Posts By: michelle

Reflecting on 2018

During this season of gratitude, giving, and gathering, we want to acknowledge and appreciate you, our beloved community. Our work at Unit Souzou is rooted in our relationship and collaborations with you to share stories and make our voices heard. Thank you!

We also want to reflect on this past year, which has been a tremendous one for us. We began 2018 by looking to the meanings of the word souzou as a source of continuing inspiration: creation, imagination, and noisy. Using our drums to connect and collaborate in elevating community voices, our work with our performers, students, and community continues to evolve and deepen. A few highlights of how we manifested souzou in 2018:

Creation. In August, Unit Souzou presented the 2nd annual TaikoWorks showcase at the beautiful, lush, and sacred spaces of the Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland. What an incredible turnout, and such an enthusiastic and humbling reception!

A collaboration between Unit Souzou’s Professional Ensemble, Community Group, and our friends at Lan Su, TaikoWorks 2018 was an opportunity for us to share existing and new emerging works, specifically designed to be performed with consideration of the garden’s unique spaces. Through four separate pieces performed from different locations in the garden, audience members came along with Unit Souzou, quite literally, on a journey. It was also a journey of breath, movement, emotion, power, and history through each piece. We performed new site-specific versions of our exisiting pieces and we were also incredibly proud and excited to share the premiere of a new collaborative work by Ian, Vicky, Toru: Converging Rivers, inspired by the the Willamette and Columbia Rivers and their tributaries. We are especially grateful to our partners and collaborators at Lan Su Garden who gave us tremendous artistic freedom and fantastic support in bringing this show to fruition. As Japanese/Japanese-American artists working in the space of the Chinese Garden, we felt the powerful expression of solidarity and inclusion.

Imagination. Over the past year Michelle has been behind-the-scenes ruminating on, dreaming up and setting the stage for the Constant State of Otherness, a multi-layered performance project exploring the feelings of isolation and displacement that come from a sense of not fitting in. This dynamic multi-dimensional project is Unit Souzou’s most ambitious to date, and builds on the growing mission and vision of the company’s work. Thanks to strong partnerships and a grant from the National Performance Network, The Constant State of Otherness will involve artist and community collaborations, workshops, and performances across the country starting in 2019. The project’s four commissioning partners, Myrna Loy Center (Helena, Montana), Caldera (Sisters, Oregon), Asian Arts Initiative (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and DancePlace (Washington, DC), represent a diverse range of communities, critical to one of the project goals: to engage community members through art and dialogue about the universality of otherness to build empathy and compassion. Stay tuned for more on this in the coming months.

Noisy. As drummers we can’t help but be noisy! We also are proud of how we use our drum to agitate for our communities, stories, and histories. This year, Unit Souzou launched S.O.A.R.S. (Support, Outreach, Activism, and Response for Social Justice), mobilizing our students, performers, friends, and family to achieve social justice and build a more equitable world. In March, we joined hundreds of other New and Settled Portlanders at a Portland Parks & Recreation event to honor and show support for immigrant and refugee communities.  And in May, we put our taiko muscles to work helping to spruce up Beaverton’s Giving Garden, a non-profit run garden that provides fresh produce for local low-income families.

Another manifestation of noisy came from our September community workshop “Sound > Silence: Overcoming Stigmas Around Mental Health Through the Power of Sound.” As part of APANO’s  “MicCheck” summer cultural event series, which this year was focused on mental health for AAPI communities, Michelle and Toru teamed up with musician Joe Kye to deliver the powerful and cathartic workshop. We used music and the drum to dig deep, express, explore, and dialogue about mental health, wellness, struggle, and stigma. We hope to be able to offer a workshop like this again in the future. Thanks to our friends at APANO, our host site New Expressive Works, and especially to those who participated.

We wish you all a wonderful holiday season and look forward to connecting with you in 2019!

NPN Creation & Development Award

We are excited to announce that Unit Souzou is one of 14 national projects selected to receive a 2018 Creation & Development Award from National Performance Network (NPN)! The Constant State of Otherness will be a multi-layered performance project exploring the feelings of isolation and displacement that come from a sense of not fitting in. This new theatrical touring program set to debut Spring 2020 will provide artistic and social dialogs that will question, challenge and disrupt the mainstream narrative of identity, especially within this current American landscape.

THANK YOU to our co-commissioners for believing in this work:

Find out more about the award and NPN here.

