Drumming For the Mouse: Kumidaiko and the Exhibition of “Japan” at Walt Disney World

University of Pittsburgh, 2009

Performing at Walt Disney World as often as six times a day, seven days a week, the kumidaiko group Matsuriza has the unique opportunity to expose thousands of people per day to the world of Japanese taiko. Simultaneously, the group serves as an ambassador of sorts for Japan, representing the country within a section of the Epcot theme park known as World Showcase. Their performance space is the Japan pavilion, part of a modern day World’s Fair that seeks to introduce tourists to various cultures from around the world.

Matsuriza’s participation in Disney’s World’s Fair is not without its consequences, however. The group must grapple with issues of commoditization, authenticity, and representation in Walt Disney World that have long caught the eyes of scholars. At the same time, the group must deal with the expectations of the tourists that have come to Epcot, expectations that are fueled in part by the atmosphere created by the Walt Disney Company.

Due to this confluence of issues, kumidaiko at Walt Disney World as performed by Matsuriza is a reified art form, static and unchanging. Taiko is discussed by group members using a discourse that adheres to the sense of Japan created within the pavilion, and repertoire and performance practice are modified so as to not disrupt the atmosphere that has been created. Even as kumidaiko continues to grow and evolve outside of Epcot’s borders, within the theme park it is simply another exhibit on display for the paying tourist in the museum of culture that is World Showcase.

Available for viewing at D-Scholarship@Pitt.