November 29, 2020

A Year Without Taiko and Lion Dances

What We Missed This Year

By Leonard Chan

For those of you that only know AACP through our online presence, our normal operation usually includes going to events throughout the year. We go to conferences and conventions, festivals and celebrations, remembrances and pilgrimages, and educational and school events. We’ve even gone to county fairs and farmers’ markets. We work with libraries and authors to create book presentations, readings, and signings. We even use to create our own Asian Pacific American Heritage Celebration event with partner Asian American community organizations.

At these events we exhibit, promote, and sell Asian and Pacific Islander American books and educational materials. Although some casual observers of AACP at these events may think we’re just a commercial operation that sells books, I often tell the event goers that we’re there to let them know that these books exist. Even if they didn’t end up buying the book from us, our mission is accomplished by just letting them view and take note of these great materials.

In the last four years, before this year, we averaged 28 events per year. In some years we go to many more events, travel thousands of miles (including to events in neighboring states), and meet tens of thousands of people. In 2020, we went to three events.

Here are some memories from my twenty two plus years with AACP and what we may have missed during this lockdown year.

At most of the events we go to, there’s usually lots of entertainment and or presentations by notables. As exhibitors at these events, we often don’t get the chance to watch them. We’re often off to the side or far away from the stage, sometimes we’re even behind the performers and presenters, or in another room or hallway. But when we’re lucky, like when we get to take our breaks, we catch some really good performances and presentations.

At many of these events they would have taiko drummers and lion dancers. We see so many taiko and lion dance performances throughout a year we sometimes forget how novel and wonderful they are to event goers, especially for the kids. However, some of the performances are pretty special for us too.


What impressed me a lot was a performance of taiko drummers at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage. These performers would come from different parts of the country and have one practice together before their performance on the last day of the event. This was a true testament that drummers have good timing. Here’s a video from the 2016 pilgrimage.

One of the highlight performances each year that I looked forward to catching would come from San Jose Taiko at the 9066 San Jose Day of Remembrance event and the San Jose Obon. What I like about their performances is their dance-like movements as they drummed. It’s one thing to drum in sequence and another thing to do it while energetically swirling around each other and not having terrible collisions. Here’s San Jose Taiko’s 45th Anniversary Concert. If you can’t afford to check out the whole concert, start watching from the following point when the youth group of San Jose Taiko performs. You can get an idea of the energy and movement by watching their younger members start first (video from when the SJ Taiko younger member's start).

The neat thing about taiko is its cross ethnic appeal. It’s becoming quite common to see taiko drummers of a wide variety of ethnicities playing to an equally diverse audience.

Another form of entertainment with wide cross-ethnic appeal would be by local martial arts groups. There are so many of these groups that wish to perform at these events that the Oregon Asian Celebration would have one of their three stages dedicated to martial arts.


Most of the lion dances are usually done by martial arts groups. Some of the standout lion dance performances that we would catch each year would be done at the Stockton Chinese New Year Celebration. They would start out by parading around the hall in front of us and interact with the audience before going up on the stage. What made these performances more memorable would be the high platforms and poles that the dancers would climb up and dance around on. Each year the dances seemed to get more difficult. It’s really hard to imagine how they’re able to do that in their costumes. Here’s a video from 2013 (see if you can spot our book tables and volunteers :).

What would a festival be without dancing? As many taiko performances as I have seen over the years, I’ve probably seen three times as many dance performances – too numerous to describe in this short article.

One memorable Obon dance was at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage lunch. This performance was not a stage performance, but a semi-impromptu group of individuals that got up to dance between our tables to entertain us as we ate. Their performance gave us a taste of what World War II internment camp dances may have felt like.

If you haven’t seen a full Obon, check out the following short clip from San Jose. Every year this dance seemed to get more and more participants – many would come by our booth in their kimonos and outfits before the dancing began and would pose for pictures in front of the temple. I loved seeing all the little kids that would come out to join in this wonderful cultural event. Here’s the video from 2019 (see if you can spot our booth).

Have a look at some photos from the Locke Asian Pacific Spring Festival we attended in 2014 to get an idea of some dance performances we observed during the course of a typical AACP outing.


Being a fan of live traditional acoustic instruments, I would often enjoy listening to some really good performances.

We used to have some really good performances at our own Asian Pacific American Heritage Celebration. One great performance was by the Urisawe Korean Drum Group which can be seen on our youtube videos (video 1 and video 2).

We were unusually fortunate to be near the Oregon Asian Celebration’s main stage. They would have a great variety of Asian and Pacific Islander performances throughout the day. The koto players were usually my favorites, and on a number of occasions, they would have an invited guest that would play an African finger piano as part of a duo performance. Unfortunately, I don’t have a video of this duet, but here a video of a solo performance from 2014.

The Notables

We have met so many notables over the years. Here’s just a couple. There was a conference for parents with adopted children from Korea where former Secretary of Defense William Perry dropped by our exhibit. He was a keynote speaker and a parent of a child of Korean descent. We had a Korean American intern helping us that day and I suggested that she strike up a conversation with Secretary Perry. She seemed pleased with the encounter.

There was an OCA convention where General Antonio Taguba bought books from us and Philip Chin, one of the editors of our newsletter, struck up a conversation with him about the Filipino community in Daly City. What made it memorable was how normal he seemed (most notables really are). He had been in the news a relatively short time before this encounter because of his Pentagon report about the abuse of detainees held at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Former Secretary of Commerce and Transportation Norman Mineta dropped by our table at a JACL convention to have a talk with his friend, author Frank Chuman (we published Chuman’s book and he was signing them at this event). I wish I could find the picture to prove it :).

