The Kennedy Center

Zuiho Taiko


Today we are delighted and blessed with the opportunity to play on a commemoration in the 100th year anniversary of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. Our hearts are trembling with a joy to meet you at last. We took a long journey from Nagasaki, Japan, to the United States.

Our journey began at birth. Dreaming of a glorious life ahead and feeling bliss in the mother’s breast that I have come to this life, I slept soundly in peace wrapped in the smell of milk and in the warmth of the mother. At that time, my parents had been told by a doctor, "This child is mentally retarded."

Owing to intellectual disabilities, we were not allowed to attend an ordinary school, and learned in a nursing school or a special class instead. We almost always came in last in study, exercise, and work compared to those in the same age. “Pitiful folks with a handicap:” this label had been affixed to us, following us around wherever we went.

We, people with disabilities, began our life in the "Colony Unzen" in Nagasaki, welfare facilities away from home and family, looked after by 100 staff. Life in the facility seemed like a utopia at first sight, but we were sad and lonely. I wanted to see my mother, I wanted to be free, I wanted to work in a company, and I wanted to be recognized as a person. We are a human being before we are the people with disabilities. However, it is our inability as well as individuality that we cannot appeal such "thoughts and wishes."

To our surprise, we made an effort to lead “an ordinary life in an ordinary place,” not in an “extraordinary” place like a welfare facility. We were fortunate enough to be admitted to Japan's first vocational training facility for people with intellectual disabilities. In the Nagasaki Vocational Training and Development Center, the facility created as a model, we received vocational training for 2 years, where we found a joy of working and a demand on a professional. We have felt empowered and gained confidence to live in society independently.

In hardships, we felt at peace when listened to the sound of the traditional Japanese taiko drums and beating the drum. It was not that we cannot do anything. Rather, we were not let do anything. Most of our fellows have an occupation, been married and rearing children like other folks.

We choose how we live. After many years Japan’s welfare policy has shifted to the principal policy of supporting people with disabilities to lead the community life.

We have intellectual disabilities, and are professional drummers for the last 10 years. As the Delegation of Cultural Exchange we have had 6 overseas expeditions, the first in 1992 in Spain for the closing ceremony of Paralympics and the second in 1997 in the United States for a commemoration of the UN International Day of People with Disabilities at the UN Headquarters.

East Japan was hit by an unprecedented earthquake and the tsunami at 2:46PM on March 11, 2011. We are deeply grateful that many Americans and the US Marine Corps who helped Japanese people launching the “Operation Tomodachi” and giving us hope and encouragement.

Damage was particularly brutal for the Tohoku region where a lot of Zuiho Taiko’s supporters were. We have held a concert in Tohoku every year and returned to Nagasaki with an expectation of "See you next year!" While many were gone, without knowing how to organize painful heart, those who are afflicted gave themselves over to grief and cannot forget the day of the tsunami and those washed away. We visited the affected areas twice around the Miyagi Prefecture and played requiems for 5 weeks. Our support will continue in the future.

We wish to be the bonds of Japan and the world to regain the smile of the people affected by the tsunami. We play with gratitude to let many people listen to the sound of a taiko, a typical Japanese entertainment culture.

In closing we thank God for the joy of meeting you today in this long journey of our life, wrapped in good intentions of many of you. Thank you all very much for supporting us to make today’s performance on this stage possible.

Watch Past Performances

Video 4/17/2012: Zuiho Taiko

Organized in 1987, this group of taiko drummers with intellectual disabilities has performed five times overseas and in more than 100 venues in Japan each year. Part of the 2012 National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Zuiho Taiko