When Tanaka Seiichi – a Japanese immigrant who had come to Northern California in 1967– attended the 1968 Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco, he expected an environment like the raucous festivals of his youth in Nagano prefecture. However, the festivities consisted of little more than a parade featuring, in Tanaka’s words, pretty girls wearing “beautiful kimono, and walking nicely” (2005). He was disappointed by the quiet atmosphere of the festivities, but at the same time he found himself motivated to create “the beat and rhythm of the festival drum with which he had been familiar in Japan” (Otsuka 1997, 25). The following year (1968), Tanaka and his friends put together a performance for the festival: he played a drum borrowed from a local Buddhist temple while his friends carried around a mikoshi.[1]

That same year, Ishizuka Yutaka (later known as Mochizuki Saburo) and members of Sukeroku Taiko came to San Francisco while accompanying a singer on a tour of the western United States. After a performance, Tanaka and two other young men asked Ishizuka to teach them the Sukeroku performance style. Agreeing after some initial trepidation, Ishizuka and two other members remained in San Francisco for two weeks to give lessons to not only the three young men but also to a number of people who came to watch the open sessions held in the Japan Center in San Francisco’s Japantown (Mogi 2010, 39). When it came time to return to Japan, the Sukeroku Taiko members were unable to ship the drums back with them, so they left the equipment with Tanaka. This gift gave him the foundation for a taiko ensemble: “an ō-daiko with a naname stand, 2 chū-daiko, and a basic set of shime-daiko” (Mogi 2010, 39).[2]

Bolstered by this experience, Tanaka returned to Japan for three months in the following year (1969). He travelled to Nagano Prefecture, where he had grown up, and asked to receive instruction from Osuwa Daiko founder Oguchi Daihachi. In his youth, Tanaka “had been enamored by Osuwa Daiko” (Otsuka 1998, 45). When he envisioned the types of sounds that could be heard at a festival, one of his memories was “a group playing various taiko drums” that was most likely Oguchi Daihachi’s group (2005). However, as a child he had not been allowed to join the group, for in the early days of Osuwa Daiko Oguchi limited it only to family members and a few immediate friends. However, when Tanaka returned in 1969 Oguchi changed his mind and decided to teach him, due in part to Tanaka’s fervor for the art form (Oguchi 1987, 241, Aigner 2002) After studying with Oguchi for a short time, Tanaka returned to the United States and again performed at the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Tanaka Seiichi at the 1969 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival.
Gift of San Francisco Taiko Dojo, Japanese American National Museum (2005.97.2). Used With Permission.

Bolstered by these experiences, Tanaka and his friends formed the San Francisco Taiko Doukoukai (doukoukai 同好会means “club” – literally, “an association of like-minded people”), later described as a “recreational group for Japanese youth” (Otsuka 1997, 25). The use of the Japanese term “Doukoukai” is reflective both of practices in San Francisco’s Japantown, where many older businesses and organizations used Japanese terms, and of the fact that the majority of early members were Japanese immigrants with Japanese as their primary language. It was a gathering place for these immigrants, a way to establish a social circle. That is not to say that the group was restricted to Japanese immigrants, however, as from the beginning of the group’s history its membership included Japanese-Americans and even people not of Japanese or Asian descent.

However, Tanaka soon moved beyond viewing taiko performance simply as a social activity, or something that could fill the sonic space of the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival, and decided to dedicate his life to the musical genre. He saw playing the taiko as a way to contribute to the community, having observed how the crowds reacted when he played the drum.[3] At the same time, however, he saw in the art form a new path similar to his original goal of teaching martial arts in the United States, believing that “a focus on people and accessibility was something that taiko, more than other traditional Japanese art forms, could offer” (Yoon 2007, 11).

The San Francisco Taiko Doukoukai’s early repertoire included many pieces taken from the catalogues of Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko; works like “Suwa Ikazuchi,” “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi,” and “Yodan Uchi” formed the core of performances. At the same time, however, Tanaka also began to compose new works for his group that combined the various performance styles he had learned. One such work was “Sokobayashi,” written in the early 1970s.


