Tatsu Aoki – Executive Director
Tatsu Aoki is a leading advocate for the Asian American community, filmmaker, educator, and a prolific composer and performer of traditional and experimental music forms. Aoki was born in 1958 into the Toyoakimoto artisan family, and performing by the age of four. In the early 1970s, Aoki was active in Tokyo’s underground arts movement with experimental arts and music. In 1977, Aoki left Tokyo and is now one of the most in-demand performers of bass, shamisen, and taiko, contributing to more than ninety recording projects and touring internationally over the last 35 years. He is noted for being the longest associated bassist for the late Chicago legend Fred Anderson.
As Executive Director of Asian Improv aRts Midwest (AIRMW), Aoki has initiated and/or managed several programs to advance the understanding of traditional arts and community through the arts. Under his leadership, Tsukasa Taiko has flourished into the most active and successful taiko drumming groups in the Midwest. He has also restored Chicago’s shamisen lute music culture with Toyoaki Shamisen, and supported Shubukai Classical Dance, and founded the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival.
His sustained and intensified endeavors have resulted in many awards from multiple cultural and musical organizations for his cross-cultural collaborations. Notable accolades include: 2001, “Chicagoan of the Year”, 2010 Cultural Achievement Award, 3Arts Award (2010), 2015 Jazz Heroes’ Award, 2018 George Award. In 2019 he received the Community Service award from the Asian American Coalition of Chicago for his continued leadership and contribution to the community and was awarded the 2020 United States Artist Fellowship for his work as a musician, composer, and educator and also the 2020 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship Award for Ethnic and Cultural Arts. These and other projects are all components and examples of his drive to establish artist-guided community participation as well as projects that have exclusive artist involvement, which raise the bar for quality and awareness of the Japanese cultural arts here in Chicago.
Shunojo Fujima –
Grandmaster of Classical Japanese Dance + Shubukai Founder
Shunojo Fujima earned his professional stage name from the Fujima School at an early age. He opened his own school of classical dance and taught for several years in Tokyo before coming to the United States; first, on tour with a classical dance troupe, and later, permanently. For the past 45 years, grandmaster Shunojo has directed his own dance group in Chicago, teaching classes and workshops in addition to performing. In 2011, Grandmaster Fujima Shunojo received the Japan America Society Cultural Achievement Award for his continuing work in traditional Japanese classical dance, and in 2013 he received the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation Award for his ongoing work in the United States promoting Japanese culture through teaching and performing Japanese Classical Dance.
In addition to presenting classical dance performances, Fujima Shunojo has also collaborated with various musicians and artists choreographing pieces with music ranging from disco, hip-hop, opera, theatrical and festival taiko, avant-garde jazz, experimental music, and ozashiki shamisen. He has had the pleasure of working with artists such as Nishikawa Koryu V, Tatsu Aoki, and Bellisima Opera, and has performed at venues such as the National Kabukiza Theater in Japan, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the Chicago Cultural Center. In addition to over 8 years of receiving the Illinois Arts Council Ethnic Folk Arts Master Apprentice Grant, he has recently been awarded a DCASE grant and is developing a new choreographic work to be released in 2021. He also received the 2021 Community Service Award from the Asian American Coalition of Chicago and the Illinois Arts Council Ethnic Folk Arts Master Apprentice Grant.
Kioto Aoki –
Curatorial Manager + Tsukasa Taiko Lead Instructor
Kioto Aoki is an artist and educator using the material specificity of the analogue image and image-making process to explore modes of perception as a politics of vision. Her photographic work oscillates between the still and the moving image, attentive to the apparatus of the human eye and the camera; while installation and artist book works engage mechanisms of structural tangibility and site-specificity. Forming a rhetoric of nuanced quietude, her practice considers the intimacies of vision through the experience of sight from inception through presentation.
