Outside of Japan the word “taiko” or “wa-daiko’” (“Japanese drum” in Japanese) is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming, which is sometimes called more specifically “kumi-daiko”. Taiko drumming is a combination of percussion, dance and martial arts mixed with power, speed and synchronous movement…resulting in an awe-inspiring experience.
Between seven and ten thousand years ago, in the Jomon Period, simple taiko beats would be used to signal that a storm was coming and everyone should find shelter. The taiko drums were a way of calling out to the whole village at one time to relay certain messages or to call a village meeting. The taiko were also used as a means to pray for rain and for a successful harvest, as well as to strike fear into an enemy before battle. Since that time, taiko has been a deeply rooted aspect of Japanese history and culture. Unlike other ‘high-cultural’ art forms such as the Kabuki, Noh Dancing or Tea Ceremony, Taiko culture is community-based, and the most widely practiced ‘popular-cultural’ art form in contemporary Japanese society.
In the modern era, taiko drumming was revolutionized and made popular by Grandmaster Daihachi Oguchi, who is noted as the person who created the original performance art of taiko drumming when he established his own performance group in 1952. The dynamic style that he created eventually grew to incorporate the three distinct components of percussion, martial arts and dance, which are interwoven with kakegoe (voice), kata (form), and waza (technique) to create a highly sophisticated form of solo and ensemble performance. Since 1952, Grandmaster Oguchi travelled extensively to teach many the art of kumi-daiko (ensemble drumming).
Taiko is played as part of local festivals in virtually every district throughout Japan, and local Taiko masters have passed on its techniques orally for many hundreds of years. Most performers at such festivals are non-professional, local residents, and many of them are school children. Taiko plays a strong role in promoting a sense of community, and cultivating teamwork skills among the local residents.
Over the last fifty years, Taiko has become internationally recognized as a performance art, and many contemporary drumming groups have been formed both in Japan and in many other countries. There are more than 8,000 Taiko groups in Japan, and several of them conduct international tours.