Taiko reflects the spiritual side of Japan in that it combines irregularity with simplicity, suggestion with perishability. There is nothing else that sounds like a Taiko drum yet, the rhythm, which is said to be like a heartbeat, is so simple. It helps one confront their fears and overcome obstacles yet, while doing this it suggests a beauty never seen before and emotions never felt.
Taiko, which means "big drum" in japanese, has been apart of the Japanese
culture for hundreds of years and is considered the music of the people; it is not only a musical experience but, a physical one as well. The playing of the Taiko drum demands stamina of both the mind and the body.
A Taiko drum is made from one piece of hollowed out wood with cow skin stretched over each end. They range anywhere from six inches to six feet in diameter and a Taiko group can contain two to fifteen members. There is currently around 4, 500 taiko groups that display a wide range of style and sound. The drum can be played in many different positions; anything from sitting down with light sticks to banging with a baseball bat.
Drummers can mimic the patter of rain as well as the harshness of a typhoon. Instruments, such as Taiko, have had such an important role in the Buddhist tradition and taiko music is more popular now then it has ever been. The Japanese have known about Taiko drumming since the 600 s. This was when Japan was under the influence of the Chinese and during this time, came to see the great importance of Buddhist and Chinese culture. "Over the centuries the Japanese have molded these foreign influences into their own" (Dave Leong web).
The drum was first used to drive away evil spirits and pests harmful to crops. It was believed that by imitating the sound of thunder, the spirit of rain would be forced into action. At harvest time, Taiko was joyfully played in thanks for a successful crop. Today, Taiko drumming is used for many things such as in farming and fishing villages to pray for good harvests and catches, in religious ceremonies, to accompany No and Kabuki theatre, to signal the hour, and to calm the spirits. It is believed that the spirit of the trees from which the wood came, as well as the spirit of the builders of the drum, and even the performers who played them over the years come to embody each drum. There are four elements of Taiko.
The first one is Kara da, which is discipline of the body, power and stamina. The second element is kokomo which is discipline of the mind, self-control and spirit. The third is Waz a which involves Musical skills, physical expressions, and rhythm expression. And the last element of Taiko is rei, which is communication, manners, courtesy, respect, harmony, language, and unity of spirit. These are all the basic elements of Taiko and cannot stand separately. They must come together as one unit.
Drums are usually handmade by the members of the group. "It is believed that the spirit of the trees unites with the spirit of the builder and each performer. This gives each drum a unique spirit and sound" (Keen Thomas). With each performance, a spiritual bond forms between the performer and the instrument. "The Taiko philosophy, passed from one master to another, involves the skillful playing of the instrument through the discipline of mind and body" (Rollingthunder. com).
Surprisingly enough, the spiritual side of Taiko had faded with the modernization of Japan. However, a cultural renaissance has taken place in Japan and they are slowly rediscovering the native art. Taiko is all over Japan, in the schools and many events. So, with the dedication of Taiko masters and lovers, it had been rediscovered and popularized and is now played in festivals around the world.
"The oldest physical evidence of Taiko in Japan is a clay figure of a drummer that dates from the sixth or seventh century" (RollingThunder. com). Some think Taiko has been used in Japan for well over 2000 years. One of the first uses of Taiko was as a battlefield instrument which was used to intimidate and scare the enemy. The rumbling power of the Taiko has also been long associated with the Gods.
In the last forty years, Taiko drumming, has become a performance art in itself and is played at religious festivals and ceremonies all over Japan. Taiko relates to the Japanese aesthetic values of suggestion because the sounds of Taiko touch the very center of one's psyche. It suggests feelings that can't be felt normally. Taiko reveals perishability in that there historic performances are used to connect people with their fears, to delight and overcome any obstacle. It is said that the beating of the drum resembles the beating of the heart.
A Taiko instructor said, " The first time I heard Taiko I was awestruck. The power, sensitivity, and calisthenics of the performers was incredible" (Kenn e Thomas). Another professional Taiko drummer explained, " You don't just hear them, you feel them as well" (Bryan Yama mi). Today, circles and groups are using drums to activate a new era of person hood. Taiko ensembles in communities and educational institutions are forming around the world.
Taiko reveals the spiritual side of the Japanese culture. In America we have no spiritual regard to something such as a drum. We could never understand that an instrument could make someone feel so connected, so free. Individually someone may find comfort and spiritualism in playing an instrument but, it is nothing nationwide. From what I've heard Taiko is something that you cannot describe.
It brings out emotions and feelings that you can't get from anything else and helps you discover a whole new side of yourself.