Japanese Taiko Drums - Traditional Percussion Instruments

Have you ever heard of Taiko (太鼓)? This word can be literally translated as drum, it is composed with the ideogram (太) which means big, fat, thick and the ideogram (鼓) which means drum, beat and wake up. In Japan the term taiko refers to any type of drum, around the world this word refers to drums and percussion instruments of Japanese origin that in Japan are called wadaiko (和太鼓).

It is believed that taiko emerged around 300-900 with Korean and Chinese cultural influence. There is evidence to suggest their existence in the kofun period (250–538). A mythological story about the origin of taiko appears in Nihon Shoki. According to myth, taiko originated from the Shinto goddess Ame no Uzume, the sunbeam goddess Amaterasu, and her brother Susanoo, the god of the seas and storms.

These drums had different functions during their history, such as military action, communication, theatrical accompaniment, religious ceremony and festival performances. In feudal Japan, taikos were often used to motivate troops, to set a pace of march, and to send out orders or announcements. Drums were incorporated into Japanese theater for rhythmic needs, traditional atmosphere and even decoration.

Taiko - drum - Japanese percussion instruments

Kumi-Daiko - Drum Collection

Something very popular involving taiko is kumi-daiko (組太鼓) which literally means collection of drums. These are presentations performed by groups with different types of drums that date back to 1951 and became popular around the world through festivals and winds of Japanese culture. Taiko performances consist of many components, such as technical rhythm, form, stick grip, clothing, and instrumentation. In addition to drums, many groups use voices and string or wind instruments as accompaniment.

Kumi-daiko groups mainly consist of percussive instruments in which each of the drums plays a specific role. Of the different types of taiko, the drum most used in groups is the nagado-daiko.

In the past, taiko had become a sacred instrument and few could play it, until groups that could play it soon emerged. The groups used to perform at festivals and religious events. Until soon some groups made several changes and created non-religious presentations, some even started to travel the world in a professional way. It is estimated that in Japan there are about 5000 Kumi-daiko, formed both by young people and adults.

These groups are dated from 1951 through the works of Daihachi Oguchi. The most popular are Gocoo, Kodo, Oedo Sukeroku Taiko, Ondekoza and Osuwa Daiko. In Brazil there are more than 100 taiko groups, the most popular are Tangue Setsuko Taiko Dojo, Godaiko, Vitória, Byakko and Setsuo Kinoshita Taiko Group.

Taiko - drum - Japanese percussion instruments

The 4 Principles of Taiko

The beat is loud and fast, and sometimes resembles the japanese martial arts. Artists are not just people beating the drum and dancing the way people imagine. In taiko, artists strive to feel a deeper connection with their drums by practicing 4 principles which are attitude, technique, Kata (form) and Ki (energy).

  • Attitude – Means full attention and characterized by humility and respect;
  • Ki (気) – Energy – The energy in your body and the energy that flows through everything. This principle is also linked to martial arts, it involves connecting with the energy that is being received when playing a taiko;
  • Kata (型) – Form, involves the position your body takes and the posture that can express your wants and intentions. Form involves strength, which is necessary to achieve precision, expressiveness and its connection to the music;
  • Technique – The final tenet of taiko is musical technique. The technique involves controlling the drum, to hit the drum in the right way. It also refers to methods of learning new music;

Of course, these 4 principles involve much more things not mentioned...

Taiko - drum - Japanese percussion instruments

Different types of Taiko drums

There are several types of Japanese drums, we will list some below:

  • Shime Daiko : With only 15 cm in diameter, it emits a more acute sound;;
  • Okedo Daiko : Medium size with 50cm in diameter;
  • Odaiko : The biggest existing one with 84 cm in diameter, emits serious sound;
  • Hira-Daiko : The diameter is much larger than the height of the drum;
  • Nagado-Daiko : With 2 layers of animal skin attached to the drum fees;
  • Naname : This taiko is in the diagonal position;
  • Tekkan : Metallic percussion instrument with three tonal variations;
  • Byou daiko : Bodies carved from a single piece of wood;

There are a few other instruments and drum models that could be mentioned in the list, but they end up falling into some of the aforementioned categories.

Taiko - drum - Japanese percussion instruments

The artigo is still half finished, but we recommend opening it to read the following later:

Curiosities involving the Taiko

  • The Japanese group Kodo sometimes used fundoshi for their performances;
  • A very popular rhythm game in Japan involving these drums is called Taiko no Tatsujin;
  • Jiuchi (地うち) – A basic rhythm to support the main rhythm;
  • The wooden sticks used to play taiko are called bachi;
  • Kuchi shoga is the name of a spoken rhythm system for taiko;
  • Many parts developed by Ondekoza and Kodo are considered standards in many groups;

There are many other curiosities surrounding these Japanese drums, but my knowledge is somewhat limited in this area. Have you ever watched a presentation? What is your experience? Know more trivia to add? We appreciate the shares and comments. Finally, here are some videos:

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