Amazing Traditional Japanese drum (Taiko)

Taiko is a Japanese drum or a percussion instrument. Taiko has been used for a ceremony and a festival at a Shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple, because sounds of taiko were thought to be voice of gods. Recently taiko is becoming popular among foreign countries.

History of taiko

It is said that taiko existed 3000 years ago. In those days, they were used as a way of communication. For example, drumming represented time of the day. At dawn, the taiko was beaten once. At noon, twice. At sunset, 3 times. When a storm came, taiko were used to alarm people.

In the 15th and 16th century, Japan was split into dozens of independent states constantly at war. Samurais used taiko to take the leadership of the home ground. The beat of taiko synchronizes the beat of human heart. The taiko were used as the God tool to encourage oneself and ally and to bring courage, hope, and victory.

In the 17th and 18th century, Japan became peaceful, taiko were used in various entertainments. In Kabuki, which is one of theatrical arts, beating patterns are systematized with scenes as sound effects. For example, some drumming patterns are used to express rain, snow, and thunder. The sound also represented the thing that transcends a human being, such as a ninja and a ghost.

Taiko have been used as various forms in each era.

■ Basic way of drumming

Standing position
①Your step should be  slightly wider than the width of the taiko.
②Your right foot should be placed at one step behind.
③Adjust your position where you stretch out your arms, and drumsticks come to the center of the drum-skin.

How to hit
You should hit the point of 4 centimeters from the edge. It is important to beat with drumsticks softly and relax. Strong beating may cause a muscular pain and corns at your hands.

■ Components of taiko

Most of drumsticks are made of Japanese cypress wood which is rather soft and produces warm sounds. Some drumsticks are made of oak wood. Oak is hard material, and tough and durable. They can produce sound with their own weight, so they are suitable from beginners to professionals.
A drum-skin is usually made of the skin of an ox or a horse.
A drum-trunk is made of wood such as Zelkova and pine. Zelkova is Japanese native tree and is hard and heavy. It produces sound with the depth. Pine is lightweight and soft and produces deep sound. It is not suitable to be beaten the drum-trunk.
Tacks are used to fix a drum-trunk and skin. An average sized drum has from 100 to 140 tacks.
A part of the handle. It is usually ornamented.

■Popular rhythm

Jin daiko
The Jin daiko has been played by sumurai to encourage themselves before a fight.
The rhythm starts slowly, and it gradually becomes up-beat.
Bon daiko
Bon festival dance is held as a Japanese summer feature in each place of the whole country from July to September. The Bon daiko is indispensable to a festival and Bon festival dance.
The rhythm harmonizes with a Bon dance song.

A Taiko festival is held at Narita-san Shinshoji temple in the middle of April every year.
About 800 players drum taiko at the same time as a large orchestra. It is worth seeing.

Eddy Murayama, a member of iTWS japan LLP

Eddy Murayama

Japan has many attractive things such as beautiful nature, unique culture and Japanese food.
I would like to introduce charms of Japan to many people.