What is Taiko?
Taiko (alternatively spelled as “Wadaiko” for “和太鼓”) is a Japanese word meaning drum or drumming. Traditional drumming in Japan can be traced back to ancient times. Drums were used for festivals, rituals, and even for wars to encourage soldiers. There are many festival performances and folk art demonstrations using drums as well as singing, dancing, and other instruments such as the fue (bamboo flute) or the kane (cymbals). Taiko exists throughout Japan, and each district has developed its own unique rhythm and style.
Begun in the 1950s, the ensemble style of taiko performance is relatively new. It has become popular, particularly in the late 80’s. Today, more than 5,000 groups play taiko in Japan.
Some taiko groups are professional art organizations, some are local recreational organizations, and others are collegiate taiko groups organized by university students. There are also a lot of children’s taiko groups. Starting in 2003, elementary and middle schools in Japan began to teach taiko to children.
Taiko performance has also become popular in the United States and Canada with the first taiko groups starting on the west coast by the late 60s. Now there are more than 150 taiko groups in North America. and the number is increasing every year!
The first taiko groups in the US started mainly by Japanese Americans who were searching for a way to express their cultural identity. Now, many Japanese and Asian-Americans are involved in Taiko. However, taiko is not only for Japanese or Asians but it is open to anybody who shares its joy.
Fun Facts about Taiko:
- The oldest physical evidence of taiko in Japan is a clay figure of a drummer that dates from the sixth or seventh century. Originally associated with Buddhism, the drums were used in Imperial court music beginning in the 11th century, and over the years were incorporated into a variety of festivals and religious rites.
- The boundaries of the village were often defined by the distance which a taiko drum could be heard. People who could hear a given drum were regarded as part of that community.
- They were used in battles to signal soldiers and rouse them to fight or to scare away the enemy. Simple taiko beats would be used to signal that the hunters were setting out or to signal that a storm was coming.
- Taiko in rural villages originally began as a way for silkworm producers to scare off birds and was used in religious observance to thank the gods for delivering the rice harvest.