For the original members of Ondekoza, the first years on Sado will filled with learning activities of all kind. Not only were they making their own furniture and bachi and, when possible, growing their own food, they were also creating a concert program to be toured around the world. In order to create their program, they trained in a variety of performance styles both musical and visual. The Tohoku region of Japan was a major source of inspiration, as members learned Iwasaki Onikenbai (岩崎鬼剣舞, a sword dance) and Ōtsugunai-kagura (大償神楽, Shinto theatrical dance) from Iwate Prefecture, and Tsugaru Te-odori (津軽手踊り, a hand dance) and a Tsugaru-jamisen (津軽三味線, a style of shamisen playing) from the Tsugaru peninsula in Aomori Prefecture.However, the main emphasis during Ondekoza’s musical education was on festival and theatrical drumming traditions from across Japan. Some styles – such as Chichibu yatai-bayashi – were performed the music on stage in a manner fairly close to how they are presented in the original festivals. In other cases, members arranged the drumming styles they learned to such an extent that it resulted in a completely new form of performance. It was these arrangements in particular that would have a profound influence on not only the development of Ondekoza but indeed broader contemporary taiko performance.
Hi no taiko
One of the many performers brought in by Den Tagayasu to teach regional arts to Ondekoza members was Shitamura Keiichi, who in 1971 visited Sado from the town of Mikuni in Fukui Prefecture (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 107). Shitamura introduced the group to a drumming style called hi no taiko (火の太鼓), used during a ritual in which musicians travel through the rice fields to rid them of harmful insects. During a performance of Hi no taiko, one player playing a steady supporting rhythm as the other plays accented rhythmic patterns while integrating various choreographic movements (Bender 2012, 88).
Den asked Hayashi Eitetsu to arrange this style for stage performance, just as he had for Chichibu yatai-bayashi. However, Den also added to his request the integration of elements he had seen in a movie. As he travelled Japan in the 1950s and 1960s, observing folk life across the country, Den often thought back to a scene he witnessed in the 1943 film Muhōmatsu no Isshō (無法松の一生, “The Life of the Outrageous Matsu,” remade in 1958 by original director Inagaki Hiroshi with new actors), about a rickshaw driver at the end of the 19th century. In the scene, set during the Kokura Gion Festival in Kokura, modern day Fukuoka Prefecture, the title character Muhōmatsu – played by Bandō Tsumasaburō in the original, and Mifune Toshiro in the remake – decides to show the teacher of a boy that he had befriended “the real Kokura Gion Daiko.” Muhōmatsu hops on a float carrying a large nagadō-daiko that was being drawn though the streets and begins to play, making wild motions as he hits the drum and generally making merry.
In his study of the development of contemporary taiko performance, anthropologist Shawn Bender writes that Den saw this performance as an embodiment of “the ideal taiko player,” fitting neatly with his interest in folk performance and his “concern for the disappearing culture of the artisan” (Bender 2012, 87). He was greatly affected by the scene, so much so that when Ondekoza received a large ō-daiko as a gift from a supporter, he had a cart built for the drum and asked Hayashi to reproduce the scene on the ō-daiko.
When asking Hayashi Eitetsu to arrange hi no taiko for concert performance, Den had one stage direction:
He had the drummers position the drum so that its side, not its front, faced the audience, thus highlighting the movements of the drummers and their drum mallets and mimicking the camera angle in the 1958 version of the film. (Bender 2012, 88)
As Hayashi began to develop the arrangement, however, he became hesitant. The concept of a large drum on a cart that was pulled around the town was an invention created for the movie, and the actor Bandō Tsumasaburō “only went through the motions of the drum… in reality, the hitting style in the movie wasn’t truly hitting the drum” (personal communication, December 2012). Furthermore, he felt that “if [he] were to make something that was to be heard on stage, where the matsuri-like atmosphere is not present, then actually the movements became a barrier.” (Hayashi 1992, 49).
