Tatsu Aoki


Tatsu Aoki (b. 1957) was born to a Tokyo artisan family called Toyoaki Moto and proficient in Okiya, the booking and training agent for Geisha ladies in the city’s designated area.  He began performing with his family at age 4 and received traditional Tokyo Geisha training.  However, economic and social decline forced many artisan businesses to close and Aoki shifted his training to American pop and experimental music in the 1960s.  In the early 1970s he was active in Tokyo’s underground arts as a member of Gintenkai, an experimental ensemble that combined traditional and new western musical forms.  In 1977,  Aoki came to Chicago to study experimental filmmaking at the School of the Art Institute and later became a film instructor there.  He has produced more than 30 experimental films, is a noted composer and bassist, and a celebrated shamisen and taiko musician.  In addition, Aoki is the founder-director of the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival.

 Tatsu & Taiko

Aoki is also a tireless advocate for Asian American culture and community through the arts and a leading artist and educator in that community.   Tsukasa Taiko, one of the nation’s most celebrated and recognized Japanese taiko drumming groups, is his brainchild.  Under his guidance, the group has performed everywhere from the Chicago Jazz Festival, to the Poland/Malta International Theatre Festival, to Tokyo Bunka Shutter Hall.  Based at the Japanese American Service Committee, Tsukasa Taiko pursues a range of musical styles, including ozashiki (geisha chamber music), minyo (folk music), and ohayashi (classical/folk/ theater music).  The group is featured on Folksongs of Illinois, vol. 5: Chicago Since 1970 (2013). 


Tats Aoki’s many awards include the Asian American Institute’s Mile Stone Award in 2007, Japan America Society of Chicago’s Cultural Achievement Award in 2010, and the 2010 3Arts Artist Award.