I had a chance encounter with former House of Representative Member Mike Honda and got to thank him personally for a grant we received from a program he helped create when he was a California Assemblyman. I had seen him give speeches at multiple 9066 Day of Remembrance events and the thing I always admired was how he would always mention one of AACP’s founders, Edison Uno. Edison was an important Asian American activist that passed away too soon to get the credit he deserves for things like pioneering the movement for Japanese American redress for their unjust incarceration during World War II, his efforts in the 1968-69 movement to establish ethnic studies at San Francisco State University, and many other causes.

Authors – there are really too many to name.

I’ll just mention a few of the authors that we have worked with on multiple occasions over the years – Judy Yung, Ruthanne McCunn, Cynthia Chin-Lee, Naomi Hirahara, Charlie Chin, Frances Kakugawa, Hiroshi Kashiwagi, Oliver Chin, Allison Branscombe, Ann Bowler, Elaine Russell, Delphine Hirasuna, John Jung, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Oscar Peñaranda, Frank Abe, Laura Atkins, Felicia Hoshino, Amy Lee-Tai, Genny Lim, Kimi Kodani Hill, Gene Yang, Jeff Leong, David Newcomer, Marlene Shigikawa, Jenny Cho, Margo King Lenson, Rosemary Gong, Jack Matsuoka, Emi Young, Shizue Seigel, Hazuki Kataoka, David Battino, Natasha Yim, Mina Eimon, and Mas Hongo. Apologies for all the ones I didn’t include, especially ones that are subscribers to this newsletter :).

Judy, thanks for letting me interview you multiple times for our newsletter and thanks for letting me help you with a small part of research for one of your books. Ruthanne, thanks for giving me your lunch voucher that was meant especially for you at the OCA convention. Jenny, thanks for helping us sell the surplus books we had at your signing. It was fun going around LA with you to sell the books to shop owners.

It was nice meeting you all and it was even better that I got to interview some of you for our newsletter. I’m glad to consider you as friends and supporters of ours and AACP. Thank you very much.

The Events and the Trips

Almost every event we went to required days of preparation – coordinating with organizers and authors; figuring out which books and items to take and researching what additional items needed to be purchased; packing the books and other exhibit items into boxes; loading the boxes (many over 30 to 40 lbs.), book racks, tables and chairs, and possibly a tent into our car; driving to the event; unpacking all the items at the event and setting up our display; exhibiting and selling our items, sometimes in the freezing cold of winter or in the sweltering heat of summer (a couple of the times in the rain); packing up everything; driving back to our store, unloading the car, and re-shelving all the items; and doing the accounting of what we sold. On some occasions we had up to three events to go to on the same day or weekend, and oftentimes we’d have to do it all again in a week or less.

On longer trips there was additional travel time and much more planning. We often needed to rent vehicles (minivans and SUVs; hey, we’re open to vehicle donations, if it’s in good working condition :) to hold all the volunteers and books that we would need.

I have many stories I could tell you about what we had to endure on our outings. I don’t miss the hard work of these outings or the not so pleasant things that could occur, but the traveling companions often made it bearable.

Thanks Florence and Mas. I miss our trips together and your amazing ability to finding a Japanese or Chinese restaurant in every town. You often brought bento boxes for our trips when we didn’t have time to look for those restaurants. I can’t forget the time we ordered wonton soup at a Las Vegas hotel and the waitress gave us crackers to go with it.

There was the time we went to Salt Lake City and stopped at multiple casinos along the way to rest and gamble. I remember taking the LDS Temple tour with Mas and hearing the heavenly sounding practice performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Thanks Philip, Susan, Peter, Roger, and Cliff for our trips together. All of the interesting conversations and some of the places we got to visit really helped make the trips worth it. I got to visit many corners of California and explore parts that I never saw before. We went to the Bok Kai Festival, Locke, Poston, Tule Lake, the Oregon Asian Celebration, LA Times Festival of Books, Nisei Week, and numerous conventions and conferences together. I even got to walk in a poppy field in bloom (not many that year though :( and see the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

Thanks to Sophie, Sylvia, Rosie, Jamie, Pia, Mina, Angela, Christina, Arthi, and all the other AACP board member and volunteers that couldn’t come with us on the trips, but nonetheless helped with countless events throughout the Bay Area. Gosh, so many events, so many memories. Apologies for being such a control freak with things like the boxing up of the books and getting the receipts right.

To all the other exhibitors that we befriended (sometimes only for a single event and sometimes seeing regularly), we hope you’re hanging in there. I sometimes thought of us regular eventgoers as kind of like carnies that lived for the road. We hope to see you all again soon.

Thanks to all the organizers of the events. For the ones we returned to regularly, we got to know many of you and even watched some of your families grow up. We hope you’re making it through these tough times too and will survive to have your wonderful event again when the pandemic is over.

Most of all, thanks to all our patrons. To all the kids that camped out by our tables to read – may you always be curious and love books. To their parents, great job you’re doing, thanks for raising a new generations of readers. To all of the event goers that came by and complemented us on our book selections – we really appreciate your encouragement. Thanks to anyone that came by to our exhibits or store.

Your appreciative and smiling faces help to remind us of why we do what we do.