TaikoWorks 2018

UNIT SOUZOU’s TaikoWorks 2018
August 25, 2018, 3:00pm
Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 NW Everett Street, Portland, OR 97209

We are excited to work with our esteemed partners at Lan Su Chinese Garden to present TaikoWorks 2018. Unit Souzou’s annual showcase will pick up where it started. This second rendition will continue the tradition of creating and exploring work specific to this unique performance site.

With our team of performers and creators, Unit Souzou will explore and transform the traditions and histories embedded in Lan Su Garden. Behind its gates, this city block-sized garden boasts beautiful landscapes and architectural elements, providing space for community gathering and individual reflection.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

TaikoWorks will reframe the unique characteristics of the garden, delighting the senses, pushing taiko and dance performance through inventive and unexpected ways. Audiences will discover new perspectives to access and experience the space, as the performance journeys out and about, location to location within the garden.

The entire Unit Souzou company will perform including Co-Directors Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe, our Professional Ensemble and our Community Group. The annual TaikoWorks showcase is an opportunity to celebrate and share Unit Souzou’s most current ruminations of both finished and unfinished work. We are excited to premiere a new collaborative work by Ian, Vicky, Toru and Michelle: Converging Rivers. Inspired by the image of the tributaries flowing into the Willamette River, and eventually flowing into the mighty Columbia River, this new piece explores independent voices converging as part of a holistic larger body, individual histories converging into a larger human story.

We love to create new work, but we can’t do it without community support. Your contribution will allow Unit Souzou to fully embrace and realize the creation of TaikoWorks 2018. We hope you will join us on this journey!

Unit Souzou 2018 Goals

As we begin 2018, we are ready to triple down on our work and our three years as Unit Souzou. It feels like a great to time reflect on the foundation of what we intended to create our company, with particular attention back to the meaning of our name, souzou, which can be interpreted as creation, imagination, or noisy. These three meanings will serve as our timely themes for the coming year, as we thinking about continuing to evolve our artistry through the voice of our drums.

Creation. With our new professional ensemble in place, the establishment of the annual TaikoWorks showcase and the powerful unity of our community performers, Unit Souzou finds itself in a generative phase during year three. As contemporary taiko artists, Unit Souzou will continue to evolve its creative practices, especially building on responsive, community engaged, site specific creations.

Imagination. Michelle is off to the prestigious Caldera artist residency in February. We look forward to this exciting opportunity, which will open a new artistic chapter of work, breaking ground for evolving interpretations of our taiko art form. Michelle will ruminate on a new work in progress, “Constant State of Otherness.” This exploration will delve into how we can respond to these tumultuous, uncertain times using our drum to express and empower our voices.

Noisy. As Unit Souzou explores new work, we will embrace the chaotic nature of the creation process with a goal to find a place of resonance and clarity. At this unique moment in time, noisy is also the agitation for our stories and for our histories. Through powerful drums, strong voices, and proud bodies, our stories will ring out loudly, our stories will be heard.
Deep appreciation to each and every one of you as part of the Unit Souzou community. We look forward to celebrating and exploring souzou with you in the coming year.

TaikoWorks 2017

On August 30, Unit Souzou said goodbye to a place that has been home, and also ushered in a powerful, energetic new tradition. The first ever TaikoWorks was a site specific show at the Jade APANO Multicultural Space (JAMS), a place that has been one of our company’s artistic homes since the inception of Unit Souzou 3 years ago. With JAMS scheduled for demolition in October in order to begin building an exciting affordable housing and community space, TaikoWorks provided one of the last opportunities to say farewell to an important hub of community empowerment.

The standing room only show brought audience members on a journey, quite literally, from room to room, sharing an immersive and emotional storytelling experience that pushed artistic boundaries between taiko, music, folk dance, performance, and visual story sharing. The show featured our new professional ensemble in their Portland debut, and the community group in collaboration for the first time ever. TaikoWorks included site specific versions of existing work as well as sharings of new and emerging pieces.

To develop the new pieces for TaikoWorks, each performer brought their own personal object of farewell as inspiration, including: Toru’s kimono, handmade by his grandmother who passed away last march; Scott’s chemotherapy port, which lived under his right collarbone for a year — “the port represents my survival, but also my farewell to the life I had before I was a cancer patient”; Abby’s “Memphis” cup, representing “a self I used to be many, many selves ago”; and Vicky’s piano sheet music, which was the last piano piece she played before she gave up the piano as a serious future.

It was a truly special evening of storytelling and connection. Goodbye JAMS we will miss you!

Goodbye, Hello…and THANK YOU!

