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!


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.

Oroshi Daiko/Shiraume Daiko/Matsuri Daiko

When Shin On Taiko debuted in 1967 at the Tokyo club Crown, they presented to audiences a unique style of taiko performance. In pieces like “Midare Uchi,” members showcased the bon daiko skills they had honed in competitions across Tokyo. The soloistic, theatrical flairs they had developed were popular in clubs and cabarets across the Japanese capital, and even after Shin On Taiko folded and reemerged as Sukeroku Taiko, they managed to garner great responses from audiences.

Yet, audiences were not seeing simply bon daiko in Sukeroku Taiko performances. Rather, from the beginning of the activities the members drew from a variety of sources when honing their craft. While early performance direction for Shin On Daiko came from Sanada Minoru, he was a dancer, and “could not offer guidance for real taiko performance” (Mogi 2010, 36). Instead, the true musical instruction of Ishizuka Yutaka, Kobayashi Seido, Onozato Motoe, and Ishikura Yoshihisa was provided by Kineya Sasazou, the musician in charge of hōgaku (邦楽) performance at the National Theater in Chiyoda-ku; For three months, Kineya taught members the fundamentals of hōgaku-hayashi (邦楽囃子), the music of theatrical genres like noh and kabuki. Through this training, Sukeroku Taiko members gained a level of technical and musical sophistication that would push their skills to a new level.


Hōgaku ensembles – also called hōgaku-hayashi – consist of wind instruments (flutes, primarily) and drums. The ensemble used in noh, for example, typically consists of a nohkan, a high-pitched bamboo flute, and three types of drums – a ko-tsuzumi, an ō-tsuzumi, and a shime-daiko (sometimes simply called the taiko). Kabuki ensembles, meanwhile, also use a shamisen – a plucked string instrument – and a bamboo flute called a takebue.

Also contributing to kabuki performances is a group of musicians that play in a small room just offstage called the kuromisu (黒御簾 “black curtain”). Called the geza ongaku (下座音楽 “offstage music”), this ensemble is charged with creating sound effects and other musical cues not performed by the musicians on stage. Musicians in the kuromisu utilize a wide variety of instruments, including – most prominently – the ō-daiko, used for both musical and atmospheric purposes; for example, to indicate that snow is falling or it is thundering.

Mogi lists several elements of hōgaku-hayashi learned from Kineya Sasazou that were influential on the development of the future members of Sukeroku Taiko: “the basic performance practices of hōgaku-hayashi, along with phrasing, the way of producing the voice, the organization of the right and left hands (dividing when to alternately hit the right and left bachi and when to hit at the same time), and the attachment of dynamics” (Mogi 2010, 36). The vocal gestures particular to hōgaku would especially help separate the Sukeroku style from other contemporary taiko styles that later developed. Called kakegoe (掛け声 “connecting voice”), they are stylized shouts used partially to keep time. More than just abstract vocal gestures, kakegoe are integral parts of the music; indeed, Malm notes that “a pattern is not correctly played unless both the drum sounds and calls are performed in the proper order” (Malm 2000, 143). Furthermore, these rhythmic patterns are a composite of the ko-tsuzumi and ō-tsuzumi parts together with the kakegoe.[1]

Just as the hōgaku usage of the voice became important to the development of the Sukeroku Taiko performance style, so did specific techniques for drums like the shime-daiko. In hōgaku, musicians make conscious efforts to produce distinct types of sounds; Malm lists four basic sounds: “small, medium, large, and muffled (shō, chū, dai, and osameru)” (Malm 2000, 141). Stylized movements are used both to play and to visually accentuate these sounds: for example, there is a sequence in which the left stick is drawn back towards the right shoulder before it comes down at an angle to hit the drum.

