New Taiko Music History Post: Kodo and the Path to “Irodori”

We’re pleased to announce the release of a new entry in the Taiko Music History article series!! This time, we explore the path taken by Kodo members in the 1980s towards “Irodori,” one of the most famous and popular pieces in the Kodo repertoire. In this article, we explore the influences incorporated into the work, other pieces that heralded its arrival, and the influence Leonard Eto’s composition had on the contemporary taiko world.

Click on the link to check it out!

A New Direction: Kodo and The Path to “Irodori”

When members of Ondekoza came to the United States in 1975 to run the Boston Marathon and perform a series of concerts, the tour started a long relationship between members of the Sado-based group and the North American taiko performance community. As the United States and Canada became a primary tour destination for the group, first as Ondekoza and later as Kodo, members came to rely heavily on the support of the growing number of taiko groups that were emerging across the continent. In an interview for the “Kodo in America” segment of Big Drum: Taiko in the United States documentary, Kinnara Taiko founding member Reverend Mas Kodani remembers how Ondekoza would run from the apartments where they were staying to the Senshin Buddhist Temple for rehearsals, then to the theater for a performance (2005). Meanwhile, in Kodo’s 30th Anniversary retrospective book, Kodo members acknowledge that American groups “deeply supported [them] in various ways since Ondekoza’s first North American tour” (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 96)

This connection not only built a support network for the group whenever it came to North America, but also provided the foundation for ongoing artistic partnerships. Several members of San Jose Taiko toured with Kodo during their first tour of the United States in 1982, then traveled back to Sado with the group to continue training for several months.[1] Later that decade, in 1987, San Jose Taiko was invited by Den Tagayasu to present joint concert programs in Japan with his new incarnation of Ondekoza, an experience that PJ Hirabayashi cites as being a large factor in the group’s decision to become a professional organization.[2] On the other side, Kodo members single out San Jose Taiko as having a large impact on the original Ondekoza members upon their first encounter:

When we saw their [San Jose Taiko] performance for the first time, with their bright, carefree, and expressions overflowing with joy that was the complete opposite of us who were simply devoted to pursing a straight line to our goals, it had a huge impact on the members; at the same time, we felt a deep sense of relief. (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 96)

Over time, these feelings of relief and joy would make their way onto the stage, helping the members move away from a stoic image dominated by the group’s past as Ondekoza and towards a new identity as Kodo.

This evolution was spurred on by an influx of new members into the group in the early 1980s, including some who participated in the first “Kodo Summer School” in 1981. Among those who joined the group during this period was Saito Eiichi, whose stage presence is described on Kodo’s own webpage as “always with a smiling face and teeming with exuberance.”[3]

Saito Eiichi with members of Blue Man Group. A screenshot from the 2012 DVD “Blue Man Group Meets Kodo,” published in 2012 by WOWOW INC. (Kodo 2012)

Another member who joined during this time was Leonard Eto. He was born in New York to Japanese musician parents; his father, Eto Kimio, was a koto player who established a vibrant career playing with musicians such as Harry Belafonte and Leopold Stokowski.[4] Leonard Eto was with Kodo from 1984 to 1992, during which time he became the group’s music director and one of the primary composers. Just as Hayashi Eitetsu helped to shaped the artistic direction of Ondekoza in the 1970s, Eto would help to guide Kodo into new artistic directions in the 1980s. From the almost stoic devotion demonstrated by the members at the beginning of their Ondekoza careers, the Kodo performance style would come to include a sense of playfulness and happiness, embracing the feeling of “overflowing with joy” that they saw in San Jose Taiko in the mid-1970s.

This joyous feeling is epitomized in Eto’s work “Irodori” (彩 “Colors”). Composed in 1990, “Irodori” quickly became a staple of Kodo’s repertoire, heralding a new composition style that is still followed by group members today. It not only reflected the change in Kodo’s demeanor, however, one later described as “a sense of musical freedom that rivaled the strictness they had held since Ondekoza” (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 82). “Irodori” was the culmination of many different musical movements taking place within Kodo’s repertoire in the 1980s. Eto incorporated a number of instruments and performance practices that Kodo were experimenting with, leading to a new style of performance that was quite different from that performed by the group when they were known in the 1970s as “Ondekoza.”

New Instruments, New Possibilities

Since Oguchi Daihachi first brought his friends together to learn what would later become “Suwa Ikazuchi,” the taiko ensemble had been comprised of three primary drums: chū-daiko, ō-daiko, and shime-daiko. Both Oguchi and other groups later augmented this with narimono like chappa and atarigane. Towards the end of the 1970s, Ondekoza members added their own contribution to the kumidaiko ensemble: the okedō-daiko. The group began using the drum in performances such as their collaboration with the rock band Down Town Boogie-Woogie Band, documented in the 1982 documentary “ZA ONDEKOZA” (「ざ・ 鬼太鼓座」). A scene from the beginning of the film features an extended jam featuring members of both groups, with Ondekoza members playing chappa, two okedō-daiko, and a small taiko set made up of two shime-daiko, one okedō-daiko on a stand, and an ō-daiko. The two okedō-daiko being played by group members were slung over the shoulders using a strap, hanging at the players’ sides and hit using a pair of bachi on the front head.

Ondekoza using an okedō-daiko in concert with the Down Town Boogie-Woogie Band. A screenshot from the 2017 Blu-ray release of the 1981 documentary “Za Ondekoza.”

This usage of the okedō-daiko drew from Ondekoza’s studies of the drum dance Kanatsu-ryū Yanagawa shishi-odori (金津流梁川獅子躍).  Originating in the city of Oshu in Iwate Prefecture, this drum dance began as a Shinto ritual performed at the Matsuo Shrine in the city. During the dance, the performers dress in elaborate costumes that include red deer masks and long bundles of wood and bamboo called sasara (簓) on their back. They also carry small okedō-daiko with horse skin heads that are approximately one foot deep and slightly wider in diameter. The dancers sing and dance as they hit the drums with flat bachi, occasionally quickly bending over during the dance so the sasara can forcefully hit the ground.

Kodo members learned this drum dance in 1980 from Mr. Hirano Yukio both on Sado and in Oshu (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 109). By the end of 1982, they were performing in concert, as evidenced by the inclusion of “Shishi-Odori” in the Berkeley, CA concert on November 2, 1982 released on cassette in 1983 as Kodo II LIVE IN CALIFORNIA (Kodo, KODO-002). This version of the dance was later incorporated by Leonard Eto into a composition called “LION,” the setting for which is described in the following manner in the liner notes for the 1990 album Irodori (CBS/Sony Records, CSCL 1525):

“This music contains thoughts of Africa where the roots of drums are to be found. The rhythm develops into a fierce like wild lions running as fast as they can, kicking the earth strongly.” (Kodo 1990)

In “LION,” three members of Kodo wear costumes similar to that worn by the dancers in Kanatsu-ryū Yanagawa shishi-odori, missing the large red deer masks but still with the sasara attached to their backs.

Kodo members performing “Lion.” A screenshot from the 1992 VHS “Kodo,” published by Sony Music Entertainment, Inc. (Kodo 1992)

“LION” opens with an ostinato by four drummers on one nagadō-daiko – referred to in Kodo’s materials as a miya-daiko (宮太鼓), an alternate name for the drum that refers to its place in Shinto rite (miya meaning shrine, temple, or palace) – and several hiradō-daiko. Hiradō-daiko are a type of byōuchi-daiko that are much shorter than nagadō-daiko but are often much wider. For “LION” and other pieces, Kodo members used hiradō-daiko that are almost as wide as their large ō-daiko, hitting them both with regular bachi and oversized baseball bat-like bachi. The latter type of bachi are used for continuing notes on the beat or on every two or four beats; in the latter case, the hits are often accompanied by elaborately choreographed swings that enhance the visual spectacle of playing the large drums.