“Sokobayashi” is named after “Sōkō,” the word for San Francisco used by first-generation Japanese immigrants to the United States (issei). The name “Soko” came from a transliteration of San Francisco using Chinese characters – Sō-hō-shi-ku-kō (桑方西斯哥) – which was later reduced to Sō-kō; the name can still be found in many Japanese-American businesses and institutions across San Francisco. “Bayashi,” meanwhile, is the Japanese word for festival orchestras. The naming evokes regional festival music traditions in Japan, which often combine place names and “-bayashi” (for example, Edo-bayashi, the music of Edo, the old name for Tokyo).

Dedicated to that first generation of Japanese immigrants that supported the Japanese-American community, “Sokobayashi” was created in response to Tanaka’s own discovery of the history of Japanese immigrants in the United States.[4]  He wanted to give something back to that group that was so overjoyed by his performances at the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival and other community events, noting that he would watch them smile with tears streaming down their faces.[5]

“Sokobayashi” reflects Tanaka’s early taiko experiences; in it, he combines elements from both Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko performance practices. The primary ensemble is similar to that used in the Sukeroku Taiko “Oroshi Daiko”/“Shiraume Daiko”/“Matsuri Daiko” suite: four nagadō-daiko, plus a shime-daiko and an ō-daiko (albeit in this case the ō-daiko is placed on the ground and played vertically like a nagadō-daiko rather than on a horizontal stand).[6] The nagadō-daiko are placed on the slanted naname stands used by Sukeroku Taiko, further placing it within that Tokyo Shitamachi festival performance lineage. At the same time, however, Tanaka also added elements taken from Osuwa Daiko – most prominently, the tettō (a metallic, pipe-like instrument created by Oguchi Daihachi) and the fue (rarely used in Sukeroku Taiko repertoire, but found in some Osuwa Daiko pieces). Furthermore, the use of the ō-daiko is closer to Osuwa Daiko practice than to Sukeroku Taiko, playing an ostinato with occasional accent that highlights the rhythmic melody (as compared to within Sukeroku Taiko, when the ō-daiko is used in a more ‘melodic’ role).

The Music of “Sokobayashi”

“Sokobayashi” begins much in the manner of Sukeroku Taiko’s “Oroshi Daiko”: a series of rhythms rolls are passed around the ensemble, often involving rolls that with an accent and then rising in volume before reducing to a quiet roll played underneath the subsequent patterns. Many of the short rhythms that immediately precede each roll in this opening are the same or slight variations of those used in “Oroshi Daiko,” as is the division of the nagadō-daiko players into four different parts.

These rolls are interwoven with kakegoe in the style of Sukeroku Taiko, continuing the connection to “Oroshi Daiko,” but one addition to the model is the inclusion of the tettō within the nagadō-daikoshime-daiko progression.

After several series of rolls, with the space between each player getting smaller with each cycle (much like in “Oroshi Daiko”), the ensemble briefly pauses before the ō-daiko player begins a steady ostinato that is soon joined by the tettō.

In this moment, the piece moves from its Sukeroku Taiko inspiration to becoming more akin to the style of Osuwa Daiko. The o-daiko and tettō provide a rhythmic framework via their ostinato, occasionally providing some accents. At the same time, Tanaka also makes an addition to the performance styles of his teachers. Meanwhile, the fue provides a semi-improvised melody as the rest of the ensemble plays, a practice not found in Sukeroku Taiko’s repertoire and very rarely in the music of Osuwa Daiko. The bamboo flute has a secondary role, however, standing at the back of the ensemble; if not for the use of a microphone, the flute would not be able to be heard over the drums.[7]

On top of this ostinato and fue quasi-improvisation, a rhythmic melody is played on the nagadō-daiko; this follows the practice of using ‘middle’ drums as melody within Oguchi Daihachi’s orchestration scheme.

This melody is repeated twice, accompanied by an ostinato on the ō-daiko, tettō, and shime-daiko. It stands apart from the patterns created by Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko through a greater emphasis on off-beat rhythmic patterns; while there were off-beat rhythms in Sukeroku Taiko and Osuwa Daiko pieces, the frequency of such rhythms in “Sokobayashi” – along with regular movement between the rim and drumhead – causes the piece to stand out from its predecessors. At the same time, there is a great deal of choreography in a performance of the melody; much like in many Osuwa Daiko pieces (such as “Suwa Ikazuchi” and “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi”), spaces in the rhythm are filled with various movements – most prominently, diagonal points and circular movements with the hands and arms. The movements, meanwhile, hearken back to the choreography of “Shiraume Daiko.”