Sukeroku Taiko members took these performance techniques and combined them with those utilized in bon daiko, and then composed new pieces that reflected this new musical direction. This process resulted in the emergence of three works: “Oroshi Daiko,” “Shiraume Daiko,” and “Matsuri Daiko.” While the pieces can be performed separately, they are typically played as a suite. They serve as a demonstration of the manner in which even in the early stages of the group’s development, Sukeroku Taiko members were developing a style that was a step removed from the bon daiko-influenced music that had filled the majority of their early repertoire, becoming more complex both technically and compositionally. However, they did not merely draw from hōgaku-hayashi and bon daiko, but also looked to other festival musics performed in Tokyo to enhance their emerging style, including an old style of festival music called Edo-bayashi.


A common sight at matsuri (festivals) across Japan is an ensemble called a matsuri-bayashi (祭囃子 “festival ensemble”). With a standard orchestration in Tokyo of a shinobue, one smaller byō-uchi-daiko, two or three shime-daiko, and an atarigane, matsuri-bayashi provide much of the background music for matsuri. The ensemble provides the accompanying music that announces a mikoshi (神輿) – portable shrines believed to serve as palanquins for the gods – as community members carry it around during matsuri. As bearers carry the mikoshi to the various neighborhoods surrounding a Shinto shrine, the members of the matsuri-bayashi either walk behind a small cart upon which their instruments are mounted or ride upon floats called dashi.

A matsuri-bayashi cart during the route of a mikoshi procession. Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa, Tokyo. May 19, 2012. Photo by Benjamin Pachter.

A matsuri-bayashi cart during the route of a mikoshi procession. Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa, Tokyo. May 19, 2012. Photo by Benjamin Pachter.

A matsuri-bayashi cart during the Sanno Matsuri. Tokyo, June 10., 2012. Photo by Benjamin Pachter.

A matsuri-bayashi cart during the Sanno Matsuri. Tokyo, June 10, 2012. Photo by Benjamin Pachter.

Matsuri-bayashi sometimes also perform on the grounds of a shrine as the mikoshi is brought into the grounds, or at special stands placed along the route of the mikoshi. In the latter instance, they play the music when the mikoshi has stopped, allowing the musicians on the accompanying float to rest (as seen below).

A matsuri-bayashi in a booth along the route of a mikoshi procession. Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa, Tokyo. May 20, 2012. Photo by Benjamin Pachter.

A matsuri-bayashi in a booth along the route of a mikoshi procession. Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa, Tokyo. May 20, 2012. Photo by Benjamin Pachter.

The music played by matsuri-bayashi ensembles – also called matsuri-bayashi, as a general musical genre name – is often named according to the region in which it is played or where the music came from. For example, in his book on Japanese music William Malm writes: “there is a kandabayashi from the Kanda district of Tokyo, and the popular ensemble from the Asakusa area of Tokyo is called the edobayashi, for it is the repository for much of the festival music of old Tokyo (Edo), as is the district in which it is played” (Malm 2000, 58).

The edobayashi mentioned by Malm – or Edo-bayashi (江戸囃子), as I choose to transliterate it, to put emphasis on the location – is the festival music of Edo, the old name for Tokyo. Today it is performed primarily in the Asakusa area of Tokyo during festivals such as Sanja Matsuri. It consists of several pieces: “Yatai” (屋台, a name for the float upon which the matsuri-bayashi rides), “Kamakura” (鎌倉, a town south of Tokyo, an old capital of Japan) “Shōten” (昇殿, also transliterated by some “Shoden;” the entry into the sanctum of a shrine or temple), and “Shichōme” (四丁目, “Fourth Avenue,” referring to a street). Each piece is performed at different points during the procession; “Yatai” is played when the procession begins and ends, for example, while “Shichōme” is played when a mikoshi is entering/leaving the shrine or nearing a neighborhood representative booth.

