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, mich@unitsouzou.com

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: http://unitsouzou.com/education/taiko-classes/

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).

Goodbye, Hello: A new artistic leap for Unit Souzou

As we emerge into our 3rd year of sharing relevant stories through drum and dance, we are excited to break new ground in our work. We ask you, our amazing supporters, for your help to activate our first-ever annual TaikoWorks show. Beginning a new yearly tradition, TaikoWorks will be an opportunity to celebrate and showcase our most current ruminations of both finished and unfinished work. This 3rd year represents big transitions in the life of our company in which we leave behind the start up nature of our “youth” and bloom into a new phase of growth and beginnings. Please help us say goodbye to the past, and hello to a new era in Unit Souzou’s artistic journey. Your contribution towards our Goodbye, Hello campaign will truly bring to life the multiple meanings of souzou – “creation,” “imagination,” and “noisy” in new and exciting ways.

To contribute, please go to our Indiegogo campaign

About TaikoWorks 2017
On August 30th, Unit Souzou will present TaikoWorks 2017, our first-ever annual showcase of current artistic ruminations. As our inaugural year, we will ignite our creativity and imagination by hosting a site-specific performance exploring themes of goodbye from sacred formal farewells, casual everyday parting, and unforeseen, sometime tragic transitions.

The site of this work has deep and layered significance for Unit Souzou. It will take place at the Jade APANO Multicultural Space (JAMS), which has been our home since our inception. In the fall, JAMS will close down in its current form as it begins transformation into a new affordable housing and community space.

While we are excited for this important new community project, it will be a bittersweet goodbye to our artistic home of the last three years. Using the unique shape and layout of the building, this performance will span three rooms, inviting the audience to physically embody the act of parting. It will also be a symbolic and meaningful goodbye to this gathering space, allowing us to create a sacred and intentional farewell for all attending.

TaikoWorks will feature exciting artistic milestones:

  • Debut of the Unit Souzou professional ensemble in Portland
  • Premiere of new composition, Entangled, composed by ensemble member, David Wells for the Unit Souzou community group
  • Performance of thematic works inspired by the sacredness of goodbye created by the Unit Souzou professional ensemble

TaikoWorks 2017 will take place Wednesday, August 30th 8:00 pm at the Jade APANO Multicultural Space (JAMS), 8114 SE Division Street, Portland, OR. Tickets will be on sale starting August 1st. In order to make TaikoWorks accessible to a diverse audience, we will make it a “pay what you will” ticket. Funds from this campaign will also help subsidize this ticketing structure.

It takes a village to make art!
We love to create new work, but we can’t do it without community support. Contributions to the Goodbye, Hello campaign will allow UNIT SOUZOU to fully embrace and realize a new artistic milestone. We hope you will join us on this journey.

Happy Spring! Happy Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month

We’re  coming off a busy winter season where we spent much of this time in the cozy and intense bubble of teaching and creating, with our performers, in the schools, and in the community.

Our new professional ensemble has been busy working behind the scenes to develop new artistic ideas to explore the theme of life milestones, transitions and goodbyes. Stay tuned for more on this, and save the date, August 30th for a work-in-progress showing with both our Unit Souzou community and professional ensembles.

Michelle finished a year long project in Minneapolis this past weekend creating a newly commissioned original taiko piece, Looking Beyond, for Minnesota taiko ensemble, Mu Daiko. The debut of this piece commemorated an era of 20 years as Mu Daiko, and launched their new future identity as TaikoArts Midwest. Both Michelle and Toru performed within the weekend’s festivities and witnessed this profound organizational transition – a time for endings and beginnings.

As spring blossoms, we are starting to turn outward, look ahead.

May is always an exciting month for us at Unit Souzou. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is an opportunity to build community and lift up our voices for justice and empowerment. During this time of celebration and reflection, we draw on the themes we set at the beginning of this year: braving, listening, and galvanizing.

Here’s where you can see us in action around the community during Heritage Month:

  • We are honored to be a part of a very special event with our colleagues at Portland JACL and Oregon Nikkei Endowment, Return & Remembrance: A Pilgrimage to the Portland Assembly Center. The event commemorates the 75th anniversary of the incarceration of Japanese Americans at the Portland Assembly Center, what we now know as the Portland Expo Center on Saturday May 6, 2-4pm.
  • Hood River’s Columbia Center for the Arts has been celebrating their 10th anniversary year with their poTENtial program series. We will be there all day on Saturday, May 21 as part of their “Art & Culture of Japan” series of visual and performing arts events. Our performance is at 3pm. For those who want to try their hand at taiko, we will host a hands-on workshop earlier in the day at 12:30pm.
  • Lan Su Chinese Garden

    Throughout the month of May Lan Su Garden will host cultural performances for their annual celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. We are excited to be part of Lan Su’s diverse lineup of artists representing different ethnicities, traditions, and artistic visions. Join us on Saturday, May 27 at 1pm.


We hope you can join us for one or more of these celebrations during the month of May.

Unit Souzou 2017 Goals

With dramatic transitions across the nation, our country and region face some real and profound changes. During this time, we at Unit Souzou are finding comfort and power in our work as artists and cultural connectors.

In the late fall last year, just after the November elections, we traveled to Helena, Montana to share our work. Helena is a distance from Portland, both geographically and culturally. We were slated to perform our touring show INSATIABLE, and to hold space as resident artists in the schools for the week. What we found in Helena was a community that opened their hearts and minds to our artistic voice. The students we met were energetic and engaged. The sold-out audience we performed for received us with great enthusiasm and interest. Our visit to Montana was deeply inspiring and transformative. We now cherish our role as artists with new vigor. Our work provides a tremendous opportunity to share relevant stories that can build new bridges to community dialogue, whether with old friends or with unlikely strangers. With that experience as a backdrop, we have developed a number of themes to frame our work in 2017.

Braving. “To encounter with courage and fortitude, to defy.” (Wiktionary) As artists in an increasingly agitated environment, we know that our drum and our dance is powerful. Our vision is for a world that embraces evolution and encourages the creation of new traditions. Holding on to that notion, we will break through uncertainty with authentic voices and open hearts.

Listening. In order to be a strong ensemble group, listening is at the core of our work as taiko artists. Our drums are more powerful when we are actively listening, building together. But who is in our circle? Who in our circle is not being heard? How can we be more inclusive? We will endeavor to listen more.

Galvanizing. At Unit Souzou, we strive to create new traditions for new communities. As we continue to broaden and deepen our community circle, we seek to empower and activate individuals to share their authentic voices through the drum. These voices will join the chorus of community voices and expressions to further understanding.

As we embrace these themes, we hope you will be part of our community circle this coming year, building power and unity in the face of challenges and evolution.

Announcing our Big NEWS!

Yuta Kato

After an extensive national audition process, we are thrilled to introduce our brand new Unit Souzou Professional Ensemble.

david-wells ian-berve_action-shot

Four talented professional taiko artists, Ian Berve, Yuta Kato, David Wells, and Vicky Zhang, will join Co-Directors Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe as ensemble players, collaborating to push the art of taiko towards new traditions and innovations.vicky-zhangThe founding of our Professional Ensemble is a momentous milestone for Unit Souzou. Along with our Community Performance Group and Korekara Taiko education programs, Unit Souzou is excited to continue to build and empower community, through the power of the drum and through our unique, authentic artistic voice.

We have exciting plans brewing for 2017! Learn about David, Ian, Vicky and Yuta’s amazing taiko backgrounds on our website.