Ray Nitta and Taiko Kaua`i drums. Photo by Kat Ho and students of Hale Opio
by Anne E. O’Malley
Ray Nitta is one fit fellow for quite a few reasons. As a woodworker, he handles downed tree trunks and huge wood slabs and turns them into, say, koa or mango tables that might weigh up to 300 lb. each — just to use one example.
Of course, as he says, “A lot of moving is knowing how to manipulate large pieces. You’ve got to use levers and wheels and pulleys and find different ways.”
Lean and muscled, at 5 ft. 8 in. and weighing 130 lb., Nitta says, “I’m in constant movement. I do qigong exercises, bike, and do lots of walking, ocean swimming and stand-up paddle boarding.”
And he does taiko.
When the Rev. Earl Ikeda of the Honpa Hongwanji in Waimea approached Nitta in the middle of 2000 and asked him to start a taiko group, Nitta, who’d been exposed to it, accepted.
Nitta didn’t know he’d wind up assisting in the making of perhaps 100 drums for taiko here and see the sprouting of a number of taiko groups including the one he helped start, Taiko Kaua`i.
He’d made drums of other kinds, beautiful ones with carvings on them, and even wrote directions on how to make a particular drum. The directions were printed in Gamesmag, published by a place he’d taught in Berkeley.
Somehow, those directions made it into the Whole Earth Catalog and Nitta received inquiries from all over the world. A friend visiting Australia actually saw a drum in a shop there with a sign that said, “Designed by Ray Nitta.”