Ancient Drumbeats


Ancient drumbeats
News & Observer, The (Raleigh, NC)
Arts & Living D13
Peggy Lim, Takaaki Iwabu Staff Writers

Published: February 3, 2008

RALEIGH — ‘Whoooo are youuuu?” Tsuguyoshi “Rocky” Iwashima shouts above a din of taiko drums inside Progress Energy Center. One by one, the five athletes respond to his call to identify themselves. The “cat” swipes the air with her claws. The samurai channels anime cartoons. The drummer borrows a move from “Drumline.” All while they beat their bachi sticks against taut drum skins. Taiko (it means “drum” in Japanese) can be traced to ancient times, when it was used to motivate soldiers in battle or to give rhythm to Buddhist rituals. The drumming took on a new dimension after IBM-Japan transferred Rocky and his wife, Yoshiko “Yoko” Iwashima, to the Triangle. They arrived in 1987 with their four sons, none of whom spoke English. The younger boys learned language and culture from American schoolmates, said Yoko. The eldest, Taki, now 32, who has Down syndrome, found his place and friends through Special Olympics Wake County. Drumming became a means for Rocky and Yoko to give back. In 2002, they founded Triangle Taiko as a vehicle for sharing their culture. The Iwashimas were intrigued by the way modern professional drumming ensembles had pioneered taiko as therapy for people with mental disabilities. This year, Triangle Taiko worked with five Special Olympics athletes on a performance that opened the touring Fugaku Taiko’s Jan. 21 performance in Fletcher Opera Theater. As they announce their identities to the audience, the athletes’ joy and training are apparent. About this project: Photojournalist Takaaki Iwabu explores the creative process behind Triangle Taiko through still photography and a companion video at With this new monthly column, Iwabu aims to tap into the artistic expression of people throughout the community, from children to professionals, from inventors to master chefs, from brick masons to nanoscientists. If you have an idea or feedback, please contact him at

Yoko Iwashima helps Matthew Arvizu try on a Japanese coat, while fellow drummer Derek Matthews offers commentary. At right, Iwashima coaches Vanessa Webb. ‘Taiko brings people together,’ Iwashima says.Staff photos by Takaaki Iwabu

Copyright 2008 by The News & Observer Pub. Co.