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Endo Gets Ready To Lay Down The Beat On Upcoming Anniversary Tour
  here came a time in Endo’s early adulthood when he stood at a crossroad: Move
range from hand-held to larger- than-life size and are often used as accompaniments in bands, theater and festivals.
       to New York City to become a jazz drummer or take a leap of faith across the Pacific Ocean to study taiko in Japan.
Historically, the thunder- ous-sounding vessels were used to warn village people of fires or floods. And while here in Hawai‘i today, we have statewide sirens for that, the love for taiko persists, thou- sands of years — and miles — later.
 “I felt that doing taiko would be a little more unique, and also I had an interest in going to Japan because I had never been there, although I’m ethnically Japanese and my father was born there and my mother is a sec- ond-generation Japanese American,” he shares. “I had an interest in meeting my relatives and learning more about my culture and taiko. After thinking about it, it was obvious that was the direction I wanted to go in.”
(Top left and right) Whether he’s performing in front of one or two people, or 10,000, taiko master Kenny Endo has the same philosophy: just do your best. PHOTOS COURTESY KENNY ENDO
 What intended to be a one-year stay, wound up as an entire decade of complete immersion in the art of taiko. While there, he was involved with Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten, a taiko company with roots that date back to 1861. He was also named the first non-Japanese national to receive a natori (stage name and master’s license) in hogaku hayashi (classical drumming) — a recog- nition that ranks high on the list of life’s most cherished moments.
“The 10 years I spent in Japan were very valuable to me profes- sionally, being able to study with some great masters and perform with some incredible musicians,” says Endo. “I feel that a lot of peo- ple in the United States or outside of Japan do not get that opportunity, so I feel almost like a bearer of the tradition to share that with people who are interested.”
“I just hope that (the audience) experiences it not only as enter- tainment and something they can enjoy ... but also I think the sound of the drums, especially taiko, is so deep in you that it kind of takes us back to something more primal,” he says. “In fact, they think that taiko is similar to the heartbeat of a mother when you’re in the womb. In that sense, in not just taiko, but music (in general), it has the potential to heal people, transform people and inspire people. I know that when I’ve gone to see some really great music or performers, I’ ve been in- spired that way, so I hope that in some way that our music can do that (for others).”
To say that Endo’s call- ing-turned-career has been trium- phant would be an understatement. As he looks toward eventual retire-
“When you look at the world right now, there’s so much turmoil going on in all these different fields, and I think taiko — and art in gen- eral — is a way people can come together to inspire and heal and give them hope.”
To carry forward the practice and share all that he’s learned over his near five-decadeslong career, Endo, with wife Chizuko, established the Honolulu-based Taiko Center of the Pacific in 1994. He, alongside several other instructors — some of whom began at the school as just students themselves — teaches taiko to anyone who wishes to learn, from keiki to kūpuna and everyone in between.
taiko for the last time, so there’s a responsibility to do your best and prepare for the performance.”
bine things like a vibraphone and ‘ukulele with the traditional bamboo flute and shamisen and koto as well.
ment, Endo names aspirations he hopes to complete first, which in- clude securing a permanent home for Taiko Center of the Pacific, cre- ating a taiko philosophy/spiritual practice and finding successors to keep the tradition alive.
At the heart of it all, Endo always circles back to the visceral feeling that a taiko performance offers its listeners.
“If we’ re talking about music that brings people together, I think if people from different cultures and backgrounds can get together and work and create something, that’s like a microcosm of the real world,” he adds. “It’s the potential for people to create rather than de- stroy; to be productive rather than destructive.”
In the meantime, he’ll continue doing what he loves most: create and teach, with his taiko in tow.
               “That was a great honor. As far as classical music goes, I still feel like a student. There’s so much to learn,” shares Endo, who celebrated his 45th anniversary as a taiko per- former in 2020. “There’s a saying in Japan — kiri ga nai — which means there’s no end to it. It’s almost like the more you study, the more you realize you don’t know. As long as I can try to keep learning, expand- ing and improving, it will feel fresh, and I’ ll have this excitement about learning and practicing as well as performing, too.”
Though the pandemic has put a serious strain on classes (which are currently taking place over Zoom) and performances, Endo looks for- ward to the few occasions he gets to be on stage, including an upcoming performance on Feb. 4 at Univer- sity of Hawai‘i and a collaborative music/dance event at Windward Community College Feb. 26-27 (visit for more information).
niversary tour — two years
        Endo’s authenticity and gracious state of mind could possibly be the reason for his success. Though, his devotion and admiration for the craft itself might have that beat.
“For a lot of people who play taiko, there’s no melody,” he ex- plains. “Sometimes the bamboo flute will play traditionally, but I like to combine it with other instru- ments, such as Japanese instruments — which are koto, shakuhachi and shamisen — but also with Western instruments ... (On the tour), I com-
“All of the performances are re- ally important to me,” notes Endo. “In fact, I always tell my perform- ers that no matter if there are one or two people in the audience or there’s 10,000, you have to approach it in the same way.
delayed by the pandemic — with his contemporary ensemble, com- prising musicians from a variety of backgrounds. Together, the unit will visit 12 states to play a fusion, “East meets West” concept, according to Endo.
ome spring, Endo will final- ly embark on his 45-year an-
   Taiko, which quite simply means drum in Japanese, has been around for 2,000-plus years in The Land of the Rising Sun. The instruments
“There’s always going to be somebody who’s seeing taiko for the first time, or possibly seeing
(Top and above) Throughout his decadeslong career, Kenny Endo has dabbled in all types of genres related to taiko, including classical and modern.

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