Meanwhile, he also found himself troubled by the performance techniques of not only the original hi no taiko but also Bandō Tsumasaburō in The Rickshaw Man. In both cases, the drummer stands parallel to the drum and hits across the body. Hayashi felt he could not use all of his strength when hitting across his body, an important consideration given the size of the drum that Ondekoza had been given. He decided not to integrate the choreography of the drumming style into his arrangement. Instead, he experimented with his stance, eventually facing the drum head on and lowering his body so that his arms had to be raised slightly in order to hit the middle of the drumhead. The resulting performance stance presented a striking image that accentuated the physicality of the player while they hit the ō-daiko.
This stance, combined with a stand that places the drum horizontally with the center of the drumhead at or above eye level, was a major innovation in the world to taiko performance: the introduction of a brand-new performance technique not found in any regional performance tradition or in classical music, but rather created by Hayashi especially for Ondekoza’s stage performances.
As he refined this new technique, Hayashi also set out to arrange the rhythms of hi no taiko into something appropriate for the stage. He arranged the two-drummer interplay into an extended improvisation utilizing both sides of the drum: as later described in a publication by Kodo, “the performer on the front side of the drum plays freely over the continuing base rhythm (ura-uchi) performed by the performer in the rear” (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 107). Because it featured the ō-daiko, the piece was given the simple name “O-daiko” (「大太鼓」).
Despite the name, “O-daiko” opens not with the ō-daiko but with a shakuhachi. A slow improvisation on the bamboo instrument opens the piece, continuing even after the ō-daiko players first hit the drum. The drummers strike the drum sparsely as the shakuhachi player continues to improvise, eventually fading out so that the ō-daiko can take center stage. Once the wind instrument has left, the drummers – for the first time – play a rhythm in time, joined by one more musician playing chapped (handheld cymbals):
After this sequence, the players begin a slight oroshi (a pattern with single hits that begin slow and get progressive faster), started by one side of the ō-daiko and soon joined by the player on the other side and the chappa player. Once the oroshi rhythm reaches a steady speed, one ō-daiko begins improvising while the player on the other side and the chappa continue with an accompanying ostinato. After several minutes, the ō-daiko players switch roles, and the other side begins to improvise.
Once both ō-daiko players have improvised, the second soloist briefly stops while the accompanying ostinato on the drum and cymbals continues. When the improvisation begins again, this time returning to the first soloist, the ostinato is joined by an atarigane player. Again, this improvisation soon ends, leaving just the accompanying ostinato, which fades to a very quiet volume. The shakuhachi player rejoins the performance, now joined by a fue player. As these melodic instruments play, the ō-daiko soloist gradually enters, first in the background but becoming more and more prominent. When the fue player ends their own improvisation, the tempo gets faster and the ō-daiko solo returns to the forefront of the performance. Finally, the piece ends suddenly, with a single hit by both players on the ō-daiko.
When performing “O-daiko,” Ondekoza members at first wore the festival garb-inspired happi and hachimaki that served as the group’s uniform. However, this changed in the spring of 1975, when the group played a series of concerts at the Espace Pierre Cardin in Paris, owned by fashion designer Pierre Cardin. After one performance, Cardin made the suggestion of having the “O-daiko” soloist perform in a type of fundoshi (loincloth) typically associated with sumo wrestling. According to Bender, this idea stemmed from an appearance by Ondekoza at the Hadaka Matsuri in Okayama city in western Japan, famous for the presence of “thousands of men dressed only in fundoshi… as they jockey for sacred sticks hurled into the crowd by priests” (Bender 2012, 91). The group performed in the loincloths in an effort to maintain the spirit of the festival, and an image from this performance was used in publicity for the Paris concerts. The audience response in Paris to this change was largely positive, and the custom of performing “O-daiko” in a fundoshi began.
The Evolution of “O-daiko”
While the above description applies to “O-daiko” as it was performed in the 1970 by members of Ondekoza, with Hayashi Eitetsu as the primary soloist, the work has not remained the same in the four decades that have followed. To a degree, this is due to changes in the primary soloist on the piece. Soon after the members of Ondekoza broke away from Den Tagayasu in 1981 and formed Kodo, and Hayashi decided to embark on a solo career. Since that time, a number of soloists have taken on the mantle of primary “O-daiko” soloist. Fujimoto Yoshikazu was the first within Kodo, performing “O-daiko” almost exclusively until he stopped touring internationally in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st Century. This mantle was then taken up by Nakagome Kenta, Mitome Tomohiro, Ishizuka Mitsuru, and other soloists.