The “LION” ensemble, with hiradō-daiko on both sides. A screenshot from the 1992 VHS “Kodo,” published by Sony Music Entertainment, Inc. (Kodo 1992)

The dancers enter as the four accompanying drummers continue their ostinato. Incorporating many of the shishi-odori movements into their dance, they slap the sasara against the ground several times before they begin to play one of several rhythmic phrases they will repeat throughout the piece, the accompaniment momentarily stops before beginning again. This pattern continues throughout “LION,” with the dancers alternating between dancing and drumming.

“LION” is one of several pieces in the Kodo repertoire for which there exists two primary versions: one performed for recordings and one performed in concert. In the recorded version first released on the 1990 album Irodori, a pair of chappa enters after the first repeat of the drum dancers’ rhythmic phrase. Later on, in the middle of the work, the focus shifts towards a number of non-Japanese instruments like the Indonesian gambang kayu, the chajchas from the Central Andes, the Brazilian ganzá, and the caxixi commonly found in Brazil and across Africa. After a short break by these world instruments, the taiko return to the forefront.

In the concert version, meanwhile, the middle of the piece is quite different. Several of the accompanying drummers move from their drums and pick up other instruments. Two play on larger okedō-daiko of a type used in the pieces “Dyu-Ha” and “Hekiryu-1st” on the first Kodo LP Kodo I (Kodo, KODO-001).[5] Whereas in those pieces the larger okedō-daiko were hung on stands using leather straps, for “LION” a long cloth strap tied to each side of the drum, and the drummers carried them under one arm while hitting with the other.  Meanwhile, a third performer grabs a pair of large cymbals similar to those used during the Chinese lion dance. This variation of the accompanying ensemble plays a brief interlude while the dancers move around the stage. Eventually, the musicians move back to their original positions and begin a variation of the opening ostinato, gradually increasing the speed while the dancers move in a circle as they repeatedly strike the sasara against the ground.

“LION” demonstrates how Kodo members were integrating both Japanese folk performance styles and non-Japanese instruments in the 1980s, something they were doing with other pieces like “Hae.” The hiradō-daiko would come to have a prominent place in Kodo performances, becoming a crucial element of the ensemble. Meanwhile, the okedō-daiko would gain an even greater place within Kodo compositions, influenced as much as by the group’s musical development as by the interactions members would have as they toured around the world. Among the musicians that members met were Samul Nori, a percussion group from South Korea. Like Kodo, Samul Nori was engaged in the transformation of folk music for the concert stage. They arranged for stage performance pungmul nori, a folk genre traditionally performed to ensure and celebrate good rice harvests, and arranged it for the concert stage. Founder Kim Duk Soo and other members took folk music from across South Korea and integrated into their performance style that uses four instruments: kkwaenggwari, a small gong; jing, a large gong; janggu, an hourglass-shaped drum; and buk, a small barrel drum.

During one of their meetings, Kodo member Saito Eiichi tried out the janggu and was struck by the manner in which the drummer plays both sides of the drum (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 111). Members saw the potential for this style to be adapted for the okedō-daiko, and began experimenting. Eventually, with Eto at the lead, they adapted the construction to make it larger than that used by the dancers in “Shishi-Odori” and “LION” but slightly smaller than those used by the background ensemble in “LION.” Inspiration for this change came from folk drumming at the Tozan Festival of Iwakisan Shrine (岩木山神社賑祭) in Aomori Prefecture (Asano Foundation for Taiko Culture Research 2002, 21).

In time, this variation of the okedō-daiko became known as the katsugi okedō-daiko (かつぎ桶太鼓), the word “katsugi” coming from the verb “katsugu” (担ぐ) which means “to carry on one’s back or shoulders.” The katsugi okedō-daiko was first put on display in Leonard Eto’s composition “Yu-Karak” (游カラク), composed in 1988 and recorded on the album “UBU-SUNA” released that same year (Kodo 1988). It’s in Eto’s 1990 composition “Irodori,” however, that the style was made famous. “Irodori” was the culmination of much of the work that Kodo members had been putting into the evolution of their performances, opening the way towards a new style not incorporated not only new musical elements but also a new perspective.


Within “Irodori,” Leonard Eto brought together many of the musical developments and instruments explored by Kodo members during the 1980s. This included not only the okedō-daiko and hiradō-daiko, but also innovations being made in the use of chappa by member Kaneko Ryutaro. Kaneko began to experiment with different ways of creating sounds using the cymbals, creating a complex sonic palette that could be integrated in Kodo’s new works.

Meanwhile, Eto also made use of the changing role of the shinobue within Kodo’s compositions. The bamboo flute had been a part of performances since the beginning of Ondekoza’s activities in the early 1970s, when it would be featured in arrangements of festival music like “Yatai-bayashi.” In the mid-1980s, the shinobue became more prominent through its usage in original compositions by Yamaguchi Motofumi like “Michi,” from the album UBU-SUNA (1988) and “Kariuta” from Blessing of the Earth (1989) (Kodo 1988, 1989). These pieces featured original melodies by Yamaguchi with either minimal or no drum accompaniment, taking the shinobue from the quasi-accompanying role it had in works like “Yatai-bayashi” and “O-daiko” and moving it into the spotlight.

“Irodori,” meanwhile, took advantage of the many musical explorations upon which Kodo members were embarking during the 1980s. Its difference from those works that came before is immediately apparent. The piece opens with a short introduction by the drums and chappa, walking on stage in a line with smiles on their faces (a contrast to the stoicism that often accompanied Ondekoza performances). Following a brief interplay between the two instrument types, the okedō-daiko drummers begin playing an accented ostinato. The chappa adds an accented rhythm, while the hiradō-daiko solidifies the tempo by hitting on beat one of each measure. In the 1990 recording of the piece, this ostinato accompanies a brief solo by an ō-daiko player (Kodo 1990). During the performance of the piece captured for a 1992 VHS release, however, the ostinato flows directly into the first statement of the shinobue melody. This melody, performed by two players in unison, occurs over an ostinato provided by the okedō-daiko and shime-daiko:

The primary fue melody in “Irodori”

During this fue/taiko ostinato, the chappa occasionally mirrors the accented ostinato but also playing in counterpoint, rubbing the cymbals together so they buzz in between the accents of the okedō-daiko. He also adds a visual flourish, drawing attention to his movements and playing to the crowd to a small degree. All the while, the hiradō-daiko players continues to hit on beat one of each measure. Even this has a hint of the theatrical, as the drummers whirl the bachi over the heads or take a bit windup before hitting the drum. As a result, the entire stage environment is much lighter and freer than can be found in pieces like “Miyake” or “LION.”

After several repeats of the primarily melodic phrase, a four-beat closing pattern by the okedō-daiko players wraps up this section and serves to transition into the next section featuring a series of improvised solos by various members, the specifics of which depend on the performance. The 1990 CD recording features an ō-daiko solo, while the 1992 video recording is more elaborate. It begins with several solos by okedō-daiko, first independent and then playing off of each other. These okedō-daiko solos further the light-hearted nature of “Irodori,” with the drummers playfully interacting with each other. A degree of good-spirited one-upmanship permeates the improvisations, as the soloists are watched by the rest of the ensemble with large smiles on their faces.

Once the okedō-daiko solos are finished, the ō-daiko players takes a turn, one of the few times in the Kodo repertoire apart from “O-daiko” that there is a solo improvisation on the ō-daiko in the middle of a piece.[6] After this, the shinobue players return for simultaneous individual improvised variations of the initial melody. As they play, a dancer comes on to the stage and begins a hand dance.

