What is the history of taiko? A thorough explanation of the history of taiko from the Jomon Period to 2025!

和太鼓の歴史とは?縄文時代~令和までの和太鼓史を徹底解説!

Motenas Representative
Motenas Representative

Japanese drums are gaining popularity overseas as well.

Do you know the history of this Japanese drum?

In this issue, we provide a thorough explanation of the history of taiko, which is surprisingly unknown even to Japanese people!

Let’s take a look at the deep and long history of taiko, which is believed to have existed since the Jomon period.

The History of Japanese Drumming Since the Jomon Period? Origins and Beginnings

The History of Japanese Drumming Since the Jomon Period? Origins and Beginnings

First of all, when and how was taiko created?

In fact, it is not known when exactly taiko originated.

However, it is said that [the origin of taiko] existed during the Jomon period.

The reason is that earthenware with a drum-like skin, called “yukou tsubatsutsuki doki,” has been excavated from Jomon-era ruins.

Later, in the Kofun period, “haniwa (clay figurines of drummers)” were also excavated, suggesting that drums already existed in the Kofun period.

However, drums at this time were used a little differently than they are today.

Japanese drums were used as sacred objects.

Ancient drums are believed to have been used as sacred objects.

This is because the sound of taiko drums resembles thunder, which is imitated as “thunder = god (voice of god)” and was believed to have sacred power.

It is believed that by beating the taiko drum, people prayed to the heavenly deities for a bountiful harvest and delivered thanksgiving for the harvest.

Even today, taiko drums are sometimes played at festivals, but in this period they were treated as even more sacred [sacred objects to welcome the gods].

Also affected by the Chinese “drum”

Japanese drumming is also influenced by the “ko,” or “drum,” which came from China.

Especially from the Asuka to Nara periods, many musical instruments were introduced to Japan from China.

Among them were various types of “ko” drums, which were transformed into modern-day taiko drums while incorporating unique Japanese-style decorations and functions.

Japanese drums played an active role in the samurai culture

Active in the samurai culture was the “jindaiko,” a drum used to command troops on the battlefield and to raise morale.

Even today, Japanese drums are sometimes used in the opening ceremonies of sporting events and for cheering.

Even in the days of the samurai, the sound of taiko drums must have had the power to uplift people’s spirits and raise morale.

In addition to the battlefield, taiko also developed in the field of performing arts.

Gagaku” and “Kagura” are representative examples of performing arts using taiko drums, which have been handed down to the present day.

  • Gagaku
    …Japanese classical music. Japanese drums, flutes, biwa, etc. are used.
  • Kagura
    …A dance performed at shrines and events that is considered the prototype of modern Japanese dance. This dance also uses taiko drums and other instruments such as flutes and biwa (Japanese lute).

Gagaku” and “Kagura” are traditional performing arts used in Shinto rituals.

After all, even in this era, taiko was treated by the people as something sacred.

Edo Period – Meiji Period|The Prosperity and Decline of Japanese Drumming

Edo Period - Meiji Period|The Prosperity and Decline of Japanese Drumming

Japanese drumming reached its heyday in the Edo period (1603-1867).

In particular, “norauchi,” the free beating of taiko drums at festivals, became popular, and from this time on, the “performance style in which taiko takes the leading role” gradually spread.

However, its popularity declined during the Meiji period.

The period between the Edo and Meiji eras can be described as a turbulent time for taiko.

Becoming an integral part of Kabuki and the performing arts

The history of taiko in the Edo period cannot be separated from that of Kabuki.

Kabuki was immensely popular among the masses during the Edo period, and Japanese drums were used in the “geza-ongaku” (music for the lower part of the stage) of this kabuki performance.

Geza-ongaku” is music played during scene changes and dialogues in Kabuki plays, in which the taiko drum was used as an instrument to express emotions and natural sounds.

In this way, taiko permeated the Japanese people.

Historic drum shop founded

It was during the Edo period (1603-1868) that the oldest taiko drum manufacturing company still in existence today, Asano Taiko Musical Instruments Store, was founded to advance the business.

When the company was founded, it was not a drum shop, but specialized in manufacturing leather.

The hides were so well known for their high quality that the feudal lord of the clan to whom they were delivered would reward them with a prize.

The Asano Taiko Music Store began manufacturing taiko drums using this superior leather.

In 1717, in the middle of the Edo period, “Sugiura Taiko Shop” and in 1789, “Miura Taiko-do” were established as taiko drum shops.

These two taiko drum houses are also considered to be the oldest taiko manufacturing companies still in existence today.

Around the end of the Edo period, other taiko shops were established one after another.

This has given birth to many taiko drummers, who continue to pass on their skills to the present day.

