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‘Japantown Immersive’ celebrates San Jose neighborhood’s history

By SAL PIZARRO | spizarro@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group
> original article

Imagine Japantown back in the early 1940s, when Roy’s Station filled up cars with gas instead of people with coffee. Throw in pop-up performances along the San Jose neighborhood’s streets and the chance to try your hand at the Japanese card game hanafuda. Now, top it off with a late-evening swing dance-taiko mashup on Fifth Street, followed by a huge dance party.

That’s Japantown Immersive, a free street party/performance piece May 12 that’s part of San Jose Taiko’s yearlong 45th anniversary celebration. To pull this off, Taiko collaborated with Epic Immersive, the innovative theater group that puts on experiential performances in which you’re not always sure who’s part of the show.

“It’s our love letter to Japantown — a way of celebrating this community that has been our heartbeat and source of inspiration,” said San Jose Taiko Artistic Director Franco Imperial.

The event, which starts at 5:30 p.m., will radiate from the heart of Japantown at Fifth and Jackson streets, which will be closed to street traffic. Instead of cars, visitors will see 10-minute performances: students from Ukulele Jams, the San Jose Betsuin youth and adult choirs, vocalist Containher and sax player Steve Nakano. You can also learn Bon Odori dance at a pop-up lesson, take part in a scavenger hunt or discover the traditional method of pounding mochi.

But the big highlight of the evening will no doubt be a 6:30 p.m. performance of “Swingposium,” an energetic collaboration between Epic Immersive, the Wesley Jazz Ensemle and San Jose Taiko that transports people back to the days of World War II and a celebration of the swing music that was a source of hope in Japanese internment camps. And the evening will finish big at 8:30 p.m., when DJ Cutso and San Jose Taiko are joined by the dancers from The Get Down Dance Studio at the SJZ Boom Box Stage on North Fifth Street.

Epic Immersive CEO Steve Boyle said this really became a community-driven event as people offered up moments from the past and pieces of their culture to create a “potluck of experiences.”

“Truly, I’ve been astonished and elated by the passion with which the Japantown community has leapt into the innovative world of immersive art,” Boyle said.

Get more information at taiko.org/japantownimmersive.

Tamiko Rast