A restatement of the opening melodies serves to cue the entire ensemble, which then reenters for the final section as the as the dancer brings out a fan with a flourish (sometimes accompanied by confetti). The shinobue players repeat the melody over and over while the dancer moves around the stage, accompanied by several more performers waving poles with paper streams on top. Even these dancers get a chance to show off, spinning their poles around their necks and showing the various ways they can keep the festival-like atmosphere going. All the while, the drummers continue the ostinato, with several okedō-daiko again starting dueling improvisations. The music reaches a fever pitch, until finally the piece ends with a bit visual flourish and a single unison note.

The “Irodori” Effect

Even as “Irodori” was the end result of Kodo’s work over the course of the 1980s, it was also an experiment by the group. In particular, the combination of a wind instrument melody and drum accompaniment was surprisingly unusual within Kodo’s repertoire. Of course, this grouping is standard in festival music, and thus can be found in arrangements like “Yatai-bayashi.” However, in this piece the stage focus is on the drumming, and the shinobue player stands towards the rear of the ensemble. Indeed, the matsuri-bayashi pieces performed by Kodo featured quite visually striking drumming styles, from Chichibu yatai-bayashi (“Yatai-bayashi”) to Miyake-jima Kamitsuki mikoshi-daiko (“Miyake”) and Kanatsu-ryū Yanagawa shishi-odori (“Shishi-odori”/”LION”). It could be argued that “Nishinomai” – the bon odori arrangement first featured on the Kodo II album – is shinobue-heavy, but given that it is primarily a dance piece even here the emphasis is on the visual element of performance. Rather, one has to look at Yamaguchi Motofumi’s pieces like “Hae” and “Michi” – the latter from the 1988 album UBU-SUNA – to find pieces in which melodic instruments are at the forefront.

And yet, despite its departure from what had come before, “Irodori” and its festival atmosphere was immediately well received by audiences. It soon became either the ending piece or the encore for Kodo concerts in the 1990s. Eto’s work was particularly popular as the closing piece at Kodo’s Earth Celebration music festival, held every summer since 1988. Today, it can often been seen and heard as a farewell piece played by Kodo members as Earth Celebration attendees return to the main Japanese island of Honshu on a ferry.

Perhaps in recognition of this popularity, the basic structure of “Irodori” – slung katsugi okedō-daiko serving as rhythmic foundation and accompaniment for a fue melody – has been used for many other pieces in Kodo’s repertoire. [7] Until the most recent tours created under the direction of Bando Tamasaburo III, the closing piece for a Kodo concert was, if not “Irodori,” an “Irodori”-esque piece. In 1995, Kodo released a video of their performance at the Acropolis of Athens (Kodo 1995). The closing piece for this concert is “Akabanar” (「アカバナー」, a Okinawan word meaning “Hibiscus”) composed by Kaneko Ryutaro. Like “Irodori,” it opens with a shinobue melody accompanied by okedō-daiko, hiradō-daiko, and chappa.[8] This then evolves in an extended jam on all the instruments.

More recently, “Mata Ashita” (「また明日」, “Tomorrow”) – composed by Ishizuka Mitsuru for Kodo’s Heartbeat Project in support of relief efforts in Tohoku following the 2011 earthquake – was the closing piece for the 2012 Honoka tour in Japan.

The “Irodori”-style piece has also been incorporated into the repertoire of other taiko groups around the world, proving that Leonard Eto hit on a song style with lasting audience appeal.

Meanwhile, the prominence given to the katsugi okedō-daiko as a vehicle for rhythmic melody and soloistic expression has been embraced by other members as they have written new pieces for the ensemble. There are a number of works now within the Kodo repertoire that feature either okedō-daiko alone or okedō-daiko, hiradō-daiko, and chappa – that is, the “Irodori” ensemble minus a shinobue. These pieces often highlight not only the movement possibilities of the okedō-daiko – the simple ability to move around the stage while playing – but also the choreographic possibilities in hitting both sides of the drum in a manner modeled after the Korean changgo.

Twenty-seven years after “Irodori” first premiered, then, its impact is still being felt. Not only is it the culmination of the musical explorations upon which Kodo members embarked upon in the 1980s, but it also represents the tonal shift members were seeking. In searching for a “taiko overflowing with joy,” Kodo members have explored and continue to search for not only different compositional styles and instrument combinations, but also collaborations and performance opportunities that offer a chance to expand the boundaries of what is possible within contemporary taiko performance. The beginning of this article features a screenshot of the group’s 2011 collaboration with the Blue Man Group, during which Saito Eiichi gets suited up and plays drums filled with paint. This collaboration and scenario would have been unthinkable 30 years ago, but now this sense of playfulness is almost expected of the group. By creating a festival atmosphere on stage that allowed for fun and self-expression, Leonard Eto helped change the image of Kodo forever.


  1. Big Drum: Taiko in the United States: Japanese American National Museum. DVD.

Asano Foundation for Taiko Culture Research. 2002. Wadaiko Ga Wakaru Hon 和太鼓がわかる本. Edited by Mieko Kono. Fukudome, Hakusan, Ishikawa, Japan: Asano Foundation for Taiko Culture Research.

Kodo. 1988. Ubu-suna: CBS/Sony Records. CD.

Kodo. 1989. Blessing of the Earth: CBS/Sony Records. CD.

Kodo. 1990. Irodori: CBS/Sony Records. CD.

Kodo. 1992. Kodo: Sony Music Entertainment Inc. VHS.

Kodo. 1995. Live at Acropolis: Sony Music Entertainment (Japan), Inc. DVD.

Kodo. 2012. Blue Man Group Meets Kodo: WOWOW INC. DVD.

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.


[1] Roy Hirabayashi, Personal interview, November 3, 2012

[2] As stated by Hirabayashi during a discussion panel at the 2013 East Coast Taiko Conference discussion panel. February 2, 2013, Brown University.

[3] (accessed January 30, 2017)

[4] (accessed January 30, 2017)

[5] See the previous article for more about these pieces.

[6] The original version of “Monochrome” does feature one, but that version has rarely been performed since it was first premiered by Ondekoza in the mid-1970s; even today, this inclusion of the ō-daiko remains a rarity.

[7] Other examples – beyond works composed by Eto – include Yamaguchi Motofumi’s “Niji no Nagori” (“Rainbow Trances,” composed in 1999), and Ishizuka Mitsuru’s “Mata Ashita” (“Tomorrow,” composed in 2011).

[8] It’s worth noting, however, that the version of “Akabanar” recorded for the 1996 album Ibuki is quite different than this performance

New Taiko Music History Article: “Taiko in a Recorded Medium: Ondekoza and Kodo”

After much work and research, we’re proud to present to you the next article in the TaikoSource Music History series: “Taiko in a Recorded Medium: Ondekoza and Kodo.” Rather than focusing on a single piece, as we have done to this point, this article explores the recordings created by Ondekoza and Kodo in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These recordings reveal how the groups were evolving, exploring more musical and artistic directions.

Unfortunately, these recordings are long out of print, but copies can still be found on record sales websites like Discogs. Nevertheless, we hope this article offers a glimpse into what Ondekoza and Kodo were striving to accomplish as they explored the presentation of taiko performance in a recorded medium!