As different soloists have been featured in “O-daiko,” the nature of “O-daiko” itself has changed. In the early days of Kodo, the piece was performed largely as it was by Ondekoza in the 1970s. However, this began to change in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as “O-daiko” became to occupy more and more of the spotlight and took up more time on the program. During Kodo’s One Earth Tour at the beginning of the 21st Century, concerts featured 3 three different ō-daiko soloists, resulting in 20-30 minutes of the concert dedicated to “O-daiko.” Meanwhile, the presence of wind instruments and handheld percussion instruments has been reduced – in some tours the fue, chappa, and atarigane are completely absent, leaving accompaniment duties solely to the person on the reverse side of the ō-daiko, while in other cases they are only used during select solos.
In recent years, Kodo has even experimented with eliminating “O-daiko” from the repertoire entirely, albeit by replacing it with similar pieces. One replacement has been “Tomoe,” which features three large hiradō-daiko set in a triangular pattern. These drums, similar in size to the ō-daiko used by Kodo on tours, require just as much strength and endurance to play as the ō-daiko, and the piece features similar rhythms as those used in “O-daiko” – with less improvisation – providing a nice alternative to the extended solos on ō-daiko.
The Impact of “O-daiko”
It is hard to understate the effect of “O-daiko” on the development of contemporary taiko performance. Before the emergence of this piece, the ō-daiko was used largely as just one drum amongst many in an ensemble, as was the case in Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko repertoire. Meanwhile, it was rare to see an nagadō-daiko drum much larger in size than what many groups call a chū-daiko (with a head between 16 and 24 inches in diameter), and certainly not the size of the one featured in Ondekoza performances.
After “O-daiko” became popular, however, a number of other Japanese groups purchased a larger-sized ō-daiko that could be played using Hayashi’s new technique, as well as composed works that featured extended improvisations on the ō-daiko in the same manner as “O-daiko.” For example, the Tokyo-based group Oedo Sukeroku Taiko – founded by original Sukeroku Taiko Kobayashi Seido in the early 1980s – began to combine the cross-body hitting style common in hōgaku-hayashi with the drum-facing hitting style developed by Hayashi Eitetsu, and composed its own ō-daiko feature piece called “Edo no Kaze” (“Edo Wind,” seen beginning at 07:33 in the video below).
Another Sukeroku Taiko-influenced taiko group, the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, premiered their own ō-daiko feature piece, “Tsunami,” in 1986:
Meanwhile, other groups have taken the basic performance styles practices developed by Hayashi Eitetsu and used them in a large group – that is, they have incorporated multiple ō-daiko into a composition. Hayashi Eitetsu has composed several pieces in this style since becoming a soloist in 1982, including “Seven Stars”:
Similarly, soloist Kenny Endo – who helped developed “Edo no Kaze” as a member of Oedo Sukeroku Taiko – wrote his work “Rites of Thundering” in 2000:
Beyond placing the spotlight on ō-daiko performance, the development of “O-daiko” and Hayashi’s new ō-daiko performance techniques was important to the development of contemporary taiko performance in that it helped foster the rise of taiko soloists. When Hayashi Eitetsu left Kodo in 1982 to pursue a career as a soloist, he had to develop a new performance style that was not reliant on any other players. He accomplished this both through the exploration of the taiko set – a concept first begun by Oguchi Daihachi with Osuwa Daiko – and through a greater emphasis on ō-daiko performance.
Hayashi decided “to never turn down a job and accept any work that came [his] way” (Hayashi 2011). This included a lot of what he calls “artsy events,” with a variety of companies, stores, and venues sponsoring musical performances and projects. Both Hayashi and his performance sponsors were interested as much creating an attention-grabbing performance in an unexpected environment as in creating an innovative musical experience; as he later described it, performances were often more about “the catabolic effect of having a taiko appear in a place you wouldn’t normally expect it” than about musical innovation (Hayashi 2011). Nevertheless, the activities helped to make Hayashi known as a solo artist. Early performances included “accompaniment for singers” and “opening ceremonies for commercial buildings and at parties” (Hayashi 2011).
