Gregory Shimizu and his drumming partner, Twilla MacLeod, give the first bachi taiko drum sticks to famous Japanese taiko drummer Eitetsu Hayashi on Aug. 9. (Gregory Shimizu photo)

Sound of Prince Rupert’s cherry trees to be played around the world

Salvaged wood from chopped sakura trees is being crafted into taiko drum sticks

The salvaged wood from Prince Rupert’s chopped cherry trees has landed in the hands of one of Japan’s most celebrated taiko drummers.

The legacy of the trees dates back to 1960, when Shotaru Shimizu had donated 1,500 cherry trees to the city to express his gratitude to the community, even after he had been sent to an internment camp in World War Two.

In March, three of the historic cherry trees at the corner of Fourth Street and Second Avenue West in Prince Rupert were sawed down by contractors, a decision made by the federal Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada. The trees were on federal property next to the Fisheries and Oceans Canada building.

Four of the remaining trees received grafts in April to improve their chance of survival, but for the three trees that couldn’t be saved the federal government delivered the wood to Shotaru Shimizu’s grandson — Gregory Shimizu, a professional taiko drummer.

After many promises in March from residents, and Terrace-based Big D Contracting, to send the wood to Shimizu in Edmonton, there was no follow through. He waited patiently for the first few months before he started to worry.

READ MORE: Plans to carve taiko drum sticks from Prince Rupert’s fallen cherry trees

“I didn’t even know if I was going to get it,” he said over the phone on Aug. 15.

Then, his drumming partner and fiancée, Twilla MacLeod, wrote to the federal government ensuring the salvaged wood would be returned to the Shimizu family.

“It really wouldn’t have happened without that letter. They were the ones who ensured that I would get it,” Shimizu said.

In a letter of response on June 6, the government apologized and arranged to send 740 pounds (335 kilograms) of the cherry tree wood on two small pallets to Edmonton.

Shimizu estimates he can make approximately 100 pairs of bachi, drum sticks used for Japanese taiko drumming.

After receiving the wood, Shimizu learned that one of the most renowned taiko drummers from Japan, Eitetsu Hayashi, was coming to Canada on tour in honour of the 90th anniversary of Canada-Japan diplomatic relations.

The first pair of bachi were crafted specifically for Hayashi.

Randall Fraser crafts the first set of bachi taiko drum sticks made from Prince Rupert’s chopped cherry tree wood.
(Gregory Shimizu photo)

 

On Aug. 9, when the Japanese taiko drummer came to Calgary to teach a workshop, he received the bachi made from the cherry trees.

Through a translator, Eitetsu expressed what it meant to him.

“Greg’s idea to turn the sakura [cherry] trees that were cut down into taiko drum bachi, and then spread them around the world, is a very wonderful idea. The sound of Japanese taiko can overcome the walls people may hold in their minds.

“Through the spirit of Greg’s grandfather, these bachi will not only just strike the taiko, but also the hearts of people around the world,” he said.

In the same way, he added, his heart was struck and he was moved.

Eitetsu planned to use the bachi drum sticks at his concert in Vancouver on Aug. 15 when he performed a piece about children playing taiko in poverty and in difficult circumstances.

“The next chapter is now beginning, and beginning with the most famous taiko player in Japan. To be able to give it to him was monumental,” Shimizu said.

Even though he leads the drumming group called Booming Tree Taiko in Edmonton, Shimizu said he never thought of taking the first pair.

“It was more my intent to do this for all the other taiko people around the world, and people like Eitetsu Hayashi, rather than for my own personal use,” he said.

Planting more cherry trees

The government promised more than just deliver the salvaged wood to Shimizu. In the letter, Carla Qualtrough, the minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, said they have developed a landscaping plan for the area where the trees were removed in Prince Rupert, which includes planting more cherry trees and native, pest-resistant plant species.

“When the decision was taken to remove the trees, Public Services and Procurement Canada was unaware of neither your grandfather’s gift to the city nor the deep attachment the community has to cherry trees,” Qualtrough wrote.

Four of the cherry trees in Prince Rupert received grafts in April and have a high chance of survival after being carved up in March.
(Shannon Lough photo)

 

To ensure this never happens again, her ministry is reviewing its landscaping standards and will consider adding procedures for green space improvement projects on federal sites across the country.

The legacy of the chopped cherry trees lives on.

READ MORE: History behind the cherry trees the feds cut down in Prince Rupert



shannon.lough@thenorthernview.com

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The first set of bachi taiko drum sticks made from Prince Rupert’s chopped cherry tree wood. (Gregory Shimizu photo)

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