Taiko in a Recorded Medium: Ondekoza and Kodo

For the first two decades of the history of contemporary taiko performance, the artistry of groups like Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko could only be experienced live, with a few exceptions. Osuwa Daiko was featured on television a few times in the late 1950s and early 1960s on NHK, the Japanese nationality public broadcasting station. Oguchi Daihachi and the other members of the group made several appearances on the show “Nihon no Dentō” (「日本の伝統」), a program that highlighted regional folk art from across Japan. Meanwhile, they also performed as part of the 1959 NHK National Song and Dance Festival at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. And, of course, the group achieved its greatest publicity to date when it appeared as part of the Opening ceremonies for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

These appearances, however, were aberrations, as live – and local – performance remained the primary way that audiences experience contemporary taiko performance. This started to change in the 1970s, though, when Ondekoza founder/producer Den Tagayasu developed numerous multimedia projects for the group. As he explored the various avenues through which Ondekoza’s name could become better known, he in turn also helped to move contemporary taiko performance into new mediums, including movies, documentaries, and audio recordings.

Recordings by Ondekoza and other taiko groups offer a unique glimpse into the history of contemporary taiko performance. When studying the development of the genre, one is simultaneously helped and hindered by the way that the genre has grown. As many of the founders of groups like Ondekoza/Kodo are still active today, there is a living oral history that can be accessible to players and scholars alike. However, unlike in many musical cultures such as Western art music in which the prominence of written scores and parts allows for works to be studied centuries after a work is first performed, contemporary taiko repertoire is largely orally-transmitted. There are very few scores of works available to the public, and those have generally been published by composers who were already working within the field of Western art music.

Recordings, then, are an essential part of the study of contemporary taiko performance. They are especially important when exploring taiko music history, for even though many pieces are still being performed decades after their composition, they have been arranged or adapted to suit the desires of different audiences and performers over the years. By examining historical recordings, however, it possible can see how a piece was first performed.

The groups Ondekoza and Kodo are perfect subjects for shedding light this process. The records and cassettes that they produced in the 1970s and early 1980s provide insights into how they were developing their compositions and performance styles. They include both familiar pieces like “O-daiko” and “Yatai-bayashi” and lesser-known pieces that have not survived the passage of time. By examining these recordings, then, listeners can experience how taiko performance was evolving in the 1970s and 1980s.[1]

Ondekoza’s Multimedia Explorations

Ondekoza was one of the first groups to explore the possibilities of contemporary taiko performance in audio and video recording mediums. In 1974, filming began on a documentary entitled “Sado no Kuni – Ondekoza” (「佐渡國鬼太鼓座」¸ “Ondekoza from Sado”).[2] Directly by prominent Japanese New Wave filmmaker Shinoda Masahiro, it premiered in 1975, the same year in which the group made its American debut in Boston and European debut in Paris. A second documentary was filmed in 1975, although it was never completed, and a third – “Za Ondekoza” (「ざ・鬼太鼓座」, “The Ondekoza”) finished production in 1979 (and premiered in 1981).[3]

Ondekoza was active not only in visual mediums but in aural ones as well, recording and releasing three albums over a three-year period in the latter half of the decade. The first album, Ondekoza I (1977, Victor KVX-1037), reflected Ondekoza’s touring repertoire at the time. It begins with “O-daiko” (「大太鼓」), offering a glimpse into how this piece was first conceived and performed by group members. It begins with sparse hits on the ō-daiko and chappa underneath a shakuhachi melody. The ō-daiko gradually takes over, developing into the now-familiar improvisation by one player accompanied by a second player on the other side of the drummer and the chappa player. The soloist is given a brief respite towards the end of the piece while a shinobue enters, before the piece ends with a faster improvisation on the ō-daiko accompanied by atarigane.

Two melodic works follow the bombastic splendor of “O-daiko.” Succeeding “O-daiko” on Side A of the LP is “Ajikan” (「阿字観」), a standard of shakuhachi repertoire named after a Buddhist meditation technique. Side B, meanwhile, opens with “Tsugaru-jamisen” (「津軽三味線」), a performance of a style of shamisen playing from the Tsugaru peninsula in northern Japan. These pieces not only provide a contrast to the drum-heavy works that open and close the LP, but also provide insight to the diverse performance styles studied by Ondekoza members and presented in concerts around the world.

Ondekoza I concludes with Ondekoza’s arrangement of Chichibu Yatai-bayashi. This now-familiar arrangement has largely remained the same over the years: chū-daiko players trade ō-nami/ko-nami segments before the shime-daiko players begin their tamaire solo. After the tamaire, the chū-daiko return for one more ō-nami/ko-nami cycle before the piece concludes with the bukkiri.[4]

Ondekoza I stands out not only for its presentation of Ondekoza standards and pieces that have not quite survived the passage of time within the repertoire, but also for the reprinting of an English-language review of the groups Berlin debut at the Metamusik festival on October 4, 1976:

This article demonstrates that the selections presented on the LP were a fair representation of Ondekoza’s repertoire at the time, capturing the essence of the group’s style through the performance of traditional Japanese folk and art music songs. This practice would continue in the next album, Ondekoza 2, released in 1978 (Victor, KVX-1038).

Much like the first album, Ondekoza 2 features melodic pieces sandwiched in between drum-heavy works; however, this recording differs in that the drum-heavy works are not arrangements but original compositions.  The LP opens with Ishii Maki’s commissioned work “Monochrome II,” a slight variation on the “Monochrome” that is still performed today. This version includes an extended ō-daiko solo in the middle of the work and the inclusion of the ō-daiko in the quoting of “Yatai-bayashi” at the end of the piece. These elements can be found in the original score for “Monochrome” that can be purchased through music vendors, but this version is rarely performed today.

Following “Monochrome II” is  an arrangement of regional festival music, “Yumigahama” (「弓ヶ浜」), festival music featuring taiko and shinobue from the Yumigahama region of Shizuoka Prefecture. Next comes another famous work for a melodic instrument, the shamisen piece “Futozao” (「太棹」, also the name of a specific type of  shamisen).

Ondekoza 2 concludes with “Mikuni Gensōkyoku” (「三國幻想曲」, “Three Kingdom Fantasy”), an extended improvisation on the ō-daiko accompanied by chappa, and also featuring melodies on shinobue and shamisen. It has much in common with “O-daiko,” but there is less separation of melodic and rhythmic instruments. The work opens with ō-daiko and shinobue playing at the same time, soon joined by the chappa. After several minutes the focus shifts to the shamisen, quietly accompanied by the ō-daiko. About halfway through the piece, the ō-daiko takes center stage, soloing while the shinobue player improvises in the background. The piece ends in a manner similar to “O-daiko,” with a brief respite provided by the shinobue before it concludes with improvisation on the ō-daiko, albeit an improvisation with much less fervor than the “O-daiko” version.

Just as Ondekoza I provided a glimpse into Ondekoza’s history through the inclusion of the review from The International Herald Tribute, Ondekoza 2 offers an indication of how contemporary taiko performance was evolving. The liner notes feature an extended article about the recording of the album, including diagrams of both instrument and microphone placement:

These liner notes offer a look at how Ondekoza and Victor recording engineers were working to translate what was primary a live performance art into one that could be successfully captured for an LP.

On both Ondekoza I and Ondekoza 2, the listener can hear not only how Ondekoza was evolving, but also how the genre was changing. “Monochrome” was unlike anything composed to that point for contemporary taiko ensemble, and yet it existed alongside arrangements of festival music and standards of melodic instrument repertoire. This evolution is further put on display in 1980’s Ondekoza-2 (Victor, KVX-1061). Surprisingly, there are only two songs on the album: “Sōgaku Improvisation” (「走楽インプロヴィゼーション」, “Running Music Improvisation”) and “Kaigara-Koishiya” (「貝がら恋しや」, “A Loving Look at a Shell”). “Sōgaku Improvisation” – an original composition featuring concurrent improvisations on ō-daiko, shime-daiko, shamisen, and shakuhachi – is in many ways a continuation of the work done in “O-daiko” and “Mikuni Gensōkyoku.” Liner notes on the back of the album describe it as an attempt to show through music the reason why Ondekoza members run (Ondekoza 1980).