Meanwhile, deprived of an accompanist to provide an underlying rhythmic foundation, Hayashi experimented with different ways of maintaining the rhythm while playing his solo. One method that he devised was what Isaku Kageyama calls an “eighth note groove,” combinations of eighth notes “accented in groupings of 3 and 4, and triplet figures” (Kageyama 2012). Through a mixture of accent placement, rhythmic variation, and dynamic contrast, Hayashi was able to develop a way to keep his ō-daiko solos musically interesting while still providing a rhythmic foundation.
For example, in a section from a 2010 improvisation entitled “Hi no Taiko, Tsuki no Taiko” (“Taiko of the Sun, Taiko of the Moon”) Hayashi uses different combinations of left and right drumstick hits, and rhythmic patterns that include variations of accented and unaccented notes. The left hand and right hand hits are placed on different parts of the drumhead, resulting in different sounds that add to the rhythmic variety of the improvisation:
Hayashi compares the sonic spectrum created during his ō-daiko solos to painting:
…one idea that came to me was to use traditional Japanese sumi ink paintings as an image. Just as we sense color and space and distance within the gradations of monochromatic grays and black of the sumi ink painting, I thought that perhaps a similar image could be used for the supposed monotone of drum music. I tried a number of things like modifications in the drumsticks (bachi) and changing the surface areas I hit on the drum skin. (Hayashi 2011)
By hitting towards the edge of the drum, a much thinner, higher-sounding tone is created than what occurs when the center of the drum is hit. Similarly, a thinner drumstick produces a different sound than a thicker one. Hayashi also has experimented with using non-wooden sticks, including small bamboo rods wrapped together in a manner similar to a broom. Utilizing a wide range of sounds and performance techniques, he developed an ō-daiko solo that was more sonically varied that what he had performed with Ondekoza.
The development of “O-daiko,” then, affected not only the course of Ondekoza and Kodo’s musical development, but the development of contemporary taiko performance as a whole. It paved the way for a new style of playing that was less reliant on festival music performance practices, while also highlighting the individual and offering an extended space for unique improvisation. Since the 1970s, the ō-daiko solo has become a rite of passage of a sorts for taiko players, a gateway into a new mode of performance that uniquely belongs to the world of contemporary taiko.
Bender, Shawn. 2010. “Drumming from Screen to Stage: Ondekoza’s Odaiko and the Reimaging of Japanese Taiko.” The Journal of Asian Studies 69 (03):843-867.
Bender, Shawn. 2012. Taiko Boom: Japanese Drumming in Place and Motion. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hayashi, Eitetsu. 1992. Ashita no Taiko Uchi e 明日の太鼓打ちへ. Tokyo: Shobunsha.
Hayashi, Eitetsu. 2011. Artist Interview: Innovating drum music, the spirit of Eitetsu Hayashi. The Japan Foundation Performing Arts Network Japan.
Kageyama, Isaku. 2012. “How To Kinda Sound Like Eitetsu Hayashi – Stylistic Exploration ‘Eitetsu Hayashi 8th Note Groove’.” http://isakukageyama.jugem.jp/?eid=400.
Kodo Cultural Foundation. 2011. Inochi Moyashite, Tatakeyo. -Kodo 30-Nen no Kiseki – いのちもやして、たたけよ。－鼓童30年の軌跡ー. Tokyo: Shuppan Bunka Sha Corporation.
Yoon, Paul J. 2009. “Asian Masculinities and Parodic Possibility in Odaiko Solos and Filmic Representations.” Asian Music 40 (1):100-130.
 The relationship between the adoption of the use of the loincloth during “O-daiko” and the rise of its popularity suggests that the fame of the piece may be somewhat due to the physical nature of its performance. Such an idea has been explored by scholars like Shawn Bender and Paul Yoon, who argue that the work’s popularity is as much due to its evocation of masculinity as to its musical content (see Bender 2010, Yoon 2009).
 This is the case both in Kodo and in the new version of Ondekoza that Den founded in the 1980s.
 He also adjusted the build of the ō-daiko stand so that the various types of drumsticks could be placed underneath the drum so they could be immediately available, as seen in the video clip. This additional shelf is absent from the stand used by Ondekoza/Kodo.