We were overwhelmed with the outpouring of support for our Goodbye, Hello fundraising campaign. Through the generous donation of nearly 80 donors, not only were we able to produce our first TaikoWorks show, we were also able to hire a professional videographer to document the event. If you weren’t able to make it in person, or want to relive it, we are excited to share this video of TaikoWorks 2017. We are so incredibly grateful for your support as we continue to explore new ways to express our artistic voices.

North American Taiko Conference/Taiko Jam

In early August, the whole Unit Souzou team, 17 strong — including Michelle and Toru;  the Community Group — Abby, Amanda, Emi, Erin, Gregg, Lois, Michelle, Naomi, Scott, Yasuko, Zoli; and the Professional Ensemble — David, Ian, Vicky, Yuta — traveled to San Diego to be part of the 10th North American Taiko Conference (NATC) in its 20th year.

We were moved and humbled by how we were received as performers for Taiko Jam concert and to participate in so many aspects of the conference.

“For me, as a fourth generation Japanese American who grew up in a predominately White community, it was a unique and overwhelming experience to be at an event of that size where Japanese American people, voices, stories, and leadership were centered and prioritized… I play Taiko as a way of affirming Japanese and Asian American pride in identity, and as a way of reclaiming my own family’s pride in who we are,” wrote Amanda.

NATC provided a unique and vibrant moment for sharing stories, an opportunity for us to deepen our artistic practice, and a space to build stronger bonds as a group. Emi felt closer to everyone and noted, “I am confident that we can take on more challenging performances and experiences based on how we were able to perform at Taiko Jam.”

Scott shared, “It definitely opened my mind to a new way of thinking about taiko and life.” Michelle from the Community Group  was also moved by the experience recalling, “It’s always amazing that 4 days can go by so quickly, yet also feel like a small lifetime – with numerous profound experiences, words, insights, & performances.”

Taiko Open House

We are thrilled to announce our move into a new artistic home! From this October our weekly Wednesday classes and rehearsals will be at Living Cully Plaza, a new community gathering space in NE Portland. It is an exciting opportunity to deepen connections in this neighborhood in a space that is empowering community building and leadership.

Come to an open house at Living Cully Plaza on Wednesday, October 18th 5:30 pm – 9:00 pm for a fun-filled evening to hang out with the UNIT SOUZOU performers, see the new space, enjoy special taiko performances and play fun family-friendly taiko games and activities.

5:30 p Opening
6:00 p Family Taiko Show with Co-Directors, Michelle & Toru
6:45 p Taiko Cake Walk
7:30 p Welcome
7:45 p Taiko Performance with Community Group
8:15 p Drawing with fun prizes

FREE event for all ages!
RSVP to: Michelle Fujii,

In addition to teaching taiko classes at the Living Cully Plaza, we continue to be in residence at New Expressive Works in inner SE Portland and through youth classes at Ethos Music Center on Mondays.

Check out the full taiko class offerings:

Pushing Boundaries with site-specific performance, TaikoWorks 2017

On August 30, we will present a very special show honoring an important community space and pushing boundaries of the taiko art form with brand new work. TaikoWorks is Unit Souzou’s new annual showcase to share the company’s newest ideas. It’s an opportunity for the community to witness work in a “raw” phase of development as part of Unit Souzou’s creative process. This year’s show will include the Portland debut of our Professional Ensemble in several work-in-progress pieces, as well as a new composition, Entangled, composed by ensemble member David Wells, featuring our Community Group.

TaikoWorks will feature innovative new performance pieces, a culmination of artistic ruminations over the past year, taking inspiration from current events and emotions, as well as the location at Jade APANO Multicultural Space (JAMS). Spanning three rooms at JAMS, this work-in-progress explores notions of goodbye in three acts, 1) Parting, 2) Listening, and 3) What happens after goodbye. We will lead the audience on an experiential journey through these states, in unexpected ways, with opportunities for interactive engagement. As the JAMS prepares to be transformed from its current state into a brand new affordable housing and community space, we will bring a sacredness and ceremony to this parting from for the community, as well as the goodbyes we each encounter in our lives.

Unit Souzou on the road. Heading to San Diego!

We are thrilled beyond belief to be a featured performer for the prestigious Taiko Jam at the North American Taiko Conference (NATC). In NATC’s 20th year, at its 10th conference, this event will take place in San Diego August 10-13, 2017. It is such an honor for us to perform at this beloved gathering, which represents the pulse of what’s happening North American taiko. Our full company of 17 from our professional ensemble and community group will be playing for the first time together on this momentous stage. Sharing the stage will be amazing performances by On Ensemble (California) with Shogo Yoshii (Japan), Nen Daiko (Virginia) and Kyosuke Suzuki (Japan).