“Kaigara-Koishiya,” meanwhile, is perhaps the more interesting of the two pieces, written in 1979 for a joint performance with the rock band Boogie Woogie Down Town Band. It features a chorus singing two songs based on folk melodies from Tottori Prefecture. These songs are accompanied by a variety of melodic and percussion instruments, including three koto (「琴」, a bridged 13-stringed zither), assorted percussion instruments, gongs, taiko, and – most unusually – an Indonesian gamelan (an ensemble consisting of various metallophones and gongs). The koto is a constant throughout the piece, serving as both melody and accompaniment for the voices, while the rest of the instruments accompany the various melodies. “Kaigara-Koishiya” is unlike anything else in the repertoire developed by Ondekoza in the 1970s, bringing together Japanese folk music (the folk melodies) and instruments from both Japanese (the koto) and non-Japanese (the gamelan) art music.

From Ondekoza to Kodo

The musical explorations demonstrated on Ondekoza-3 were a harbinger of things to come, showing the directions that Ondekoza members were looking to explore. However, the release of the album in 1981 came at a time of great turmoil for Ondekoza and its members. As the 1970s closed, members felt that Den was placing too much time – and money – into non-musical projects like the documentaries, and not into the artistic growth of the ensemble. Eventually, in 1980, they decided to part ways with Den, who took the group’s drums and moved to Nagasaki. The remaining members stayed on Sado and founded a new management organization, Kitamaesen (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 67). However, they still had performance obligations to fulfill booked under the name “Ondekoza,” and so they embarked on a series of concerts celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the group.

The program for the 10th Anniversary concerts included a mix of old favorites and new pieces. An April performance in Tokyo’s Yomiuri Hall, for example, included the debut of several new pieces that the group had been working on even as the relationship with Den Tagayasu was deteriorating. One piece that was debuted was “Shishi-Odori” (「獅子踊り」), an arrangement of a regional drum dance from northern Japan, described in the following manner within the Kodo 30th Anniversary book Inochi Moyashite, Tatakeyo. -Kodo 30-Nen no Kiseki –:

The foundation is the National Intangible Cultural Heritage “Kanatsuru Yanagawa Shishi Odori,” from the city of Esashi in Iwate Prefecture. It has a history of 250 years as a ritual performance art of Matsuo Shrine. It is a performance art featuring the trinity of carrying a horse-skin okedō-daiko under the arm, accompanying it with the hands, and singing while wearing a mask with deer horns attached and carrying on the back two (3-4 meter long) sasara. “Shishi” means “deer.” The deer is an object of faith as a messenger of the gods, and its origins as a performing art showing a deer playing in the rice fields and the funeral rites of a deer is evident. This dance, in which the performer jumps up high and occasionally bends greatly forward, striking the sasara on the ground, is both heroic and gorgeous.

In 1980, performers encountered the beautiful and compelling dance, and invited first Mr. Hirano Yukio, and then a total of 6 people, to Sado and underwent instruction. To this day we continue an exchange as pupils. (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 108-109)

The other piece debuted on the April 1981 concert was “Soh-Rengue” (「双蓮花」, “Pair of Lotus Flowers”), composed by Ondekoza founding member Hayashi Eitetsu. While “Shishi-odori” was in many ways a continuation of past activities for the group – that is, an arrangement of regional festival drumming and dancing – “Soh-Rengue” was in many respects a dramatic jump forward in the group’s performance style, meshing together a wide variety of elements both musical and visual. It combines hand-dancing (te-odori) from the Tsugaru region with musical performance on koto, percussion instruments like woodblocks and bells, and – most surprisingly – Caribbean steel drums. Within Kodo’s 30th Anniversary book, “Soh-Rengue” is described simply as a “work in which steel drums and such are combined with Tsugaru te-odori and reconstructed” (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 67). However, the notes included with the 1982 album Kodo I (discussed below), are more descriptive:

SOH-RENGUE means two lotus flowers. The image of this music is scenery filled with soft sunlight and fluttering petals. It is played as an accompaniment for dancing. Only the melody of the theme was composed and afterwards improvised with dancing. We used woodblocks, bells, koto (13 stringed instrument) and steel drum. (Kodo 1982)

“Soh-Rengue” builds upon Ondekoza-3’s “Kaigara-Koishiya,” with the koto once more featured as the primary melodic instrument accompanied by assorted percussion instruments and a non-Japanese instrument. This time, however, the secondary melodic instrument is the steel drum, which has a more prominent role than that held by the gamelan in “Kaigara-Koishiya.” They function as both accompaniment and counter-melody to the koto.

The piece opens with a slow melody expressed by the koto and steel drums. Woodblocks and bells gradually enter with brief flourishes before they start playing a rhythmic accompaniment for the melody. Eventually, the woodblocks take over for a while, with woodblocks of different pitches offering both rhythmic and quasi-melodic elements as they gradually increase the tempo. Once the woodblocks establish the new tempo, the koto and steel drums enter at a faster pace, before the piece ends with a brief return to the opening feel.

While no videos of the dance performed during “Soh-Rengue” exist, many recordings of Tsugaru te-odori have been uploaded to video sharing sites, providing an example of what audiences might have seen during this tour:

Even in a period of great change, Ondekoza members kept their basic performance formula the same, combining festival music arrangements with original compositions. However, as the 10th anniversary tour wrapped up the members encountered another hurdle to overcome, when Den asked them to stop using the Ondekoza name. After moving to Nagasaki,  he had formed a ‘new’ Ondekoza, and as he had the legal right to the name, the original members left on Sado had to find a new name (Bender 2012, 96). Founding member Hayashi Eitetsu proposed the name “Kodo,” combining the Japanese characters for “drum” (ko) and “child” () in an effort to reflect the idea of the sound of the taiko being similar to the heartbeat within a mother’s womb (drawing upon stories he had heard of children falling asleep at Ondekoza concerts during ō-daiko solos) (Hayashi 1999, 53).  The other members liked this idea, and they decided upon the new name “Kodo” for their new group.

“Kodo I”

In the summer of 1981, the former members of Ondekoza gave the final performance as “Ondekoza” and began activities as “Kodo.” In August, they held the first “Kodo Summer School,” a gathering much in the spirit of the initial Ondekoza summer gathering held in 1970. Then, in September, they made their official debut as Kodo at the Berlin Arts Festival. While in Germany, they debuted a new composition by Ishii Maki – “Dyu-Ha,” originally commissioned by the group when they were still Ondekoza (as suggested by the original full name of the composition: “Dyu-Ha, for Ondekoza”) (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 69).

After returning to Japan for a performance at the end of September at the Ikebukuro Sunshine Theater in Tokyo (a concert for which tickets had already been sold as an Ondekoza performance), the group officially announced their renaming as “Kodo.” After playing a few more shows across Japan, they recorded their first album under the new name over two days in December 1981 at the Iruma City Community Hall in Iruma, Saitama Prefecture.[5] They named the album Kodo I (Kodo, KODO-001), following the naming scheme used in Ondekoza’s albums.

Kodo I represented a new start for the group, featuring compositions composed either by members or specifically for the group. Indeed, much like Ondekoza-3 there are no arrangements of festival music on this album.  The first piece on the album is “Kodo-Kukai” (「鼓童空海」, “Kodo’s Empty Ocean”) Hayashi Eitetsu’s new take on the ō-daiko solo. The piece features many of the same elements found in Ondekoza’s “O-daiko” – atarigane and chappa accompaniment along with a shinobue – but also includes a few new elements. It opens with a few notes on singing bowls  – standing bells used in Buddhist practice – as the ō-daiko player strikes intermittently. A chorus then enters, singing a wordless melody for a brief period before the primary ō-daiko improvisation begins (accompanied by chappa, shinobue, and chū-daiko).

