Japanese Culture Teaching Notes



"Taiko" in general is often used to mean the relatively modern art of Japanese drum ensembles (kumi-daiko), but the word actually refers to the taiko drums themselves. Literally, taiko means "fat drum," although there is a vast array of shapes and sizes of taiko. Borrowing on thousands of years of tradition, taiko groups are now taking the style worldwide.

Taiko in Japanese History
The exact history of Japanese Taiko remains shrouded in speculation. The oldest physical evidence of taiko in Japan is a haniwa clay figure of a drummer that dates from the sixth or seventh century. However,since the first instruments in any society tend to be percussion instruments, it would not be out of the question for taiko (as we know them today) to have been used in Japan for well over 2000 years.

Japanese taiko as we know them today bear strong resemblance to Chinese and Korean instruments, which were probably introduced in the waves of Korean and Chinese cultural influence from 300-900 AD. It has been speculated that the predecessor of the tsuzumi style of taiko may come from as far as India, and came to Japan along with Buddhism. However, the waves of cultural influence stopped for the most part around the year 900, and development from that point can basically be attributed to native Japanese craftsmen. Taiko, although continuing to bear similarities to Chinese and Korean drums, have evolved into unique Japanese instruments.

One of the first uses of taiko was as a battlefield instrument; used to intimidate and scare the enemy - a use to which drums have been put in many cultures. Taiko were definitely used in battle to issue commands and coordinate movements by the 1500's; the taiko being the only instrument that could be heard across the entire battlefield. According to picture scrolls and painted screens of the time, one soldier would carry the taiko lashed to a backpack-like frame, while two other soldiers would beat the taiko, on each side.

In addition to the martial aspect, taiko have always been used in the most refined cultural settings as well. Gagaku music was introduced to Japan in the Nara periord (697-794) along with Buddhism, and was quickly adopted as the imperial court music. Gagaku is the oldest continually played court music in the world, and it is still being performed. The taiko used for Gagaku are some of the most elegant and beautifully decorated of all Japanese instruments.

The rumbling power of the taiko has also been long been associated with the gods, and has been appropriated by the religions of Japan. According to Daihachi Oguchi of Osuwa-daiko, about four thousand years ago, in the Jomon period , taiko was used for to signal various activities in the village. Simple taiko beats would be used to signal that the hunters were setting out, or to signal that a storm was coming and that the women needed to bring in the meat and fruits they had drying. While there is no direct physical evidence to support this claim, Megumi Ochi, curator of the Taiko Kan Museum, believes this to be true since other cultures exhibit the same behavior. Because these signals were so important to the flow of daily life, the people were very thankful of the taiko, and began to believe that the taiko was inhabited by a god.
As this belief developed, only the holy men were allowed to beat the taiko, and as the Shinto and Buddhist religions developed in Japan, this custom remained. Thus the only instruments to be found in Shrines and Temples were taiko. One consequence of this association of taiko with religion was that taiko were played only on special occasions, and only by men who were granted special permission by the priests. All through this time, taiko were played singly, or in certain instances in pairs. Taiko ensembles were only developed much later.

Taiko has continued to find a place in religious ceremonies, both Buddhist and Shinto, and it is extremely common to find taiko in both temples and shrines. Some Buddhist sects use taiko to represent the voice of Buddha, and Bon dancing in summer is centered around Buddhist rites. It was used in village Shinto rites to offer up prayers to the Gods. In addition, the village festivals were celebrated with the sound of drumming. These festivals developed a rich body of traditional taiko rhythms which are a now a never ending source of inspiration to modern players.

Modern Taiko History
Taiko as it is performed today, as an ensemble (kumi-daiko), is a post war phenomenon which was born in Showa 26 (1951). Daihachi Oguchi, who created the kumi-daiko style, is given much of the credit for the current taiko boom. Oguchi was a jazz drummer, who happened upon a old piece of taiko music. Deciding to perform the old music for the Osuwa shrine, Oguchi "jazzed it up" as he arranged it. Coming from a jazz background, he wondered why taiko were never played together, and broke with tradition by assembling a taiko drum ensemble.

This dynamic and propulsive kumi-daiko style was an instant hit, and many groups were formed in the Hokuriku region of Japan. Groups would often play at hot springs for the entertainment of the guests. By 1957 the Hokuriku Odaiko Enthusiasts Association was formed, and the Hokuriku Taiko Association was founded the following year. The advent of Japanese television brought exposure and more popularity to the style.

Taiko got a boost in the 1970's when the Japanese Government authorized funds to help preserve the intangible cultural assets that were slowly vanishing in the post-war era. Many local communities used some of the monies they received to start community taiko groups. The end result is that it is estimated that there are over 4,000 taiko groups in Japan.

In 1969 Tagayasu Den founded Za Ondekoza on Sado Island in Japan. Collecting a group of dedicated youths disaffected with modern big city life, he created a new kind of taiko group totally dedicated to taiko drumming as a way of life. Rigorous training, including daily marathon running, and communal living forged powerful taiko performances that have awed the world. The original members of Za Ondekoza went on to form Kodo in 1981 after splitting with Den, who started a new Za Ondekoza.

Kodo has gone on to international fame, becoming perhaps the best know taiko group outside of Japan.

Posted by ・Andrea :: 10:54 PM :: 0 Comments:

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