What is Taiko?

Originating thousands of years ago in China and Korea, the taiko made its way across the Sea of Japan where it soon became linked to the lives of people in the farming and fishing communities of rural Japan. The taiko signalled the onset of war and was used to implore the gods for a plentiful harvest. It found an important role in gagaku, or court music, and taiko also became a significant part of Shinto and Buddhist ceremonies, often resonating as the voice of Buddha.

Even today, the sound of the taiko permeates all of Japan.  During matsuri, or festival time, streets are filled with huge crowds carrying the festive omikoshi, or portable shrines, to the thunderous pulse of the great drums. Presently there are thousands (some estimate more than 8000!) of taiko groups in Japan, but undoubtedly the most famous is the professional group, Kodo, who live communally on Sado Island. Members of Kodo follow a strictly regimented life-long training and practice schedule, resulting in awe-inspiring performances that leave audiences around the world breathless. Many other groups have been inspired and pursue a path and keep pushing their limits, both musically and physically.

In post-World War II Japan there occurred a renaissance of traditional Japanese arts, and taiko has since achieved unprecedented popularity, both in Japan and throughout the world. Although the sound of the drum is still of utmost importance, this new style of taiko incorporates a visual element, adding choreography, costumes and attitude. This approach to taiko performance, adopted by most North American groups today, is known as kumi-daiko, or group playing, and was first brought to San Francisco from Japan in 1968 by Seiichi Tanaka. Canada’s first taiko group, Vancouver’s Katari Taiko, was formed in 1979.

Taiko‘s ever-growing popularity in Canada and the United States has resulted in taiko conferences, held every second year in California or in other states on the West Coast. Groups from all over North America, Europe, and Japan gathered in since 1997 for this event where over 600 taiko enthusiasts congregated to participate in workshops, discussion groups, taiko jams and performances. As huge as these gatherings are, one can sense a true taiko community – an extended family of drummers where everyone from beginner to seasoned taiko veteran is welcome.

This was only a brief introduction to taiko; if you would like to learn more on the subject, please consult some of the other great sources of taiko information on the web, some of which are mentioned on our “Links” page.