Following “Kodo-Kukai” on Side 1 of the LP is “Soh-Rengue,” a melodic counterpoint to the rhythmic power of Hayashi’s ō-daiko solo.

Side 2 of “Kodo I” opens with “Dyu-Ha” (「入破」), described as follows on the back cover of the American release of the LP:

The “group of Taiko” mentioned in the description is a kumi-daiko grouping of drums like that first developed by Oguchi Daihachi with Osuwa Daiko in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the Kodo kumi-daiko set differs from the Osuwa Daiko version through its use of okedō-daiko (桶胴太鼓, “bucket-bodied drum”), a type of shime-daiko used in many drum dances (such as the Shishi-odori debuted at the Ondekoza 10th Anniversary concert). Hayashi Eitetsu worked with Kodo’s drum supplier Asano Taiko to create a stand in which the drum is suspended using leather drums and placed so the player can hit it much in the same way as a nagadō-daiko.

As seen in the picture above, for “Dyu-ha” several shime-daiko are placed in a V-shape with the point at the front of the space, behind which stands the okedō-daiko set (often comprised of two okedō-daiko and one or two shime-daiko). The musical content of the piece has much in common with the aleatoric sections of “Monochrome,” in that there are assigned rhythms and timing guidelines, but the execution of both is left up to the players.

While in concert “Dyu-Ha” is performed on its own, on Kodo I the group blends the end of Ishii’s work with the beginning of “Hekiryu-1st” (「碧流一番」, “The First Blue Wave”) a composition by Hayashi Eitetsu and Fujimoto Yoshikazu described in the following manner in the Kodo I liner notes:

While “Kodo-Kukai” opened the LP with an extended improvisation on the ō-daiko, “Hekiryu-1st” is an improvisation by two players on the taiko set. One player provides an accompanying ostinato while the other improvises on the set, the players take turns before improvising simultaneously while at the same time providing a quasi-ostinato rhythmic foundation.

As a whole, Kodo I offers listeners a glimpse into the directions that Kodo members looked to evolve their performance style and repertoire. With Ishii’s contribution, the “new” organization continued an existing musical relationship, while the inclusion of works by group members gave them direct involvement in their own musical development. They would not build upon this step forward for a short while, however, for even as they released the album at the beginning in 1982, members took an eight-month break in performing, traveling to various parts in Japan to learn new performance styles much as they had a decade earlier under the name Ondekoza.

When they returned to performing later that year, they had a much different look, not just in terms of the music they were playing but the make-up of the ensemble. A new generation of performers joined following the summer 1981 Kodo Summer School while one prominent performer departed: Hayashi Eitetsu. After a decade at the center of the group’s activities – during which time he was the primary force behind many of the arrangements and the development of works like “O-daiko,” not to mention the three pieces by him on the first Kodo LP – Hayashi decided to embark on a new journey as a taiko soloist. Following Hayashi’s departure, “Soh-Rengue” and “Hekiryu-1st” disappeared from the Kodo performance repertoire, and the group replaced “Kodo-Kukai” with the older “O-daiko,” now with Fujimoto Yoshikazu as the featured soloist.

“Kodo II”

Kodo members revealed the results of their eight months of research and retooling of repertoire first when they returned to touring in 1982, and then in 1983 when they released their second album, Kodo II LIVE IN CALIFORNIA (Kodo, KODO-002). They recorded the album live at Zellerbach Hall at the University of California Berkeley on November 2, 1982, and released it in 1983 as a cassette.

While some Ondekoza classics are present on the program presented in California – “O-daiko,” “Yatai-bayashi,” “Monochrome” – much of the program consisted of works the group had recently added to their performance repertoire. The concert opens with “Miyake,” the now-famous arrangement of festival drumming from Miyake-jima.[6] This is followed by “Nishimonai” (「西馬音内」) an arrangement of bon odori from the Nishinomai section of Ugomachi, Akita Prefecture. After these two regional arrangements comes three original compositions: “Monochrome,” “Hae” (「南風」, “Southern Wind”), and “Dyu-Ha.” Side 2 of Kodo II opens with “Shishi-odori,” which is followed by “Ayako-mai” (「綾子舞」, “Dance of Figured Satin”), a dance from Niigata Prefecture. After the two dances comes “Izumo-gaku” (「出雲楽」, “Music from Izumo”), a short piece for fue and ō-daiko that leads into “O-daiko,” before the program concludes with “Yatai-bayashi.”

Out of all the new additions to the Kodo repertoire found in this program, “Hae” – composed in 1982 by group member Yamaguchi Motofumi – is perhaps the most interesting, described in the following manner for the 1985 album “Heartbeat Drummers of Japan”:

Hae are the winds which come from the south. Throughout its long history, Japan has been significantly influenced by the southernmost islands. Using the basic tonal scale of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands, as well as using a Caribbean instrument, the steel drum, this composition expresses a heartfelt longing for the south. (Kodo 1985)

In “Hae,” Yamaguchi brings together the steel drums first used in “Soh-Rengue” and the southern – that is, Okinawan – influences found in “Hekiryu-1st.” The combination of koto and steel drums from “Soh-Rengue” is this time accompanied by an okedō-daiko. After the steel drums present the tonal scale through a brief ostinato, the koto enters with its own melody before it is joined in counter-melody by the steel drums, with both being accompanied by the okedō-daiko. This opening section is noteworthy not only for the instrumentation, but for its usage of 3/4 time (rarely used in taiko compositions). The okedō-daiko player then begins a 12/8 ostinato over which both melodic players first trade improvisations then start interweaving with the other’s solo, before the piece returns to the original 3/4 koto melody over the steel drum ostinato.

As often will occur during the life of a performing group, “Hae” has disappeared from Kodo’s repertoire. Nevertheless, it shows how group members were experimenting with new musical ideas and, indeed, musical instruments. It was recorded again in 1985 along with “Miyake,” “O-daiko,” “Monochrome,” and another new work called “Chonlima” (composed by the kabuki musician Tosha Roetsu) for the album “Heartbeat Drummers of Japan.”

Kodo’s November 2, 1982 concert in San Francisco – recorded and released as Kodo II LIVE IN CALIFORNIA – indicated the path that the group would take moving forward into the 1980s. The program included old favorites from the Ondekoza era and new pieces, both arrangements and originals. The number of original compositions by members would only continue to grow. Yamaguchi Motofumi followed up “Hae” with three songs on the group’s next album, “UBU-SUNA” (released in 1988). That same album featured a studio recording of “Dyu-ha” and two compositions by Leonard Eto, who joined the group in 1984.

Recordings such as those produced by Ondekoza in the latter half of the 1970s and Kodo in the first half of the 1980s are important to obtaining a greater understanding of how contemporary taiko music grew. They offer a look at an evolving performance ensemble, keeping hold of its roots in festival and music while also expanding the group’s musical horizons. Many of the pieces composed during this era are still part of the repertoire for both Kodo and the new version of Ondekoza, a testament to the artistic direction and vision of the members even amid major organizational change.

Works Cited

Bender, Shawn. 2012. Taiko Boom: Japanese Drumming in Place and Motion Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hayashi, Eitetsu. 1999. “Tokushuu Hayashi Eitetsu Zenshi 1970-2000 特集 林英哲 全史 1970-2000.”  Taikorojii たいころじい [Taikology] 17:9-79.

Kodo. 1982. KODO I: Kodo. LP.

Kodo. 1985. Heartbeat Drummers of Japan: Sheffield Lab, Inc. CD.

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.

Ondekoza. 1980. Ondekoza-3: Victor. LP.


