What Is Taiko?

Percussion instruments are generally the most primitive instruments found around the world. In ancient times, drums were used to communicate, at celebrations as well as in times of war. Taiko existed in ancient Japan over 2,000 years ago and was spread through Buddhism from China and Korea. The sound has been likened to a heartbeat and was used during healing ceremonies and sanctifying purposes as well as at festivals as a means to enact deities with its deep rumbling sound.


In the early 20th century it was brought to the U.S. by Japanese immigrants to be used at Buddhist Temples as the sacred "Miya drum". Its rhythmic beat is played during Obon-odori festivals as all dance lively folk dances together and honor those who've passed before us.


In Japan in 1951, a jazz musician named Daihachi Oguchi was approached by Suwa shrine and asked to decipher old music sheets found in a temple. With it he created this new form of taiko ensemble playing that we know of today called, "kumi daiko". Mr. Oguchi formed the group, Osuwa Daiko, which was quickly followed by other Japanese based groups Sukeroku, Ondekoza and Kodo. Taiko was debuted at the Japan Olympics in 1964 which popularized it even further. 


Kumi daiko was then brought to the U.S. by Seichi Tanaka who created San Francisco Taiko in 1968.  Simultaneously, many Japanese American Nisei (3rd generation) were seeking to recapture their roots after the suppression of their families during the WWII, U.S. Japanese Internment.  Already a temple fixture, taiko became their freedom of expression in 1969 with Reverend Mas Kodani of Senshin Temple who created Kinnara. They later influenced other Buddhist communities and PJ & Roy Hirabayashi created San Jose Taiko in 1973. Today many groups enjoy taiko and there are over 1,000 taiko groups in the U.S., Canada and over 4,000 in Japan and other countries. 


Currently, many now embrace taiko for both spiritual and physical health. The deep magical sound of the taiko is also played by many hearing impaired who are able to feel its deep vibrations. Taiko is known as the heartbeat of Japan and throughout its long, deep history is now connecting people of all cultures worldwide as we gather together inspired by the depth of its sound!