts an annual Japanese film festival. Other university programs have celebrated art from countries like Malaysia, India, and China. Art from across Asia continues to spread through US universities, providing a strong foundation for US-Asia ties. 

Savannah Shih is a research intern at the East-West Center and a graduate student of Asian Studies at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.