[1] Unfortunately, many of the recordings discussed in this article are out of print. Some can be obtained through online used record stores, however, and to support searches for these products I will be including publisher information.

Due to the wishes of the artists, I will not be posting audio/video examples from the 1970s Ondekoza LPs, or the first two Kodo albums discussed in this album.

[2] “Sado no Kuni” is the old name for the island of Sado.

[3] The Ondekoza documentaries have rarely been seen since the 1970s. However, a showing of the third documentary took placed in Tokyo in November 2016, and this documentary will be released to home video by Shochiku Company Limited in February 2017.

[4] For more about this piece, see Ben’s article about Chichibu yatai-bayashi on Esto es Taiko. (Accessed December 20, 2016)

[5] The location is mistakenly listed on the back cover of the US release as “Irima City Community Hall.”

[6] For more on this piece, see the article by Ben about “Miyake” published on esto es taiko: (Accessed December 20, 2016)


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.

Oni Kenbai 1, Kitakami, Iwate

Oni Kenbai 1, Kitakami, Iwate. By Yoshi Canopus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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)

Odaiko Duet

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.

Japan Earthquake Commemoration Concert, United Nations, NY

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):

O-daiko opening cycle

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.[1]


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.[2] 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:

An excerpt from Hayashi Eitetsu’s ō-daiko improvisation "Hi no Taiko, Tsuki no Taiko." The right hand hits at the end of the drumhead, while accented left hand notes are played in the center.

An excerpt from Hayashi Eitetsu’s ō-daiko improvisation “Hi no Taiko, Tsuki no Taiko.” The right hand hits at the end of the drumhead, while accented left hand notes are played in the center.

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.[3]

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’.”

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.


[1] 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).
[2] This is the case both in Kodo and in the new version of Ondekoza that Den founded in the 1980s.

[3] 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.

New Taiko Music History Article: Monochrome

We follow up the “Yatai-bayashi” article with an article about “Monochrome,” composed in 1976 for Ondekoza by Ishii Maki. Ishii brought together his Western art music compositional training and the festival music roots of Ondekoza, and created something unique to the taiko performance world. Nearly 40 years after its premiere, “Monochrome” remains a shining example of the melding of different musical and theatrical influences into a performance style meant for the concert stage.


In the early part of the 1970s, Ondekoza members trained both their bodies and their minds as they prepared to take their unique form of taiko performance around the world. Even as they were learning folk arts like Chichibu Yatai-bayashi, they were also engaging in physical activities like running marathons. In 1972, just 9 months after they began activities, they ran their first New Year’s Marathon, and in October participated in the 25th Sado Long-Distance Relay (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 12). The next year, they participated in the Tokyo Ohme Marathon.

Finally, in October 1973, the group made its musical debut as an attraction at the 6th World Industrial Design Conference in Kyoto, performing “Yatai-bayashi” in front of an audience that included many of the group’s stockholders (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 53). Building upon that performance, the group gave a total of 10 performances that year at similar events, such as the Kyoto Craft Fair. They gradually ramped up activities in the following year, giving an increased number of performances while continuing to run marathons across Japan. The two endeavors combined in April of 1975 as the group embarked on its first world tour. In a feat that has since become the stuff of legend, members participated in the Boston Marathon, then upon arriving at the finish line jumped up onto the stage and began to play. Soon, Ondekoza’s name became known not just across the United States but around the world.

Members’ participation in the Boston Marathon – and subsequent performances across the Boston area – not only helped to increase general knowledge of the group’s activities, but also helped the group to meet new friends and collaborators. Among those in the audiences of Ondekoza’s Boston performances was Ozawa Seiji, the Music Director of the Boston Symphony with whom Den Tagayasu had become acquaintances in the years leading up to Ondekoza’s United States debut. This friendship would become crucial to the growth of Ondekoza when Ozawa introduced Den to Ishii Maki, a Western art music composer who had spent several years in Berlin in the 1960s studying twelve-tone technique under pupils of Arnold Schoenberg, one of the most influential composers of the 20th Century.

Following an early 1960s encounter with shōmyō (a type of Buddhist chant found only in Japan) and gagaku (Japanese ritual court music), Ishii began to investigate the potential for blending Japanese and Western musical techniques. He experimented with the inclusion of Japanese musical elements into a Western classical music setting, seeking to “incorporate various devices which establish contact between the idioms of western and eastern music” (Ishii 1997, 27). One such work in which he explored this concept was “Sō-Gū II,” a juxtaposition of gagaku and Western orchestral music in which music for the orchestra and music for the gagaku ensemble are performed simultaneously, premiered in 1971 by The Japan Philharmonic Orchestra (under the direction of Ozawa Seiji). Among the many techniques Ishii used in his search for a new form of musical expression blending Western and Japanese elements was an increased emphasis on percussion instruments, so important to Japanese music but relatively under-developed in Western classical music until the beginning of the 20th Century. He was particularly interested in “the intrinsic, elemental power and the richly expressive potential of these instruments” (Ishii 1997, 53).

Ozawa’s introduction to Ondekoza was fortuitous for both parties, for even as Ishii was become more and more interested in percussion music, Den was contemplating a collaboration with Western orchestra. Den invited Ishii to visit Sado and write a new piece for Ondekoza. Ishii accepted the invitation and spent six months on the island with group member, where he “devised new techniques totally unfamiliar” to Ondekoza members and “requested them to practise until these techniques had entered their very blood and bones” (Ishii 1997, 57). Not only was this was a completely different experience for the members, but it was a major step forward for contemporary taiko performance in general. To that point, the majority of taiko music had been influenced by Japanese folk and theatrical drumming, with the occasional jazz elements finding their way into the world of Oguchi Daihachi and Osuwa Daiko. Ishii, however, brought in a wide variety of Western art music elements, resulting in one of the most unique works in contemporary taiko repertoire: “Monochrome.”


The culmination of the six months of collaboration between Ishii Maki and Ondekoza, “Monochrome” – officially titled “Monochrome, for Japanese Drums and gongs, op. 28” – premiered at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan in February 1976 as part of the music festival Panmusik Festival Tokyo (founded by Ishii). “Monochrome” was a major breakthrough in the development of taiko music; not only was it the first time that an outside composer had written music for a taiko group, but it was the first work written by a Western-trained composer. Ishii’s approach to music was quite different to what the Ondekoza members were used to; among other things, it was the first time they had encountered what they called “a Western music-oriented approach, with rhythms different from traditional taiko, as they tried to embody a musical form of expression” (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 58).

“Monochrome” is written for seven shime-daiko, three nagadō-daiko (indicated in the score as “Chichibu-Daiko,” hinting at the influence of Ondekoza’s “Yatai-bayashi” arrangement), two ō-daiko, and two large gongs () hung on metal stands. In most performances, however, the section involving the ō-daiko is not played, indicated as “Version B” in the printed score. (Ishii 1989)

The beginning of the piece is characterized by moments of quiet that built up to extreme loudness, with quiet ostinatos (marked pianissimo) that are marked by occasional accented rhythms that gradually build up to mezzo-forte before dropping back to near-nothingness. These accented rhythms vary according to the player, resulting in an intricate combination of sounds in which all seven players fit within a larger rhythmic whole:[1]

Published by Moeck Verlag und Musikinstrumentenwek (Ishii 1989)

Published by Moeck Verlag und Musikinstrumentenwek (Ishii 1989)

The ostinato section transitions into one characterized by elements more commonly found in aleatoric compositions, a style in which parts of the performance are left to chance. Ishii uses the concept of “chance” in multiple ways in “Monochrome.” After the opening ostinato, there begins a slight alternation of the quiet rhythm, as each player accelerates and slows down the repeated ostinato before returning to the original tempo. The resulting imbalance is almost unnoticeable at first, but as more players move out of the ostinato and began manipulating the tempo the strict metric feel that has dominated the music to this point is disrupted. In a following section, meanwhile, each drummer lets their bachi bounce quietly on the stick head, the resulting rhythm determined by the manner in which gravity works on the drumstick and resulting in a sound similar to rain.