After a second repeat of the melody, there is another pause, before the tettō reenters at a faster tempo. This begins a series of interplay between the tettō and nagadō-daiko, in a fashion similar to the nagadō-daiko/shime-daiko interplay of Sukeroku Taiko’s “Matsuri Daiko.” The nagadō-daiko plays a fast, quiet ostinato, adding accented rhythms that interchange with the tettō rhythm.[8]

This then leads into a series of improvisations by each player as the rest of the ensemble provides the ostinato. Tanaka is typically the last player to improvise, with the solos starting fast and loud and gradually getting softer and sparser. Eventually, he ends his improvisation, pausing momentarily before reentering once again with the fast ostinato from the beginning of the section. “Sokobayashi” then concludes with a restatement of the melody (accompanied by the fue, who is generally silent during the drum solos), performed at the same tempo as the solos. The increased speed gives this melody a greater degree of intensity, echoed in the ō-daiko ostinato played at this new tempo. After the final note, all players move back into a pose position combining both Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko styles – the tettō and shime-daiko players point their arms in the air, much as Oguchi Daihachi does in many Osuwa Daiko pieces, while the nagadō-daiko players bring their arms back into a pose used often by Sukeroku Taiko.

The final pose of “Sokobayashi.” Screenshot from a 2008 DVD (San Francisco Taiko Dojo 2008)

From Osuwa & Sukeroku to the Tanaka Style

While “Sokobayashi” draws heavily from the performance styles learned by Tanaka in the late 1960s in terms of orchestration, instrumentation, and choreography, there is also a degree of intensity in a performance of the piece that cannot be found in Osuwa Daiko or Sukeroku Taiko repertoire. This can partially be attributed to the number of drummers featured in performances, as Tanaka fully adopted Oguchi Daihachi’s approach of having many drummers playing at the same time, but it is also due to a more forceful and physical performance style developed by Tanaka as he added in elements from his martial arts background. Players yell loudly and often in support of those that are improvising, a far cry from the spare, rhythmic vocalizations utilized by Sukeroku Taiko. Furthermore, players often jump and move around as they play, putting their entire bodies into hitting the drum. While Sukeroku Taiko and Osuwa Daiko both integrated movement into their performance style, this is something different, more an expression of emotion and the physicality of playing the drum than a preconceived choreographic action. This development of new performance practices would be continued by Tanaka throughout the 1970s.

As the San Francisco Taiko Doukoukai became more popular and attracted more members, they began to expand activities beyond San Francisco, performing at cultural festivals across California. In the late 1970s, Tanaka changed the group’s name to San Francisco Taiko Dojo (the name by which it is known today).[9] This change reflected both the changing nature of the group – it was less a group of young Japanese friends and more an environment in which members were taught the basics of the burgeoning musical genre of contemporary taiko performance – and Tanaka’s own approach to the art form. The term “dōjō” (道場) literally means “place of the way,” and is used in Japanese to refer to a physical training facility. Reflective of this approach, Tanaka began to require a more strict approach to practices, adopting a hierarchical relationship system commonly found in Japanese martial and performance arts. At the same time, even as the group membership expanded beyond the Japanese immigrants that made up the first generation of members, Tanaka continued to maintain a connection with Japan. As reported by Otsuka Chie, “students also learn several Japanese songs, Japanese writing, and Japanese terms along with learning songs and etiquette” (Otsuka 1997, 28). Students and group members are required to open and close each practice with aisatsu, formalized greetings and words of parting meant partially as terms of respect for the teacher and for your fellow students (commonly used in not only Japanese arts, but in many elements of Japanese society).

Meanwhile, practices grew more and more intense as Tanaka integrated his martial arts experiences into his taiko playing style. Many former members speak of being kicked or hit with a drumstick if they made a mistake, as well as describe long periods of running or playing rolls on the drum that were more tests of endurance rather than exercises meant to develop musical technique. It caused many to leave the group, but those that remained talk about the experience with a degree of pride, viewing it as a rite of passage of sorts.

