In ancient times, taiko was used throughout Japan to signal activities in a village. Boundaries were established within earshot of the village taiko. Commands and movements on the battlefield were coordinated through the use of taiko. The most common utilization of taiko was for religious and cultural purposes. Taiko was used in gagaku or imperial court music, at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, ceremonial rites during festivals and Obon festivals.
TAIKO – A PERFORMING ART
Taiko in the form of a performing art originated in the early 1950’s in Japan. Jazz drummer Daihachi Oguchi created ensemble drumming or kumidaiko by arranging music for a group of performers playing on multiple drums. Oguchi’s group, Osuwa Daiko, started performing in 1951. Several years later in 1959, other well-known performing artists formed Yushima Tenjin Sukeroku Daiko and its offshoot, Oedo Sukeroku Daiko. The dynamic performing style of the Sukeroku groups, including the slanted drum stand, has influenced many taiko groups.
Taiko groups flourished in Japan in the 1970’s due to government funding to encourage preservation of cultural assets such as local festivals. Many communities used the funds to establish community taiko groups, resulting in thousands of groups throughout Japan. Taiko continued to grow in Japan with the founding of Za Ondekoza in 1969 and its offshoot Kodo in 1981. These groups are credited with bringing Japanese taiko to worldwide audiences.
TAIKO IN NORTH AMERICA
The founding of three American taiko groups in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s greatly influenced the growth of taiko in North America. Kumidaiko made its way to the United States with the founding of San Francisco Taiko Dojo by Seiichi Tanaka in 1968. Tanaka studied with Osuwa Daiko and Oedo Sukeroku Daiko, introduced many people to the art form, and is considered the father of North American taiko. A year later, Kinnara Taiko, a Japanese-American Buddhist taiko group with its roots in festival drumming was formed in Los Angeles. Kinnara Taiko developed techniques to build taiko out of oak wine barrels, allowing groups to acquire reasonably-priced instruments. San Jose Taiko was established in 1973. San Jose Taiko has enhanced the art form by incorporating traditional Japanese and world rhythms in its music, and blending dance and movement in its performances.