Edo-bayashi music consists of quasi-interlocking rhythmic patterns divided amongst the shime-daiko, ō-daiko, and atarigane, played underneath a fue melody.[2] It is semi-improvisational in nature – that is, there are set parts, but depending on the circumstance it could be left to the performer to decide when to play a certain rhythm; as such, it has a feeling of spontaneity.[3]

One example of this music is below in an excerpt from the first performance of “Yatai” at the beginning of an Edo-bayashi cycle. Beneath a melody played on the fue, the shime-daiko players and atarigane player perform a series of interlocking patterns that combines loud and soft, accented and unaccented notes. Meanwhile, the ō-daiko player interjects several different rhythms that combine with the shime-daiko and atarigane parts, followed by periods of rest. The result is a complex combination of rhythms that has a semi-improvisation feel to it, with the different patterns of the instruments weaving in between each other.[4]

Edo-bayashi Yatai

“Oroshi Daiko,” “Shiraume Daiko,” and “Matsuri Daiko,”

Sukeroku Taiko members combined the musical complexity of Edo-bayashi and the technical elements of hōgaku-hayashi, resulting in the three-piece suite featuring “Oroshi Daiko,” “Shiraume Daiko,” and “Matsuri Daiko.” The instrumentation for these pieces takes its cue from matsuri-bayashi, featuring shime-daiko, nagadō-daiko, and ō-daiko).[5] The number of shime-daiko and nagadō-daiko can vary depending on the situation, but there are always multiple nagadō-daiko, as the works utilize rhythmic parts divided among the players.

Curiously, Sukeroku-influenced groups rarely play the suite today as it was first composed. “Oroshi Daiko” has largely gone unperformed, replaced by a work entitled “Shunrai” (“Thunder”). “Shunrai” has many similarities to “Oroshi Daiko” in terms of construction and development, enough that it can be considered a variant of the original. However, some groups do still play “Oroshi Daiko” – most prominently, the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble (KETE) in Honolulu, HI, as Endo learned the piece as a member of Oedo Sukeroku Taiko in the 1980s. The following discussion is based largely on KETE’s performances of the piece, augmented by discussions in the writings of Mogi and others. A performance of it can be seen in the video below, from 10:22 – 17:24.

“Oroshi Daiko”

“Oroshi Daiko” (おろし太鼓) is an introductory piece filled with dramatic drum rolls that rise and fall in volume and echo the work’s title (one meaning of oroshi is “wind blowing down the mountains”). According to founding Sukeroku Taiko member Mochizuki Saburo (the hōgaku performance name of Ishizuka Yutaka), “Oroshi Daiko” “was created by bringing together compositions [from kabuki-hayashi] like “Ichi-ban Daiko,” “Chakutō,” and “Uchi-dashi” that are even today performed as a ritual” (personal communication, December 2012).

The impact of “Ichi-ban Daiko” (一番太鼓) in particular is apparent in “Oroshi Daiko.” “Ichi-ban Daiko” – played to announce the beginning of a kabuki performance and the rising of the curtain – opens with a pair of hits on the rim of the ō-daiko. The drummer then starts a series of yama-oroshi, rolls that start slowly and get faster with each hit. The player then proceeds into a short 4-bar phrase that is repeated several times, gradually getting faster with each repeat:

Ichi-ban Daiko middle

Finally, “Ichi-ban Daiko” concludes with a short series of rhythms that gradually slow down, before finished with two fast hits on the drum.

The influence of “Ichi-ban Daiko” on the development of “Oroshi Daiko” is apparent from the beginning. Following an initial roll by each player, each instrument enters, joining a repeated chain of notes that gets faster with each entrance:


The layering of parts is a common theme throughout “Oroshi Daiko”; following this opening, each musician then plays a drumroll in the same sequence in which they entered at the beginning of the piece. After the cycle of rolled entrances is repeated several times, the ensemble proceeds into a segment similar to the opening where each nagadō-daiko player entering in sequence. The music gets progressively faster and louder with each entrance, before the piece ends with one last roll:


“Shiraume Daiko”

After “Oroshi Daiko” concludes, the ensemble moves immediately into “Shiraume Daiko” (白梅太鼓), meant to evoke images of the Yushima Tenjin shrine. To be more specific, the plum blossoms that bloom at the shrine – shiraume means white plum blossoms” – inspired Sukeroku Taiko members as they were creating the piece. According to Mochizuki Saburo, the piece “expresses through taiko these white plum blossoms, bearing the cold and blooming just a little, undaunted by snow” (personal communication, December 2012).