Tanaka came to draw more and more from his martial arts background in the development of performance practices for his group, as he came to believe that playing the taiko “demands not only musical skill, but also the acquisition of respect, the training of one’s body, and the preparation of one’s mind,” a concept that echoes tenets found in many martial arts (Otsuka 1998, 47). In time, he would state that his performance style “is not only the skillful playing of percussion instruments, but also the discipline of mind and body in the spirit of complete respect and unity among the drummers,” the result of “rigorous mental, physical, and martial arts training.”[10] In the United States, this came to be known as the “Tanaka style” of taiko playing, a performance style distinct from those developed by Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko.

Works Cited 

2005. Big Drum: Taiko in the United States: Japanese American National Museum. DVD.

Aigner, Hal. 2002. “Full Circle: Seiichi Tanaka.” World Beat Report: Journeying through the World Community of the Greater San Francisco Bay Area.

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

Oguchi, Daihachi. 1987. Tenko – Oguchi Daihachi no Nihon Taiko-ron 天鼓ー小口大八の日本太鼓論. Nagano, Japan: Ginga Shobo.

Otsuka, Chie. 1997. “Learning Taiko in America.”Master’s Thesis, Master’s Program in Area Studies, University of Tsukuba.

Otsuka, Chie. 1998. “Beikoku ni Okeru Wadaiko no Hatten 米国における和太鼓の発展.”  Taikorojii たいころじい [Taikology] 16:45-52.

San Francisco Taiko Dojo. 2008. Seiichi Tanaka & San Francisco Taiko Dojo: Highlights: San Francisco Taiko Dojo. DVD.

Yoon, Paul J. 2007. Development and Support of Taiko in the United States. New York: Asia Society.


[1] (Accessed October 1, 2017)

[2] The term chū-daiko is one that is occasionally used to refer to nagadō-daiko, owing to the typical size of this type of drum: “chū” means middle, placing it in relation to the ō-daiko (“ō” meaning “large”) and the small shime-daiko.

[3] (Accessed October 1, 2017)

[4] (Accessed October 1, 2017)

[5] (Accessed October 1, 2017)

[6] While some performances of this piece feature a larger ensemble, both with more nagadō-daiko or other drums and percussion instruments, this instrumentation is at the core of the performance and serves as the common link for all variations.

[7] The fue part uses a quasi-pentatonic scale using the notes D, E, G, A, and B flat. I call it semi-improvised due to the fact that in performance, certain intervals are accentuated over others, such as a descent from D to B flat and from G to B.

Owing both to the semi-improvised nature of the fue part and its secondary position in relation to the drums (which are the focus of this piece), I will not be including a transcription.

[8] When playing this part, Tanaka typically uses the various parts of the tettō to create different-pitched sounds – high, medium, and low. However, the choice of pitch appears to be improvised; thus, the transcription features only one pitch.

[9] It is unclear when exactly the name change occurred. Otsuka Chie cites a date of 1980 in her history of the group. (Otsuka 1997, 26)

However, the name “San Francisco Taiko Dojo” is used in a 1977 documentary about the group by David Kimura, included in a 2005 DVD published by the Japanese-American National Museum in connection with its “Big Drum: Taiko in the United States” exhibition. (2005)

Given that Otsuka reports that the group was called the San Francisco Taiko Doukoukai at the beginning of its activities, it can be assumed that the change happened sometime in the mid- or late-1970s.

[10] (Accessed October 1, 2017)

Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi

Of all the pieces Oguchi Daihachi wrote for Osuwa Daiko, one stood out in his mind: “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” (飛龍三段返し “The Dragon God Descends Three Times). Composed for a performance by Osuwa Daiko at the 1970 Osaka World’s Fair, it was once stated by Oguchi to be the composition with which he was most pleased (Oguchi 1995, 14). It is not simply a piece of note for Oguchi and Osuwa Daiko, however, for it combines many of the compositional practices and discourses that would be utilized by Oguchi over the course of his life has he continued to develop the Osuwa Daiko performance style and philosophy.

