What is taiko?

Japanese Ensemble Drumming

Taiko (Japanese ensemble drumming) requires individual focus as well as teamwork. Self-discipline, cooperation, and concentration are key elements of the art form.  Playing taiko requires implementing mindful practices that enhance the creative process and artistic expression.  

Taiko drumming is irresistible fun - and easy to learn. It is a perfect venue for learning about culture, music, performance art, team building, and personal growth. Taiko provides immediate feedback about success, and creates a rich environment for interaction, learning, and creativity. While taiko requires personal effort and growth, it simultaneously creates a sense of community and purpose due to the nature of ensemble drumming. Every person’s part matters to the whole group’s success.

Odaiko Sonora is Tucson, Arizona's taiko group.  They describe taiko in the following way:

Taiko is the artistic, powerful, and physically demanding discipline of ensemble drumming. Famous taiko groups include Shidara, Kodo, Tao, and Yamato from Japan. San Jose Taiko and the San Francisco Taiko Dojo are popular in the United States. 

Taiko first began in ancient Japan as a form of communication. It was also used on the battlefield to coordinate troops and intimidate the enemy. The Japanese also used, and still use taiko in Kabuki theatre to accompany singers and actors. 

According to Daihachi Oguchi, the father of modern taiko, about four thousand years ago, in the Jomon period, taiko was used to signal various activities in a village. It is said that the boundaries of a village could extend only as far the taiko could be heard, so a larger drum meant a larger village. Simple beats signaled that the hunters were setting out, or that a storm was coming and people needed to bring in the meat and fruits they had drying. 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. As the Shinto and Buddhist religions developed in Japan, this custom remained. (Adapted from Rolling Thunder taiko resource website)

In modern times, taiko is no longer the realm of holy men and warriors. It has developed into a performing art in its own right. However, this has been a relatively recent development; modern taiko traces its roots only to the 1950’s. Daihachi Oguchi is credited with forming the first taiko kumi, or group, Osuwa Daiko. Just 50 years after Oguchi put his first group together, taiko is booming worldwide, testament to the universal appeal of these powerful drums. American taiko groups have sprung up all over the country since the art form first came to this country in the 1960’s. Although American taiko began in the Japanese-American community, many people who play taiko now do not have any Asian heritage. It’s interesting to note that roughly 20% of taiko players in Japan are women.  In the U.S., that figure is closer to 80%.  North American taiko groups perform both traditional

Japanese folk pieces and contemporary pieces that blend taiko with other art forms including flamenco, interpretive dance, and good old American rock and roll.

The word “taiko” refers both to the drums themselves and to the art form. Traditional Japanese taiko range in size from one foot to six feet in diameter and are made of hollowed out tree trunks. In the United States, taiko are more commonly made from wine barrels. Taiko skins are leather and are held in place with byou, or nails. There are many types of taiko drums and styles that are used in performances including: chu daiko, shime, okedo and odaiko...naname, yatai, yodan, myoke, hachijo and uchiwa.

Taiko performances also typically include additional percussion instruments like the chappa, mokugyo, kane, and hyotan. The fue and shinobue are flutes that accompany many songs.


Learn More

Check out these videos to see taiko in action!

Odaiko Sonora performs "Asobi"(Play!) at the 2019 Phoenix Matsuri

San Jose Taiko plays "Spirit of Adventure"

KODO is popular world-wide for their performances.  They live and train on Sado Island in Japan.

Shidara is a Japanese group that performs throughout the world.  They are known for their precision and high-spirited performances. 

Drum Tao - Energetic, athletic, powerful professional Japanese performance group.  See them at Centennial Hall on April 5, 2020!!!

Yamato - The Drummers of Japan

Professional taiko group

Seattle Cherry Blossom Festival - student group performance

Taiko Arcade game - Wow!

To learn more about  Odaiko Sonora, Tucson's taiko group, click the button below!