Taiko Crafts from Recycled Plastic Caps and Wine Corks

I love taiko and I love making things from recycled materials. It’s great when these two passions come together!!

My taiko group Nen Daiko is very busy getting ready for our summer festival, called Obon, which takes place at Ekoji Buddhist Temple on July 9. Obon is a Buddhist festival to commemorate ancestors. It is also an opportunity to watch amazing taiko, eat delicious Japanese and Hawaiian food and dance traditional community dances.

I volunteered to be on the organizing committee because I hoped we could try new things – specifically, I hoped we could offer more creative activities for participants. I was hoping we could have more making at this event!

I designed activities from recycled materials for Obon with these goals in mind:

  • ensure the craft designs are in alignment with the cultural aspects of the event
  • use recycled materials to keep costs low (or zero!)
  • use recycled materials to send a message to participants about creative reuse
  • diversify fundraising into new income streams – this is after all the main fundraiser of the year for the temple

Did you ever think about how making crafts out of trash is a GREAT idea when it comes to fundraising? The whole community comes together to divert these items from their trash stream. Everyone becomes acquainted with this mindset that if it is colorful, clean and durable, it can probably become something else.

I’ll write about the other activities soon, but this blog is about our taiko player craft. This was the first one I designed.

This adorable craft is made by drilling plastic caps. Then you use one pipe cleaner (chenille stems) to form:

  • one full pipe cleaner is the spine and legs
  • a half pipe cleaner is the arms
  • 2 small bits of brown pipe cleaner are the bachi or drum sticks

I chose this color palette of white, black and purple because that is the colors of my taiko group, Nen Daiko.

The first version I made shows the taiko player with a taiko that sits on the floor. The taiko is made from a single serve yogurt container. I liked this design because the taiko player can stand up. The drum acts as a third leg. A half pipe cleaner connects them. But the challenge was that I only had about 20 of these containers. When I asked friends to collect them for me, very few came. I think most people throw these in the garbage rather than wash out the yogurt left in the container. So I needed to design a new version that was not dependent on the yogurt container.

Taiko player craft with single-serve yogurt as drum

Taiko player craft with single-serve yogurt as drum

That’s when I designed a version with an okedo. An Okedo is a drum that has the two heads tied on. The central core is often smaller than the heads. I made this version with a wine cork and two flat caps.

Taiko player craft from recycled plastic caps - playing okedo

Taiko player craft from recycled plastic caps – playing okedo

It takes a lot more drilling and sewing, but it’s really cute!

So now that we had a prototype of the craft, it was time to prep the materials for Obon. My plan is to drill enough caps for at least 150 people to make the craft. Since we have never offered crafts like this before, we don’t know how many folks would like to do it – so that’s a guess.

I keep collections of plastic caps cleaned and sorted by color. I pulled out the caps for this craft and it looked like this:

Plastic caps to be drilled for taiko player craft

Plastic caps to be drilled for taiko player craft

Yikes! That is a lot of caps to drill!

So I have drilled a lot of caps in my life. The largest amount was for the NoVA Maker Faire when we made cap-erpillars. I also made a Halloween costume of a globe all from drilled plastic caps. I drilled all those caps with a hand drill. And it was probably not that safe really. I held the cap in my left hand and drilled with my right. Plus it was tiring on my right shoulder.

My friend Jeff Hanlon has been bugging me for years to buy a drill press, and I don’t know why I resisted. They are not that expensive. Maybe I thought – oh this is my last plastic cap design – ha!

Anyhow, this week, I finally bought one!!! My husband Bob, who I have noted is a genius, designed a very cool set-up to protect my fingers. He drilled circles in a piece of wood that were the same size as the caps in the craft. He even designed a little metal arm that rotates over the hole to hold the cap in there while drilling.

I thought the cap might just spin around and the hole wouldn’t happen, but it works fantastically! I just pop in the cap, swing over the arm, drill the hole, push up from the bottom and pop out the cap. MUCH safer for my fingers.

So I’m very excited to prepare my taiko craft people for Obon. I hope if you live anywhere near Washington DC, you can come and make one yourself!

Drilling plastic caps with a drill press - safety set-up

Drilling plastic caps with a drill press – safety set-up

Drill press with safety set-up for drilling plastic caps

Drill press with safety set-up for drilling plastic caps



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