Like “Oroshi Daiko,” “Shiraume Daiko” draws from the kabuki hōgaku tradition, albeit in a different manner; it is notable for use of the kakegoe and osameru shime-daiko techniques mentioned above. After an ensemble member announces the title – a common practice in Sukeroku Taiko works, as we saw in “Midare Uchi” – they begin a long kakegoe, with the tone of the voice moving from low to high. The use of kakegoe is a signature of “Shiraume Daiko”; performers are required to not only hit the drum but also make vocal gestures as they play (much in the fashion of hōgaku-hayashi). The composition then proceeds with a series of phrases combining interplay between the different instruments (an example of which can been seen below – in this transcription, stems without a notehead indicate the rhythmic placement of kakegoe):[6]

Shiraume Daiko excerpt

While the kakegoe in “Shiraume Daiko” stands out, it is not the only hōgaku-hayashi technique used during the piece. The shime-daiko ostinato in the excerpt above is of interest, for it utilizes a particular hōgaku-hayashi technique called osameru.[7] Performers are required to use an osameru technique (indicated in the transcription with diamond-shaped noteheads), in which the bachi stays on the drumhead after hitting in order to muffle the sound. Meanwhile, the simultaneously production of kakegoe by the shime-daiko player as they continue with the osameru patterns also reflect common hōgaku practices.[8]

“Matsuri Daiko”

Whereas the first two pieces of the suite utilize hōgaku-hayashi techniques Sukeroku Taiko members learned from Kineya, the last piece – “Matsuri Daiko” (祭り太鼓) – puts on display elements from the matsuri-bayashi played in the Shitamachi area of Tokyo, particularly the complex rhythmic patterns on the shime-daiko and the interlocking nature of the music. Continuing a theme from “Shiraume Daiko,” “Matsuri Daiko” describes the moment when “the white flowers [of Yushima Tenjin] bloom, withstanding the cold” (Mochizuki Saburo, personal communication, December 2012). Much like Edo-bayashi, it is characterized features patterns on the shime-daiko combining loud and soft hits in quick succession, as well as rhythmic interplay between the various instruments.

“Matsuri Daiko” performances typically begin – much in the fashion of other Sukeroku Taiko pieces – with a player announcing the title. A four-bar introduction on the ō-daiko is followed by an extended phrase in which the ō-daiko and nagadō-daiko players trade four-bar rhythms while the shime-daiko player(s) move between a series of different patterns. This section is the core of “Matsuri Daiko,” appearing often during a performance:

Matsuri Daiko excerpt 1

The influence of Shitamachi festival music is revealed in the intricate rhythms on the shime-daiko combining accented and unaccented notes, as well as in the way in which the shime-daiko part alternates between different rhythmic patterns yet returns to one pattern in particular. Many times in Edo-bayashi., the fundamental pattern – or ji – alternates with another pattern before returning (as seen in the transcription above). In the beginning of “Matsuri Daiko” seen above, the shime-daiko performers return to the rhythm in measures 5 through 9 even after new ideas are introduced.

Another influence of Shitamachi festival music is found in the middle section of the piece, when a shime-daiko rhythm is accompanied by sporadic interjections by the nagadō-daiko that fit into the shime-daiko rhythm. This echoes elements seen in the above Edo-bayashi excerpt, when the ō-daiko in Edo-bayashi interjects into pauses in the shime-daiko part.

Matsuri Daiko excerpt 2

After this cross-play section and additional repeats of the first series of patterns discussed above, the ensemble then proceeds into a passage in which running sixteenth-note-based rhythms are spread amongst the nagadō-daiko players. Finally, “Matsuri Daiko” concludes with a combination of the opening rhythms with patterns on the heads and rims of the nagadō-daiko.

The Sukeroku Style Moves Forward

Both as individual compositions and when seen as a suite, “Oroshi Daiko,” “Shiraume Daiko,” and “Matsuri Daiko,” represent a dramatic shift from earlier Sukeroku Taiko works like “Midare Uchi.” There are no improvisations; rather, each work is a fully composed piece. Some of the visual elements taken from bon daiko are present – particularly in “Shiraume Daiko,” which features arm circles and points – but more prevalent are performance practices and musical material taken from other musical genres such as hōgaku and festival music of the Tokyo Shitamachi area.

