Ho Etsu’s 21st Anniversary

Ho Etsu’s 21st Anniversary

Our 21st Anniversary – Jason Matsumoto

Ho Etsu Taiko – OUR MUSIC BLOG

Hi there! I really cannot believe that it’s been 21 years since Ho Etsu first began. So many thoughts race through my mind as I sit down to write this, but really this post is about…our new 21st Anniversary T-shirt!

To the Midwest Buddhist Temple (“MBT”), built proudly by a generation of Japanese Americans who were wrongfully imprisoned, stripped of their dignity, hard-earned wealth, and opportunity – Ho Etsu would not be here without this place. The embrace of our members by current-day temple attendees feels like a nod to founding ideals, like the inclusive kind of community-building that was instrumental in the creation of the Temple. To the MBT Taiko group, with roots tracing back to Los Angeles’ foundational kumi-daiko group Kinnara (Senshin Buddhist Temple, est. 1969), thank you for being the first to pave the way in the city of Chicago 41 years ago. To the parents of the first generation of Ho Etsu, we thank you for your insightful and visionary decision-making. You empowered a group of young adults to breathe, create and experiment. I look back at those decisions now as the foundational elements that have allowed us to thrive. To my mother and father, Lynne and Jerry Matsumoto, who fought hard to create Ho Etsu and led the group through the first 10 years of it’s existence, the culture and spirit of who we are today began with you. Specifically to my mother, Lynne, who dedicated herself for nearly 30 years to planning, scheduling, coordinating and teaching Youth Taiko at the Midwest Buddhist Temple, you created a positive culture of inclusivity and a legacy for Youth Taiko at the Temple – we can only hope to be as dedicated as you were.

And now, the present. The individuals – Dana, Emily, Ryan, Tiana, Alexa, Kelsey, Susan, Oscar, Anabel – that represent Ho Etsu are really incredible. Like, really incredible. Each person couldn’t be more different, yet we find meaning and connection through music. We are at once a team, a family, a group of musicians, friends, adept problem-solvers and road-trip buddies…so many people to share joys with, so many shoulders to cry on, so much hanger.

The 21st Anniversary T-shirt design process was intense, difficult, but somehow appropriate for the moment. Unbeknownst to her, Dana Johnson would quickly become an inspirational visual artist for the rest of the group to admire. And unbeknownst to the rest of the group, Dana would also become the bravest member of our family. Here she is, describing the deep-rooted meaning of the shirt’s design:

“The design on the 21st anniversary Ho Etsu t-shirt is a visual manifestation of the song Lion Chant, written by Shoji Kameda. In May of this past year I had a mental health crisis and I had to undergo intensive mental health treatment. One day during my art therapy session, I grabbed a fistful of markers and began to transcribe the music of this remarkable song. I wanted to capture the nuances, colors and depth that I saw in my head when I listen to and perform this piece with Ho Etsu. This song has meaning to me beyond that of a performer and I chose this medium to express my gratitude for all the strength it has given me.”

– Dana Johnson, Ho Etsu performing member

Dana was one of the earliest to join Ho Etsu after the ensemble expanded eligibility beyond Temple members. She is a rock, somebody that I trust to 1) check me 2) tell me very directly that I’m screwing up and 3) execute with sheer perfection on a lot of different business dealings for the group. She has traveled great lengths in terms of taiko ability and continues to improve beyond every expectation. Just this year she publicly performed the waki section of Edo Matsuri Bayashi next to Kyosuke Suzuki sensei and also joined Kishi Bashi on stage at a sold out summer concert. Oh and did I mentioned that she has that Stanford Law Degree? I suggest you think twice before serving Ho Etsu 🙂

There is not a single person who would be more appropriate to provide the design for our 21st Anniversary T-shirt than Dana. She bridges the gap between past and present and is the backbone of our operation. As you can probably imagine, there was a high degree of sensitivity around using this image for such a publicly-facing item as a T-shirt, given it’s intensely personal meaning and the very real health issues surrounding the work’s origination. Dana, however, was supportive from the beginning, generously willing to share the strength she found through “Lion Chant” with anybody who’d look or listen. I’m lucky, we’re lucky…thank you Dana.

21 years. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Then find strength.


Editor’s note: If you’re interested in our limited edition 21st Anniversary T-shirt just visit our Shop Ho Etsu page


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