The Shinto Origins of “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi”

The name “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” refers the dragon god that is the goshintai, or object of worship, at the Suwa Grand Shrine. One of the oldest shrines in existence, it is believed to date back over 1200 years, and was even mentioned in the Kojiki, a 8th Century collection of myths concerning the origin of the Japanese islands and its gods (kami). Located in the city of Suwa in Nagano Prefecture, on the northern banks of Lake Suwa, it is the head shrine for the Suwa network of shrines found across Japan, of which there are more than 10,000.[1] It was at this shrine that Osuwa Daiko made its public premiere in the mid-1950s during the shrine’s Ofune Matsuri (Mogi 2009).

The connection to the goshintai of the Suwa Grand Shrine was just one of many ways that Oguchi make connections between the group’s performances and Shinto rite, just as he had done with the norito-like chanting that opens “Suwa Ikazuchi.” According to Oguchi’s grandson Yamamoto Makoto, “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” is based on a rhythmic pattern used at the shrine.[2] Furthermore, during performances by the group a gohei, or paper offering to the gods, is attached to a taiko at the center of the stage; this drum would either be part of Oguchi’s taiko set or amongst those played by the other members of the group people.

The association with the Suwa Grand Shrine was an important part of Osuwa Daiko’s development. Oguchi routinely used elements from the shrine as inspiration for compositions (as in “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi”); furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, the group would give as many as six dedicatory performances a year at the shrine (Oguchi 1995, 14). These shrine performances were in the eyes of Oguchi the most important part of Osuwa Daiko’s activities; in a 1995 interview, he would cite them as an example of how his group differed from those taiko groups that came afterwards (Oguchi 1995). Indeed, unlike groups that performed primarily on concert hall stages, the majority of Osuwa Daiko’s performances were on shrine grounds at festivals, both in the Lake Suwa region and at other shrines to which they had been invited. The performance of Osuwa Daiko’s original compositions was not, in Oguchi’s eyes, simply a mere musical presentation, but an offering to the gods, an extension of the rituals that takes place during Shinto festivals.

“Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi: The Music”

Oguchi was not simply perpetuating a connection with Shinto rite in “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” – one that he had begun in “Suwa Ikazuchi” – for he also continued to refine and further develop various musical practices. Despite the fact that the two pieces were written more than a decade apart, they have share similar instrumentation schemes: nagadō-daiko, ō-daiko, and a taiko set that includes a shime-daiko. The combination of high, middle, and low drums – shime-daiko, nagadō-daiko, and ō-daiko – became the core of the Osuwa Daiko sound: the shime-daiko plays the base rhythm and the nagadō-daiko the rhythmic melody, with the ō-daiko providing accents.

With “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi,” however, Oguchi utilized other instruments that had been introduced into the Osuwa Daiko performance sphere, including the fue (笛, a bamboo transverse flute). More prominent, however, was his use of a new instrument he developed called the tettō (also known as the tetsu-zutsu, zetto, or cannon). Comprised of several pipes of different sizes welded together, with the largest in the middle, smallest on the left, and middle on the right (each with different pitches corresponding to the size of the pipe), the tettō allows the performer to create a metallic sound that pierces through the ensemble. It is often used in a role similar to the shime-daiko, mimicking that instrument as it provides the fundamental rhythm.

“Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” is comprise of two primarily sections of music. It opens with a brief interplay between the fue and the taiko set; in some performances this interplay simply consists of rolls on the taiko while the flute player improvises, while in other cases the two perform a melody with taiko accompaniment. In the latter case, the rhythm played on the shime-daiko is largely the same as the first few measures of the main rhythmic melody as performed by the nagadō-daiko players (seen below). As the fue and taiko player play, the rest of the ensemble kneels behind a number of nagadō-daiko setup at the front of the stage.