As much as the improvisational nature of “Midare Uchi,” Sukeroku Taiko’s use of specific compositional techniques and performance practices from festival music – such as the intricate rhythms and interlocking patterns of Edo-bayashi – in original compositions like “Matsuri Daiko” was a step forward for not just Sukeroku Taiko but indeed the emerging genre of ensemble taiko performance. The “Oroshi Daiko”/“Shiraume Daiko”/“Matsuri Daiko” demonstrated the complexities within the grasp of Sukeroku Taiko. This affected not only the group’s musical direction, however, but also its future in terms of membership. Indeed, the act of taking lessons with Kineya Sasazou caused both Ishizuka Yutaka and Onozato Ganei to decide to enter into the world of hōgaku performance. Ishizuka entered into the Mochizuki school of hōgaku performance through Kineya’s introduction, eventually receiving the stage name (natori) Mochizuki Saburo in 1972. Onozato, meanwhile, became a student of Tosha Yuho, a hōgaku performer that he had met on a concert tour; in 1977, he received the natori Tosha Kiyonari (Mogi 2010).

The combination of hōgaku-hayashi and matsuri-bayashi resulted in a unique style of performance now known as the Sukeroku-ryū. Upon a soloistic foundation developed in bon daiko competitions, members added various compositional and technical influences that would push them in new directions. This influence can still be felt today, for many pieces written by Sukeroku-influences groups and individuals bring together elements of both festival and theatrical music. The Sukeroku-ryū has evolved – partially as the original members of the group have gone their separate ways and developed unique styles – but the fundamentals learned and honed in the early years of the group remain.

Works Cited

Malm, William P. 1960. “An Introduction to Taiko Drum Music in the Japanese No Drama.” Ethnomusicology 4 (2):75-78.

Malm, William P. 1975. “Shoden: A Study in Tokyo Festival Music. When Is Variation an Improvisation?” Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council 7:44-66.

Malm, William P. 2000. Traditional Japanese Music and Musical Instruments: The New Edition. New York: Kodansha America, Inc.

Mogi, Hitoshi. 2010. “Oedo Sukeroku Taiko 大江戸助六太鼓.” Taikorojii たいころじい [Taikology] 36:34-41.

Schnapper, Laurie. 2013. Ostinato. In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.: Oxford University Press.


[1] A detailed discussion of hōgaku drumming patterns is found in Williams Malm’s 1960 article “An Introduction to Taiko Drum Music in the Japanese No Drama.” (Malm 1960)

[2] This ō-daiko is a byō-uchi-daiko that is not the same size as the ō-daiko used in hōgaku-hayashi and modern taiko ensembles, but is named so merely because it is larger than the shime-daiko.

[3] For a discussion of this topic, see Malm’s 1975 article “Shoden: A Study in Tokyo Festival Music. When Is Variation an Improvisation?” (Malm 1975)

[4] The x-shaped noteheads in the atarigane part represent a hit on the inside of the handheld gong, and the filled noteheads are hits in the center. The open diamond-shaped noteheads in the shime-daiko part, meanwhile, represent soft hits.

The notes above the systems – “yatai-gashira,” “ji-gashira,” “ji,” and “musubi” – represent the names for these parts of the music, given at the top of the original score.

[5] Some groups add bamboo flute as well, but does this not appear to be part of normal performance practice, and as such will not be considered in the following discussion

[6] While each individual nagadō-daiko drummer has their own part in “Oroshi Daiko,” they play as a group in “Shiraume Daiko.”

[7] The term “ostinato” refers to “the repetition of a musical pattern many times in succession while other musical elements are general changing.” (Schnapper 2013)

[8] Interestingly, according to Mochizuki Saburo the piece did not originally feature kakegoe; rather, he added the gestures after he began learning kabuki-hayashi (personal communication, December 2012). However, given the inclusion of kakegoe in early Sukeroku Taiko pieces – as well as works composed by descendant groups – it is worth including a discussion of it in this article.