“Taiko” Japanese for “big drums” refers to instruments that come in many sizes, varieties and sounds. It is the modern art of traditional Japanese group ensemble drumming that uses martial art-like movements and “ki-ais” shouting to encourage high energy. Performances last between 5 – 25 minutes and typically follow a “jo-ha-kyu” (beginning, middle, end/rapid, sudden, urgent) structure, which means it will speed up significantly towards the grand finale. The drums are primarily struck with sticks called “bachi”.
Uchite (Taiko drummer) can wear loose fitting happi (short coat), with an obi (belt), hachimaki (headband), and tabi (shoes with big toe separated). The crest, symbolizing Taiko, stands for thunder and might be seen on their clothing and/or drums.
The roots of Taiko drumming date back 1400 years and illustrations of their use were found on ancient painted screens. It is believed the drums were battlefield instruments intended to intimidate and scare the enemy. A single soldier would carry the taiko lashed to a backpack-like frame, while two others – one on either side – would beat the drum.
Fast forward to Japan, 1951 and to Daihachi Oguchi, the Grand Master of modern taiko. He was the jazz drummer responsible for the now popular style where a number of players with taiko drums of different sizes and sounds created an orchestra of taiko. Oguchi was the founder of the first taiko ensemble in Japan as well as of 200 other groups in Singapore and Canada.
Taiko’s arrival to the U.S. was in 1968 via Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka. He opened the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, the first school dedicated to taiko teaching. “Dojo” means place to learn the way. Tanaka believed the essence of Taiko is not only skillful playing of percussion instruments, but also discipline of mind and body in the spirit of complete respect and unity among drummers. Tanaka hoped the word “taiko” like “karate” and “sushi” would one day become and integral part of American vocabulary. Today, there are 400 taiko groups thought-out the US.
Fushu Daiko, an outstanding taiko group has their dojo in our own backyard, in Dania Beach, Florida. To learn more about them, visit http://www.fushudaiko.org.
The group is well known by Morikami Museum visitors because they participation in most Japanese festivals held there.
Fusho Daiko is the main attractions at the yearly Obon Festival (in which the dead are revered) held every August at the Morkikami. Mark your calendar’s for next year’s performance, you will not be disappointed.