As a musician, Kioto descends from the Toyoakimoto performing arts family in Tokyo with roots dating back to the Edo period. Studying under her Tokyo-born father, Kioto is carrying on the artistic family lineage in Chicago as sole professional taiko artist in the city. She has been performing on stage since the age of 7 and also plays shamisen and tsuzumi. Kioto plays in both traditional and contemporary musical contexts and is active within the experimental and creative music communities in Chicago and the Bay Area. She also leads the National Gintenkai Project – the performance unit within Tsukasa Taiko, the Japanese drumming program at Asian Improv aRts Midwest.
Kiyomi Negi-Tran –
Creative Director + Tsukasa Taiko Performance Unit Lead and Communication Manager
Kiyomi Negi-Tran is a second-generation Japanese and Chinese American multidisciplinary designer and illustrator with over 10 years of experience working as a creative consultant for a wide range of industries. She specializes in branding, visual storytelling, and graphic recording. In her personal work, her style draws heavy inspiration from her heritage. Her pop, comical drawings are reminiscent of mangas and animation she grew up consuming, and her graphic experiments are driven by the latest Japanese and American design trends. As a bilingual and tri-cultural Windy City native, Kiyomi finds joy in blending (Mid)Western aesthetics with Eastern sensibility to explore a distinct visual language unique to her lived experience.
Kiyomi is also an established Japanese drummer at Tsukasa Taiko, the largest taiko ensemble in the Midwest. She currently leads the active National Gintenkai Project professional performance unit, completing an average of 70 shows a year including an annual concert at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Kiyomi also serves as the resident creative director at AIRMW, often producing the brand for the organization’s multiple arts initiatives including the Taiko Legacy concert and 思考回路 ・ Shikoukairo: Patterns of Thought exhibition.
Yoshinojo Fujima –
Shubukai Grandmaster + Program Coordinator
Yoshinojo Fujima is an interdisciplinary artist, choreographer, and Grandmaster in Fujima style Japanese classical dance. She has performed both traditional and her original works in Japan and also as part of many collaborations at Links Hall, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Pritzker Pavilion, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), where she premiered her full-length work Asobi: Playing within Time in 2018. Her works embody her identity and tradition through performance as well as her teaching practice in Japanese classical dance. She is a Fellow in Residence at High Concept Labs (2021), and is a recipient of a John D. and Susan P. Diekman Fellowship Djerassi Resident Artist (2019), a Links Hall Artistic Associate Curatorial Resident(2017), 3Arts Make a Wave artist, and Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist (2017). She is a recent Master Apprentice Ethnic Folk Arts Grant recipient adapting the pedagogy of traditional Japanese Classical dance with her mentor/teacher, and has been named a Links Hall CoMission Fellow Artist for the upcoming 2023 season.
Noriko Sugiyama –
International Residency Performer + Tsukasa Taiko Instructor and Administrative Staff
Noriko Sugiyama earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education from Keihin Women’s University in March 1985. Upon graduation, she started her career as a professional teacher at various public schools specializing in music education. In the early 90’s, Noriko became interested in traditional taiko performance and joined Ayutsubo Daiko, a local taiko preservation and performance group in Shizuoka, Japan. Through training and studies at Ayutsubo Daiko, Tsukasa Taiko, and the Japan Taiko Federation for nearly twenty years, she became an expert taiko performer and instructor.
In 2009, Noriko first performed with Tsukasa Taiko in the “Taiko Legacy 6” concert. In addition, combining her teaching skills and knowledge of historical and cultural aspects of taiko, Ms. Sugiyama has become an outstanding lecturer on taiko history and an expert trainer on all aspects of authentic taiko performance, from playing to vocalizing to costuming.
As International Residency Performer and Instructor of Tsukasa Taiko, Noriko travels back and forth between the U.S. and Japan, maintaining the link to Japanese cultural tradition fundamental to our
Ikunojo Fujima –
Ikunojo Fujima is a Chicago-area native and Japanese American and started her training from age seven with Fujima Shunojo. She has attained her professional name, natori, and teacher’s license, (shihan). Ikunojo has performed in Japan and has been a contributing core member teaching, participating in community performances, assisting in workshops, and the annual student recitals of the Shubukai dance troupe for over 40 years.
Ed Wilkerson Jr.
Douglas R. Ewart
Koryu Nishikawa V
Yoko Reikano Kimura