Japan’s Rolling Thunder: The Taiko Drum

Taiko performance near Nagoya Castle. The Giant Taiko drum in the back has a length of 240cm, and a diameter of 240cm in the center and 195cm at the ends. The drum was made out of a single piece of wood of a 1200 year old tree, and weighs about 3 tons.

Anyone familiar with Japanese culture has heard the Taiko Drum. I also like to refer to it as “rolling thunder”. Why? Maybe you’ve never heard one…

“Taiko (太鼓?) means “drum” in Japanese (etymologically “great” or “wide drum”). Outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums, (和太鼓, “wa-daiko”, “Japanese drum”, in Japanese) and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming (sometimes called more specifically, “kumi-daiko” (組太鼓)). The performances can last between 5 and 25 minutes and typically follow a jo-ha-kyū (beginning, middle, end/rapid, sudden, urgent, and emergency) structure, which means the performance will speed up significantly towards the grand finale.” -Wikipedia

If you weren’t paying attention, let me highlight part of what you just read, “The performances can last between 5 and 25 minutes“. Twenty-five minutes?! These guys are not playing pop songs or trying to showoff their snazzy outfits. These are dedicated and disciplined human drumming machines with an insane endurance one can only be in awe of.

A photo I took of a Taiko street performance a few winters ago.

From wikipedia:

Yayoi period (500 BCE – 300 CE)
The various drums of taiko are of Chinese origin and were brought to Japan between the Yayoi period (500 BCE – 300 CE). Along with the martial use of the drums, they also held a strong foundation in the court style music called Gagaku, performed in the castles and shrines across ancient Japan. Gagaku alone is one of the oldest styles of court music that is still being played in the world today.

Uses of the taiko in warfare
In feudal Japan, taiko were often used to motivate troops, to help set a marching pace, and to call out orders or announcements. Approaching or entering a battle, the taiko yaku (drummer) was responsible for setting the marching pace, usually with six paces per beat of the drum (beat-2-3-4-5-6, beat-2-3-4-5-6).

According to one of the historical chronicles (the Gunji Yoshu), nine sets of five beats would summon an ally to battle, while nine sets of three beats, sped up three or four times is the call to advance and pursue an enemy.[1]

You can’t forget about the mythology either.

The Sun goddess emerging out of a cave, bringing sunlight back to the universe

According to myth, taiko was started by Ame no Uzume, a shaman-like female deity. One day, fed up with her cruel younger brother, Amaterasu, the sun goddess, hid herself in a cave. The world became pitch dark and the other deities tried to appease Amaterasu, so that world be bright again. They held a big party in front of the cave and Ame no Uzume danced an erotic dance, stamping her feet on a wooden tub. The gods laughed and cheered loudly and the noise provoked Amaterasu to come out her cave. And thus, the world saw light again.

Okay now that’s outta the way here’s what really inspired this latest entry. I dare you to watch this and not be impressed by their stamina alone, especially Eitetsu Hayashi’s.

An amazing collaboration between the master of taiko and shamisen.

Eitetsu Hayashi

“Hayashi Eitetsu is a master of the “wadaiko”, a type of taiko drum. His innovative drumming techniques redefined the use of this traditional Japanese instrument, and has made him well-known beyond Japan’s borders. A prolific artist, he has worked in television, film, and in live performances throughout the world. Among his film credits is the 1985 animated film Kamui no ken (1985) (Dagger of Kamui).

He founded two musical groups devoted to the wadaiko: Sado-Ondekoza in 1971, and Kodo in 1982. In 1982 he left Kodo to embark on a solo career. He made a live performace in 1984 at New York’s Carnegie Hall, the first taiko drummer to do so. He has collaborated with many artists around the world, spanning different musical genres, including jazz.” – IMDB

* * *


“Shin’ichi Kinoshita is considered the best in a new generation of players of Japan’s Tsugaru-shamisen, an instrument akin to a three-string banjo. At 39 years old he is considered a pioneer in shamisen-playing. That’s thanks to his marriage of centuries-old rhythms to jazz and rock. Since releasing two albums simultaneously in 2001, Kinoshita has established himself in Japan and beyond, where he has earned the nickname of the man with “divine hands”.” – MondoMix.com

Keep in mind true Japanese artisans dedicate their lives to their crafts in order to be true masters. Training for most disciplines takes at least ten years no matter what you want to pursue.

Next week I’ll see what I find on the Shamisen but for now enjoy another video.


Author: hikikomori78

American Hikikomori is an upcoming short film that explores the emotional struggles of a Japanese teenager named Isamu Fujihara, when he moves to America.

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