My Weekend of ARTS = LIFE
by Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida
Rafu Column December 10, 2003


As an arts organizer, active in the Japanese American community, my weekends are often filled with the arts. This past weekend was the 62nd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, typically a sensitive day for JAs. I saw the words ART = LIFE and I really liked it. So I thought I’d write this column about how the arts were intertwined in my life this weekend.

December 6, 2003

7:00 am:
Got up early on a Saturday morning and went with my husband Tony Osumi, a teacher at Central High School, to pick up one of his students.

9:00 am: Arrived at Cal State LA. Tony and his student Francisco went to the “Like Jazz” Conference, sponsored by Performing for LA Youth, a program of the Center Theatre Group at the Music Center. Apparently their attendance at the conference makes their class eligible to see a free performance of “Like Jazz” at the Mark Taper Forum.

I had brought work with me to do, so I went over to the CSULA Student Union and found a quiet lounge upstairs to work. I was working on a fundraiser mailing for Great Leap, the performing arts organization where I work. We recently lost all grant funding from the California Arts Council, which was recently decimated because of the state’s budget woes.

Anyways, the room had a baby grand piano in there, so I played the piano for the first time in 6 years, playing the beginning parts of several different songs such as "Fur Elise" and "Where Do I Begin?" from Love Story. I took piano lessons from age 8-12 and I really miss my piano, which has been on loan to one of my friends since we moved to a smaller house 6 years ago. I had so much fun, but wished I could remember more and play better.

12:30 pm: I went back to the Conference and got to see students perform some 12-bar blues phrases that they wrote in the morning jazz workshops. They got to perform with a live band. Then the teachers got up and performed a song they wrote together in their own workshop. Walking to the car, I asked Francisco what he thought about the conference. He told me he was expecting it to be boring, but it was really cool.

1:00 pm: Went to go see Bombu Taiko, the taiko drumming group I've been playing with since since April. Bombu means “unenlightened” or “Taiko for Dummies,” sort of a tongue-in-cheek name for our group of mostly beginners. We were performing our second gig at the 25th anniversary of the Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo on a brand new stage. They were totally awesome. I've been so busy and wasn't able to attend practices in the last two weeks, so I didn't perform. But, I was so proud, running around taking pictures of all my friends (www.kuidaosumi.com/FamilyPx/bombu1203.html).

In some ways, being part of Bombu Taiko has changed my life. I once told my husband that taiko was the “music of our people.” When I started the Monday night class at Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 8 months ago, I felt totally uncoordinated and out of shape. Taiko combines elements of sports, arts and culture, requiring physical stamina, musical ability, and lots of practice. As the year has progressed, I’ve gotten somewhat into shape, now able to run (slowly) for as long as 8-9 minutes, when I could barely run for one minute a few months ago without wheezing for 2 hours. Although I struggle to remember taiko patterns, keep up with the beat and try not to play unplanned “solos,” it sure is a lot of fun.

2:00 pm: From the taiko performance, I went to pick up some sushi, and then went over to the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center for a Community Mural Meeting. Tony's going to be designing a new mural in Little Tokyo, commissioned by LTSC Community Development Corporation. Nancy Kikuchi from LTSC CDC has hosted about 5 meetings so far getting “input” from Little Tokyo’s business merchants, residents, people from Japan, an 86 year old Shin-Issei woman, staff from Little Tokyo Service Center, JACCC, Visual Communications, East West Players and Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress.

At the Community input meeting, we went around the room, and each person talked about our earliest memories of Little Tokyo, our vision for the mural’s purpose, ideas for the mural’s theme, and possible images we'd like to see. You can be sure the input has been diverse. Therein lies the job of the community artist to pull it all together. Hopefully, they'll begin painting in Spring and go through Summer 2004.

4:00 pm:
After the meeting, we did some shopping, I saw my friend Ken Koshio, a Japanese folk singer perform at the Japanese Village Plaza. Ken is known for collecting over 10,000 origami cranes in his travels across the country along Route 66 from Los Angeles to New York, and delivering the cranes to Ground Zero after 9/11. Afterwards, we ran a few errands, and then went to dinner in the San Fernando Valley with my family.

December 7, 2003

In the afternoon, Tony and I went to the Diversity Fest – A Celebration of Unity in the Community. Sponsored by Inside Out Community Arts (www.insideoutCA.org), it was held at the Venice Center for Peace with Justice and the Arts. We weren’t there very long due to the cold weather, but it was a beautiful day with a peaceful vibe, a holiday festival and crafts fair, with over 30 arts and craft vendors, including people from “Food, Not Bombs,” and nonstop performances on two stages. While we were there, we saw a young Vietnamese American rapper. Also performing were Nairobi Dancers, Aztec storytelling and music, and even taiko drummers.

In the evening, they had a community potluck dinner and a Diversity Tree lighting ceremony. They ended the day with a special benefit concert, “RHYTHMS... an evening of music, poetry and art” featuring local Venice performers. The proceeds supported after-school arts programs for middle school youth. I bought a button for $1 that says, “MAKE PEACE.”

I read in the Diversity Fest program that it was the anniversary where one country attacked another country, and how we could focus on that, or we could focus on good things like diversity, community, art, peace and justice.

That’s where I saw the phrase, ART = LIFE.

Kids creating jazz, playing taiko, a mural in Little Tokyo, and a festival of diversity and peace. This weekend was just a sample of art being such an integral part of life.
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Jennifer “Emiko” Kuida is an arts advocate, activist and writer in the Japanese American community. © 2003

Updated: 12/14/03

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