Naruwan Taiko as the First Overseas Ensemble to Grace Japan’s Revered Drumming Extravaganza

by Madonna

Marking a remarkable milestone in the realm of cultural exchange and artistic camaraderie, the vibrant performers of Naruwan Taiko from San Diego are poised to embark on their international debut this Saturday, taking center stage at the illustrious Earth Celebration’s Big Little Taiko Fest held annually.

The festival, hosted on the serene Sado Island in Japan by the renowned Japanese ensemble, Kodo, is a dedicated celebration of the art of taiko, or traditional Japanese drumming.


The grandeur of Big Little Taiko Fest will be inaugurated by Kodo’s captivating performance, followed by an ensemble of four local taiko groups. The crescendo of this sonic jubilation will culminate with Naruwan Taiko, offering a mesmerizing finale. To cap off this harmonious convergence, all participating groups will unite in a resonant rendition of Kodo’s ethereal composition, “Haruka,” aptly titled “One Earth.”


While the concert will be broadcasted live for a global audience to savor, it’s important to note that due to the 16-hour time difference, the event should be tuned in at 6 p.m. PST on Friday.


As testament to the reverberating allure of taiko, a myriad of groups hailing from across Japan vied for the opportunity to partake in this momentous gathering. However, in a historic distinction, Naruwan Taiko was specially invited to represent the international contingent, securing their place as the first and sole overseas ensemble ever to grace the hallowed stage of Big Little Taiko Fest.

A troupe of twelve talented members from Naruwan Taiko is set to embark on this transcendent journey to Japan. Among these gifted artists are Diana Wu, Jimmy Nguyen, Devin Tani, Kristen Taketa, Kathy Tanaka, Elizabeth Rouse, Jessica Woods, Ruth Lucas, Lori Mullen, Melanie Uhl, Rebecca Morgan, and Kelly van den Heuvel.

Their performance will encapsulate the distinctive essence of Naruwan Taiko through the enthralling renditions of “Rakurai” and “Release,” compositions that hold a personal touch, having been penned by the ensemble’s founder, Diana Wu.

Radiating with pride and enthusiasm, Wu expressed, “I am proud and excited for my team to experience this rare and first-time opportunity to share the Naruwan Taiko style in Japan. They’ve all worked so hard to challenge themselves not just as musicians, but as group members who look after one another and share their own time to better each other and their community.”

Sado Island, steeped in history and resonance, has been the sacred home of Kodo Village since the 1980s. Here, Kodo nurtures its creative spirit, housing its headquarters, workshops, rehearsal spaces, recording studios, apprentice centers, and a residential complex catering to 60 members and apprentices.

The interwoven narrative between Naruwan Taiko and Kodo traces back to 2009, a pivotal moment shortly after Naruwan Taiko’s inception. A unique bond was formed, as distinguished members of Kodo, Yoshikazu and Yoko Fujimoto, shared their expertise in master classes held at Naruwan. Over the years, the exchange continued, with notable Kodo artists contributing their skills and insights to Naruwan members through workshops and classes.

In 2011, Diana Wu’s path crossed with Kaoru Watanabe, former Kodo artistic director, who became one of Naruwan’s earliest mentors in the intricacies of taiko and fue (flute). Through these exchanges, Naruwan’s growth was enriched by the knowledge of Kodo’s luminaries.

Reflecting on this transformative journey and enduring collaboration, Wu remarked, “Looking back at the history we have with Kodo, I realize just how influential it has been for Naruwan’s journey as a taiko organization and for so long. Taiko has truly been a wonderful and effective tool for connecting people globally.”

Earlier this year, the tables turned as Kodo graced the shores of San Diego, courtesy of the La Jolla Music Society, reciprocating the resonance of culture and art that binds these two remarkable ensembles.


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