Taiko History: Japan
Taiko (太鼓) is the Japanese word for drum. The exact history of Japanese Taiko is not known, however there are some educational guesses of how taiko started. The oldest physical evidence of taiko in Japan is a haniwa clay figure of a drummer that dates from the 6th or 7th century. However, since the first instruments in any society tend to be percussion instruments, taiko may have been used in Japan for well over 2000 years. Japanese taiko as we know them today resemble Chinese and Korean instruments. It was probably introduced to Japan in the waves of Korean and Chinese cultural influence from 300-900 AD. One of the first uses of taiko was as a battlefield instrument; used to intimidate and scare the enemy. Taiko were definitely used in battle to issue commands and coordinate movements by the 1500's; the taiko being the only instrument that could be heard across the entire battlefield. In addition to the war aspect, taiko have always been used in cultural settings as well; like in temples and festivals. Gagaku music was introduced to Japan in the Nara periord (697-794) along with Buddhism, and was quickly adopted as the imperial court music. The rumbling power of the taiko has also been long been associated with the gods, and has been appropriated by the religions of Japan. Only the holy men were allowed to beat the taiko, and as the Shinto and Buddhist religions developed in Japan, this custom remained. Simple taiko beats may have been used to signal that the hunters were setting out, or to signal that a storm was coming and that the women needed to bring in the meat and fruits they had drying. However there is no evidence of this. Modern Taiko History: Japan "Kumi-daiko" literally means a taiko ensemble that consists of various taikos. The Kumi-daiko style was invented in 1951 by Daihachi Oguchi, the founder of Osuwa Daiko. He was actually a jazz drummer whom was inspired by a western drum set. Oguchi formed a group in which each player beats a different taiko; in short, he gave the group a function as a drum set. Oguchi went on to lead the influential Osuwa Daiko, and spread his exciting taiko style throughout Japan, and then throughout the world. Another taiko pioneer was Sukeroku Daiko, whose playing style was based on Edo-bayshi rhythms. In 1959, a group called Yushima Tenjin Sukeroku Daiko was founded under the Yushima Tenjin shrine. The four founding members were: Yoshihisa Ishikura, Yutaka Ishizuka (who received the stage name Saburo Mochizuki), Seido Kobayashi, and Motoei Onozato (who received the stage name Kiyonari Tosha). Sukeroku Daiko created a dynamic performing style emphasizing speed, fluidity and power that is highly emulated. They also brought a strong sense of choreography and flashy solos to the growing taiko movement. In 1969 Tagayasu Den founded Za Ondekoza on Sado Island in Japan. He collected a group of youths to create a new kind of taiko group totally dedicated to taiko drumming as a way of life. The end result is that it is estimated that there are over 4,000 taiko groups in Japan.
Modern Taiko History: USA
Taiko drumming for Bon Odori was established in Hawaii as early as 1910, and the Kanazawa Kenjinkai brought taiko to San Francisco as early as the 1930's. The tradition use of taiko drums was well established in Japanese-American communities in North America until World War II. Once the war was over, many Japanese tried to assimilate into US culture, and lost their language and culture. In 1968, Seiichi Tanaka brought the exciting kumi-daiko style to the States. Seiichi Tanaka formed the first North American taiko group; the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. Tanaka eventually went on to form the "Tanaka style" which is a combination of Oedo Sukeroku, Osuwa Daiko and Gojinjyo-daiko styles. Kinnara Taiko of Los Angeles was founded the following year, in 1969, creating a uniquely American hybrid - Japanese American Buddhist taiko. San Jose Taiko followed in 1973, focusing on making taiko a Japanese American art form. Recently taiko players have been using a combination of jazz and pop incorporated with the drums. Taiko has continued to grow in popularity in both Japan and throughout the world.
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Header images taken from the Asian American E-Zine.