An Interview with Walter Nishinaka: Taiko Taikai Co-Founder

An Interview with Walter Nishinaka: Taiko Taikai Co-Founder

Career Corner With Walter Nishinaka, Taiko Taikai Co-Founder

Written By Hannah Kruz

As a student at CSU Northridge, I had an opportunity to interview Walter Nishinaka for my Music Entrepenuership Class. We were told to interview a professional in their career, and he was the first person that came to mind. Walter gave me my first professional taiko gig through Los Angeles Taiko Collective (LATC). He has always been a great support to me and CSUN’s taiko club, Jishin Taiko. He is also the the co-founder the Taiko Taikai. I wanted to share the insights that he shared with me, because I believe that every person building a career in taiko should hear them!

From talking with Walter previously, I knew he would bring this point up again and again:

Make a business card.

Even with all the technology, social media and fast forms of communication we have today, there are still plenty of people who ask for business cards. He would say, “Go to events, introduce yourself to people, and give them your business card. It gives someone a piece of ‘you.’ Even if they won’t need it in the future, they can refer you to someone who will.”

On Pricing Yourself

He also brought up the struggle of knowing how to price yourself.

Honestly, it was comforting to know that even as a professional, a common struggle for musicians is knowing how to do this. Walter said that it was hard for him to put a price on his work, especially knowing that others in the industry have more experience or better technique. To solves this, Walter asked a trusted friend to honestly tell him how much he would pay for his gigs. He called that number his “base rate,” and then negotiated higher for all future gigs. I think that it’s especially hard to put a price on yourself when you’re in Taiko, because it’s a community that is so giving and generous already. At the end of the day, however, Taiko professionals still have to make a living. There may always be discomfort in asking for what you think you’re worth.

On Building Relationships

Amidst all his knowledge, I noticed that his greatest focus was on his relationship with people.

He had a great emphasis on being a good person, treating everybody equally, and being present in the community. This meant going to events, concerts, festivals, to meet people and connect with the people who share the same love of taiko and Japanese culture.

The most profound lesson I learned from Walter was this.

I asked, “If there’s anyone or any group that you’d love to play with one day, who would it be with?”

His answer was, “I already play with the people I want to play with. The people I play with now are the people I wouldn’t mind playing with for the rest of my life.”

As someone who has years of experience as a classical musician, I’ve realized the answer to this question is oftentimes met with big names and groups like Joshua Bell, the New York Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, etc. Walter’s answer made me realize how important it is to appreciate the people who help you grow, improve, and love your craft. You may be inspired by the idols that you see on screen or in the nosebleed seats of a concert, but at the end of the day, it is the people you love and choose to surround yourself with that truly make you a better musician.

Current Career

Walter Nishinaka is a well-established taiko player. He had his start playing with Chikara Daiko in Little Tokyo at 4 years old. Now, he is a TaikoVentures Vocationist, plays and manages LATC, and teaches at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center. He is the host of the 2024 Taiko Taikai and has future plans to expand the competition, making it international.

When I asked Walter how TaikoVentures impacted his career, he had a really fun answer:

He described his Vocationist status with TaikoVentures like being a sponsored skateboarder. For a kid who looked up to professional skateboarders like Tony Hawk, being sponsored was the way to know someone “made it” in their career. Being a sponsored taiko player means a lot to him, and gives him energy and inspiration to better himself. 

Aside from what he does with teaching and performing, his next goal in taiko is to be an event coordinator. He wants to be on the mic promating taiko players, groups, and events, getting people excited for concerts. He believes that this could come to life with the help of TaikoVentures. Seeing that he is hosting Taiko Taikai for the second year in a row, I’d say that he’s already there!

Taiko Taikai

On the topic of Taikai, Walter had a great story about how the idea of Taiko Taiko came to be.

He was in Santa Cruz. He was sitting in front of a bonfire, eating steak, mochi donuts, and drinking beer with his other taiko buddies. Initially, the idea of a kumidaiko tournament came to mind, battle-of-the-bands style. It would have been a big gathering with a day full of nonstop taiko. After thinking about how logistically difficult that would be, a new idea popped up: How about an Odaiko tournament? Thus, he formed the idea of the Taiko Taikai.

Walter has big plans to expand the competition in the future, making it open to people outside of North America. He hopes to invite people from Japan, South America, Europe, and Canada to come to LA to either compete, watch, or to judge. He hopes this will open the door for North American taiko players visit those countries and compete on those stages. Walter recently came back from Japan and got to watch one of the most competitive taiko tournaments. He had an opportunity to go backstage, meet the coordinators, and see the behind-the-scenes of how they run it. This inspired him to implement some of the elements that he saw into future taiko taikais to make it smoother. Then, once we bring representatives from the US to Japan or elsewhere, they’ll be ready for the systems used overseas. 

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