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  • Writer's pictureShea Stanfield

Pay Heed to the Tales

"Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what was once needed for the wise to know." In this spirit, local singer, songwriter, and musician, Ken Koshio realized, early in life, the importance of studying the traditional music of Japan.

Born in Nagoya, Japan, in 1966, Ken grew up with a mixture of Japanese and Western influences. Ken was 13 years old when he became interested in Japanese folk music. He was also a devoted fan of Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young, all moving forward with contemporary folk traditions. Inspired by his "heroes of the 1960's" Ken learned to play the guitar and began composing his music in the style of the Japanese folk tradition. He attended Aichi Gakuen University graduating with his Bachelor's degree in Business. Ken states, "Now 20 years old, I took my show on the road, traveling throughout Japan as a street entertainer. The result was an invitation to participate as a volunteer working in India and Kenya, where he joined rescue operations to help refugees alongside Mother Teresa."

"Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what was once needed for the wise to know."

Ken arrived in the United States for a visit in 1996. During this time, he traveled the country by Greyhound bus taking in the regional cultures and meeting various people throughout the country. In New Orleans, he met the 'Founders of Jazz.' By 1998, Ken had settled in Los Angeles and met his mentor, Phil Chen, a well-known Jamaican bassist. "Phil taught me how to put voice in my music." Again, while volunteering with various causes, Ken also met and collaborated with Sue Kunitomi Embrey, a teacher, activist, and long-time chair of the Manzanar Committee. "Sue was influential in introducing me to the heritage of Japanese American citizens who were held in internment camps during WWII."

A few years later, during the events of 9/11/2001, Ken found himself involved in music and marches. "I founded the "Thousand Cranes Tour," a tour across the U.S., culminating in a concert at Ground Zero on the first anniversary of the event. I brought 10,000 origami cranes that American people folded on the road from L.A. to N.Y. as we traveled old Route 66. The cranes represented prayers for a better and more peaceful world." By 2004, Ken had made Phoenix, Arizona, his home. He learned to play additional Japanese instruments such as the Sanshin, Shamise, Fue, and Taiko.

Ken obtained a Hiroshima Jidaiko (indigenous Taiko drum) teaching certificate in 2015 from the Hiroshima Preservation Society. His training master, Mr. Munakato, was a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing by the United States at the end of WWII. Ken's dedication to performance and building awareness for the indigenous Japanese drumming style was rewarded with a nomination for the Governor's Arts Awards, Artist Category in January 2016. Today Ken Koshio carries on an extensive performance and teaching schedule. He remains committed to passing on the wisdom of his indigenous culture and promoting peace across cultures.



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