Meanwhile, in two later passages in the section, Ishii makes use of a common aleatoric compositional practice by having players choose from seventeen different rhythms that combine volume hits, hits on the drumhead and the rim, and rhythmic variations (the rhythms that are used in the second grouping are seen below). The order in which the rhythms are played is left up to the individual, as long as they play them for the designated length of time and do not repeat the same pattern until they have played all possible options.

An aleatoric passage from "Monochrome," listing seventeen musical gestures from which players can choose

An aleatoric passage from “Monochrome,” listing seventeen musical gestures from which players can choose

Movement into the final section of “Monochrome,” coming out of the second grouping of aleatoric rhythms, is signaled by a move by three players to the nagadō-daiko, where they begin a passage influenced by “Yatai-bayashi.” The remaining shime-daiko players continue their aleatoric patterns for a time before one by one settling into the ostinato from “Yatai-bayashi.” Meanwhile, each nagadō-daiko player first performs individual variations on the “Yatai-bayashi” ō-nami/ko-nami sequences – albeit, not improvised as in “Yatai-bayashi,” for Ishii has written the desired rhythms in the score – before eventually synchronizing their playing, building up to the end of the piece.

The final measures of "Monochrome." The top three lines are played on nagadō-daiko; the bottom three, shime-daiko. (Ishii 1989)

The final measures of “Monochrome.” The top three lines are played on nagadō-daiko; the bottom three, shime-daiko. (Ishii 1989)

“Monochrome” was unlike anything performed before by taiko ensembles in the history of the art form. The inclusion of aleatoric elements brought Western classical musical practices into the taiko world; the rhythmic construction, dynamic considerations, and other compositional techniques were unlike anything else found in the repertoire. Furthermore, the sonic dimensions of a performance of “Monochrome” is unmatched; each loud hit of the shime-daiko that passes between the players, each quiet interplay between accelerando, ritardando, and a tempo, is affected by the acoustical properties of the performance space in which the piece is heard, an approach used by composers of Western art music but one that had never been a factor in taiko performance. Furthermore, a performance of “Monochrome” often includes theatrical elements only possible in concert halls, as different sections are accompanied by changing in lighting. The opening, for example, is dimly lit, with the lights getting brighter as the players increase the dynamics of their playing and dimming again as the dynamics go back down, and spotlights are often used to bring attention to particular players or instruments.

Meanwhile, the inclusion of rhythms taken from “Yatai-bayashi” – both the ostinato and the ō-nami/ko-nami sequence – was a continuation of Ishii’s attempts to meld Japanese and Western musical elements. Unlike previous attempts in which Ishii juxtaposed different elements in simultaneous performance, however, within “Monochrome” he made the Japanese elements part of the overall rhythmic scheme of the piece. This is particularly evident in the latter section of the work when three drummers move from shime-daiko to nagadō-daiko. The stands on which the nagadō-daiko are placed – as well as the rhythms used in the section – help to identify the elements as having been taken from “Yatai-bayashi,” but they are means to an end, musical ideas to be used for a greater musical purpose rather than elements to be contrasted with another musical idea (although, for a time, the aleatoric section overlaps with the “Yatai-bayashi” quotation).

The Legacy of “Monochrome”

“Monochrome” brought Ondekoza – indeed, taiko in general – into a new musical world, helping the group to be recognized by a wider audience interested as much in “modern music” as in “Japanese music.” Hayashi Eitetsu holds this development in high regard in relation to the continued evolution of taiko repertoire:

Musically-speaking, I believe that the minimal rhythmic elements presented in their bare essence as in minimalism, the rhythmic syncopation of the nagadō-daiko, and the dynamics that grow from softest to loudest had a strong impact on contemporary audiences and thus was accepted. That form of presentation is nothing that had been expressed by Japanese taiko to that point and was a landmark event. That characteristic, through “Monochrome” and the technique of contemporary music, spread even further musically. (Personal communication, December 2012)

Ishii would follow up “Monochrome” with “Mono-prism for Japanese drums and orchestra,” taking many of the same ideas of “Monochrome” and applying them in an orchestral setting; the taiko ensemble is accompanied by an orchestral score that is at times atonal and integrates elements of aleatoric composition. The piece debuted in 1976 at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts, with Ondekoza and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Ozawa Seiji (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 59).

“Mono-prism” was not the end of Ishii’s exploration of taiko performance, however. In 1981 he wrote “Dyū-Ha” for Ondekoza’s successor group Kodo. Then, in 1985, he wrote a ballet entitled “Kaguyahime,” with the orchestra comprised of 8 taiko, 8 percussionists, and a gagaku ensemble. He again makes use “Yatai-bayashi,” both in terms of rhythms and the Chichibu yatai-bayashi stand.

That same year, he also composed a follow-up to “Mono-prism,” “Mono-prism II,” for taiko and percussion instruments:

Through these works – especially “Monochrome” – taiko entered into a new realm of performance; Ondekoza was performing not just folk music, but art music as well – that is, music that is written down (a score for “Monochrome” has been published, a rarity for taiko repertoire) and utilizes advanced structural and compositional techniques. Others have followed in Ishii’s footsteps, bringing together the worlds of taiko music and Western art music. In 1983, Miki Minoru composed “Marimba Spiritual” for marimba solo and three percussionist. Each of the percussionists plays a variety of instruments, but the main section of the piece features atarigane, shime-daiko, and nagadō-daiko. It even hearkens back to “Monochrome” through the use of “yatai-bayashi” rhythms. On Miki’s website, it is stated that “The rhythmic patterns for the second part are taken from the festival drumming of the Chichibu area northwest of Tokyo,” but the rhythmic feel is more like Ondekoza’s arrangement.[2]

The inclusion of taiko in a symphonic context continued even today, championed by composers like Matsushita Isao. With compositions like “Hi-Ten-Yu,” a concerto for taiko and orchestra (written for Hayashi Eitetsu), he has continued the work started by Ishii, bringing taiko to new audiences and bringing the gap between Japanese and Western musics.

Works Cited

 Ishii, Maki. 1989. Monochrome for japanese drums and gongs op. 29 (1976). Celle, Lower Saxony, Germany: Moeck Verlag und Musikinstrumentenwek.

Ishii, Maki. 1997. “”Nishi no Hibiki, Higashi no Hibiki” – Futatsu no Otosekai kara no Sōzō, Kujū 「西の響き・東の響き」ー二つの音世界からの創造・苦渋ー.” In Sounds of West – Sounds of East: Maki Ishii’s Music —Striding two Musical Worlds, edited by Christa Ishii-Meinecke, 12-69. Celle, Germany: Moeck Verlag + Musikinstrumentenwerk.

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.


[1] In this passage, noteheads with stems down represent quiet continuation of the ostinato, while those with noteheads up are accented notes (notated with accents in the beginning of each passage, and continued per the “simile” marking above each line).

[2] (accessed November 28, 2015)

New Taiko Music History Article: Yatai-bayashi

After a brief time away, we’re back with new Taiko Music History articles! In fact, we have TWO new articles!

We begin with an article written by Ben and posted by Gastoncito San Cristobal on his website Esto Es Taiko, about the Ondekoza/Kodo staple “Yatai-bayashi.” In the article, Ben discusses the history of Ondekoza, of Chichibu Yatai-bayashi, and how this festival music became a staple of the taiko concert stage.