For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Intercollegiate Taiko Invitational (ITI) was held at UC Davis, co-hosted by Davis’ Bakuhatsu Taiko Dan and UC Berkeley’s Cal Raijin Taiko. But what’s the big fuss, and why should the community care?

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Intercollegiate Taiko Invitational (ITI) was held at UC Davis, co-hosted by Davis’ Bakuhatsu Taiko Dan and UC Berkeley’s Cal Raijin Taiko. With 15 collegiate groups in attendance (12 from California and three from out of state) and nearly 30 instructors, the total attendance for the weekend was around 230 taiko enthusiasts. But what’s the big fuss, and why should the community care?

First hosted in 1995, the Intercollegiate Taiko Invitational (ITI) has been one of the biggest gatherings of the collegiate taiko drumming community, as well as the wider taiko community. It consists of numerous workshops on technique, performance, and song learning taught by a diverse array of taiko vocationalists and instructors, in addition to ice breakers and an end-of-program performance. 

I first heard about ITI in high school. I was playing with Kitsune Taiko, a youth group in LA, and one of my instructors, Blaine, had just come back from being an instructor at ITI. At the beginning of this practice, he explained that he had been invited to teach at this big gathering of young taiko players from all over California, where they got to mingle and connect over their shared interest. 

As nerdy or corny as it sounds, ITI sounded like this magical dream party. At this point, I had never really met other young taiko players outside of my own team, and the idea that there were hundreds outside that bubble had never really occurred to me. My community, in my fifteen year-old eyes, was small. Contained. 

Like most of the attendees, this year’s ITI was my first. And if I’ve learned anything from the experience, it’s that this community is anything but small. Working with my co-director Maya Datwyler for the past year was a blur of Zoom meetings, email threads, fundraising, grant-writing, and numerous versions of the same google docs over and over again. I’m not gonna lie; there were times I wondered whether this was going to be worth the work. It was an expensive process– fiscally, emotionally, practically. 

The scariest truth was that, aside from a few sparse and outdated notes, Maya and I were going into everything basically blind. There was virtually nothing we could copy and paste from previous years, and while we had a huge amount of creative freedom on our side, we also had less than a roadmap to work off of. We didn’t know how equipment would move between workshops, we didn’t know the easiest way to book Airbnb’s, we didn’t know how long the performances should last. 

So why was ITI worth it in the end? What has kept this event running for the past 28 years? And, again, why should we care?

As scary as the planning and leading process was, we had an overflow of help from every corner of the community. Our own teams, Raijin and Bakuhatsu, worked day and night from August to June running restaurant and boba fundraisers, booking facilities, organizing equipment, and managing our finances. However it was through the flexibility and kindness of the other attending teams– who volunteered to drive up their own equipment, who helped to clean up and organize, and who were so patient with the entire process– that this event was truly a success. 

Our wonderful team of instructors, who rolled with every punch with a smile, and reassured us throughout the day that what we were doing was important. They were as excited to be there as the attendees were, sometimes more so. 

While there were many collegiate taiko alumni in the ranks of instructors, many more supported ITI through other means. The Taiko Community Alliance (TCA) met with us every month to check on our progress and answer any questions we had. We met with alumni and previous ITI directors who shared what they remembered from their experiences. And on the weekend of, alumni volunteers acted as the pillars for equipment organization and drum movement. Through the generous donations from largely alumni, but also from friends and family, we were able to fund this event. When we opened the GoFundMe in February our initial goal was $10,000; by May, we had surpassed our goal ending at over $14,000. 

While ITI wasn’t as “sunshine and rainbows” as I had believed, my expectations of what the taiko community looked like have been exceeded. Not only is it made of professional players and collegiate players, but of families and friends, of temples and churches, of alumni and community centers. 

Despite the tribulations that many taiko groups and players faced during the pandemic years, ITI 2023 was a true testament to the strength, resilience, and unyielding support that this community has. I’m so proud to know that through the continuation of events like this, future generations of taiko players will continue to grow and flourish. On behalf of both myself and my Co-Director Maya, it was truly an honor to be a part of this event. 

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