Some of the taiko drums were manufactured during the Edo period (1603-1868) and are still in use today.

Considering that the taiko has been played and passed down for hundreds of years, one can see the high level of skill of the taiko craftsmen.

Popularity of traditional culture declined with the Meiji Restoration.

In the Meiji period (1868-1912), Western culture flowed into Japan at once, and the popularity of traditional Japanese items stagnated as “old.

Even in such times, each region continued to pass on its own unique local performing arts.

The fact that taiko has continued to be passed on despite a downturn in popularity is due in large part to the passing on of these unique local traditions.

Postwar|Wadaiko takes center stage in a growing style

Postwar|Wadaiko takes center stage in a growing style

In fact, it was not until after World War II that the style of performance in which taiko played the leading role became widespread.

Until then, it had a strong position as a decorative element of the performing arts, or as a “sound representing a scene” in kabuki, nihon buyo (Japanese dance), and other performing arts.

In the postwar period, however, taiko moved from a supporting role to establish itself as a mainstay.

Revival of traditional arts

In the year following the end of the war, bon dances and local performing arts began to revive.

At this time, a revival began with festival drums, which had been in decline since the Meiji Restoration.

Traditional arts other than taiko and the good old days of Japan will gradually begin to make their way toward recovery.

More taiko drumming groups and popularity spreads nationwide

In 1951, the “kumi taiko” performance style was born.

Kumidaiko is a style of performance that consists of many taiko drums and is performed only with taiko drums.

From this point on, more and more taiko groups began to incorporate kumidaiko, and its popularity spread nationwide.

And schools across the country have started taiko clubs, competitions are being held, and the art has grown into a more familiar traditional art form.

The history of taiko’s global expansion begins

Around the end of the Showa period, taiko slowly began to make inroads into the world.

The first major turning point was the taiko performance by Ondekoza at the Boston Marathon in 1975.

The performance attracted much attention, and taiko became instantly well-known throughout the world.

Furthermore, in 1993, Japanese drummer Eitetsu Hayashi performed at the Berlin Arts Festival, and Ondekoza (Ondekoza) performed at Carnegie Hall.

The history of taiko’s global expansion continues with the first North American Taiko Conference held in Los Angeles in 1999.

What is taiko in the modern age?

What is taiko in the modern age?

In ancient times, taiko had a long history as a supporting role, such as a sacred instrument, a command on the battlefield, and as a lower-level music of Kabuki.

Although the position of taiko in the modern era has changed, the art of expressing emotions and scenes in a powerful yet delicate manner seems to have remained unchanged.

Let’s take a look at how taiko evolved into what it is today in the 2025 era.

Entertainment Industry x Japanese Drumming] Establishing Cool Japan Status

In recent years, taiko has become a conspicuous collaborator with the entertainment industry.

I have the impression that the traditional performing arts have succeeded in dispelling the image of “traditional performing arts = high profile,” in a positive sense, as idols perform them and they are incorporated into commercials as stage effects.

The performances by numerous taiko groups overseas are also popular, and their fusion of Japanese-style taiko performances with modern lighting and costumes continues to impress and shock audiences.

It is truly establishing itself as Cool Japan.

Japanese drums popular among children and women

The popularity of taiko is spreading to children and women as well.

Moreover, it is becoming increasingly popular as a learning experience.

Wadaiko is a traditional art form that can be tried by children and women alike, as long as they can hold a bachi and play the drums.

In addition, beating the drums is a popular way to relieve stress and get exercise.

The number of foreign enthusiasts begins to increase.

The popularity of taiko is not limited to Japan.

In 2013, the taiko manufacturing company Asano Taiko Music Store opened a taiko school in the U.S. near Los Angeles.

As mentioned above, taiko performances are popular overseas as well, but by actually playing and experiencing taiko, as well as watching it, people overseas will be able to experience the depth of the taiko sound and the uniquely Japanese sense of beauty.

In the future, we may see an increase in the number of taiko drummers not only in Japan but also in other countries.

summary

summary

Japanese drums have been treated as sacred and have been involved in Shinto rituals and warfare.

Today, it continues to pioneer new forms of entertainment, such as teaming up with entertainment and digital art.

However, there are many people in the taiko industry who want to ensure that the tradition is carried on, and not just for entertainment purposes.

We should know the history of taiko and keep in mind that taiko is not “just a musical instrument” but has been passed down carefully by our ancestors as something sacred, and that it has continued to inspire people’s hearts on battlefields and at festivals.

Let’s also carefully hand down the taiko, which is loved as Cool Japan, to future generations.

[Reference site
The History of Japanese Drumming: From the Jomon Period to 2025 │ Taiko Biyori
Types of Japanese drums | Japanese Culture Pro
Percussion instruments: Japanese drums / Homemate