shimeThe Japanese art of Taiko (太鼓) drumming – or wadaiko (和太鼓) as it is called in Japan – is a dynamic combination of choreography, fluidity, power and rhythm using a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments. The modern form of Taiko is known as kumi-daiko (組太鼓, lit. “drum collection”) and consists of many components in technical rhythm, form, stick grip, clothing, and the particular instrumentation. Ensembles will often use different types of barrel-shaped nagadō-daiko (長胴太鼓) as well as smaller shime-daiko (締め太鼓). In addition to drums, many groups use vocals, string, and woodwind instruments for accompaniment.

Taiko groups all around the world are contributing to what is quickly becoming a global art form. It is estimated that there are over 8000 Taiko groups in Japan alone, more than a dozen groups in Canada, and many more worldwide.

History of Taiko

Kumi-daiko as an art form is relatively new, but the taiko drum has a long history in Japan. It is difficult to say when the first taiko drums were used, but it is speculated they were used as a signal for villages to help coordinate the activities of their daily lives. It was believed that gods inhabited the drum, and the taiko therefore became a critical element in the Japanese religious landscape. Taiko were found only in Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines, and only holy men were allowed to beat them on special occasions.

Taiko were also used as the drums of war, as their sound carries far and wide, effective for issuing commands and coordinating movement. In addition to this, taiko were also used as court instruments. Gagaku (雅楽, imperial court music) is played using the most beautifully decorated of all Japanese instruments.

It is speculated that taiko existed in Japan and the playing style was influenced by the impact of Chinese culture and the entrance of Buddhism. After the country became isolated once again, development was attributed to native craftsmen to shape what is now a uniquely Japanese instrument. Until the 20th century, taiko playing was generally limited to ceremonies (shiki 式) and festivals (matsuri 祭り).

Modern Taiko

In 1951, jazz drummer Daihachi Oguchi happened upon an old taiko piece and decided to play it in ensemble, building upon the base beat and kumi-daiko as we know it was born. In the 1970s the Japanese government gave communities money to preserve the intangible cultural assets that were slowly disappearing in the post-war era. Many towns and villages used this money to purchase taiko and start community taiko groups. Some use the local taiko rhythms used in festivals; and others had pieces written for them.

Taiko has proven popular in North America, first introduced by Japanese-Americans in the early 1900s. Following the war, and much cultural and racial tension, taiko lost its following in the North America until 1968, when Seiichi Tanaka brought the concept of kumi-daiko to the United States to form the first North American taiko group – the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. There, it immediately began to thrive, inspiring other groups, and is now at the point where the art has evolved so that each of the many groups has its own unique style. There are also taiko groups all over the world.

The most famous taiko group is Kodō, whose members train like Olympians on their private island called Sado. Their world tours bring taiko to all parts of the globe.

Here in Alberta there are a few groups, notably Kita no Taiko and Booming Tree in Edmonton, Hibikiya in Lethbridge, and Midnight Taiko Kai here in Calgary.

List of Taiko Groups in Canada

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British Columbia






Interested in learning more?

Visit the following Taiko resources:
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or download our Taiko Information Brochure below: