Drumming It Up

Nobody at the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival thinks, "All this for a flower?" The humble blossom has long been a source of national pride in Japan, the cornerstone of "flower viewing" parties, and they've been given en masse to U.S. cities throughout the years, resulting in cherry blossom fests across the nation. Ours is one of the biggest: a two-week affair that offers myriad traditional singing, dancing, and martial arts demonstrations; craft exhibitions (origami, calligraphy, cloth dyeing); and a grand parade (starting Sunday at 1 p.m.), with everything punctuated by the rumble of taiko drumming. Today that rumble becomes a roar as San Francisco Taiko Dojo kicks off an afternoon of taiko at noon on the Peace Plaza Stage, followed by groups from Japan. Then, tonight, Taiko Dojo founder Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka presides over his charges at the ever-popular Northern California Taiko Festival, which also features Sacramento Taiko Dan and MC Mark Siegel. As the man who brought Japan's traditional drumming to our city and much of the nation, Tanaka is a local treasure. He was the sole drummer at the 1968 festival, then went on to found his Taiko Dojo drumming school to spread the word. He's since had a bevy of pop moments -- he recorded for movies such as Apocalypse Now, Return of the Jedi, and Rising Sun; performed with Tony Bennett, Linda Rondstadt, and the original Temptations; and was featured in a Dennis the Menace comic book. But if Tanaka is the man, he's nonetheless competing with his school's prize drum: the one ton O-Daiko, worth $500,000 and standing 12-feet high, which requires sticks the size of billy clubs.
April 19-20, 7:30 p.m., 2008

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