Opening shime-daiko pattern in one version of the opening of "Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi"

Opening shime-daiko pattern in one version of the opening of “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi”

After the fue/taiko introduction, the nagadō-daiko players begin to play on the fuchi (rim) of the drum, pointing their hands at the end of a multi-bar pattern in the same diagonal pattern that is used in “Suwa Ikazuchi” (00:37 in the YouTube video). After three repeats of this pattern (the first of many ‘threes’ in the piece), everyone stands, raises their arms up into the air, and yells “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi.”[3] Following this announcement of the title of the piece, they move into the playing position while yelling a kiai, or “spirited shout” (Endo 1999, 75). Once behind the drum, the drummers begin to play the main melodic section, comprised of a series of short phrases themselves consisting of one or two measures repeated several times (the first two patterns can be seen below).

Hiryuu Sandan Gaeshi - first two phrases

The rhythmic melody consists of interplay between hits on the drumhead and hit on the rim. Much like “Suwa Ikazuchi,” these rhythms are combined with different visual elements; one such choreographic movement features the circling of the arms down and back in a counter-clockwise motion away from the drum, ending with the arms pointed straight up. In another instance, the group divides into two in the middle of the melody, playing alternating beats followed by the diagonal pose used earlier (as seen at 01:31 in the YouTube video embedded above). The dividing of the ensemble into multiple subgroups playing off of each other while simultaneously integrating visuals to emphasize the split became a common practice in Osuwa Daiko’s repertoire after it was first introduced in “Suwa Ikazuchi.” It adds not only visual interest to a piece but also sonic variety, with sounds coming from different locations within the ensemble.

The group combines once again for the final phrase, which is ended by three hits on the rim while the group simultaneously yells “yo, so re,” preparatory words without meaning. Players then raise their arms into the air, and move their bachi (drumsticks) while chanting a short norito in time (01:54 in the YouTube video). This chant – tenka shōfuku sokusai enmei 転禍招福息災延命 – represents another way that Oguchi maintained connections with Shinto rite. While not a true norito in the manner of that recited at the beginning of “Suwa Ikazuchi,” it is a call to the gods asking for their blessing. Once again, taiko performance is seen as a way to connect with the spiritual world.

Final line of "Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi," first and second repeat. The chant translates as: “Out of disaster, bring us good luck, health, and long life”

Final line of “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi,” first and second repeat. The chant translates as: “Out of disaster, bring us good luck, health, and long life”

Following the chant, the melody is repeated twice more, getting faster each time (in the same manner as “Suwa Ikazuchi”). The third time does not end with the chant, however, but rather with a brief pause; the drummers yell as they raise their arms into the air, before ending the piece with two loud hits.

The three descents referenced in the title of “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” could be considered as being reflected in the music. The main rhythmic melody is performed three times; meanwhile, within the melody several phrases and rhythms are repeated three times. That being said, it is difficult to draw solid conclusions about these connections, for according to Yamamoto Makoto there was more to the piece that has now been lost:

“When “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” was filmed on NHK TV, the end of the piece was actually cut off from the video. Due to difficulties in editing at the time, shows were shot on very tight schedules. Osuwa Daiko performed their piece, but the program time ran out just at the moment where the piece now ends. When watching the video afterwards, Oguchi Sensei liked the look of it, and decided to change the ending of the piece that way.”[4]

The Legacy of “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi”

“Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” has much in common in “Suwa Ikazuchi”: the rhythmic melody consists of several short patterns repeated several times each, and this melody is repeated several times (each faster than the previous one). Choreographic elements are integrated into the performance so that the performance is both musically and visually interesting. “Hiryū” also includes a norito like “Suwa Ikazuchi,” even though the chanting occurs at the end of each melodic repetition rather than at the beginning of the piece. If “Suwa Ikazuchi” was the beginning of the Osuwa Daiko performance and compositional style, then “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” represents a codification of those styles. The compositional practices used by Oguchi in this piece can also be found in other compositions: “Isami Goma,” also composed in the 1960s, follows the same format as “Hiryū”: a rhythmic melody comprised of many lines, each repeated several times each, with that melody also repeated several times.

“Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” is also notable for its proliferation around the world, for it is one of the pieces taught by Oguchi as he conducted workshops both in Japan and overseas.[5] Among the groups Oguchi helped guide in their beginning stages was the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, founded in 1968 by Tanaka Seiichi. Even before the founding of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, Tanaka had been influenced by Oguchi. He grew up in Nagano Prefecture, and speaks of being “enamored by Osuwa Daiko” as a youth (Otsuka 1998, 45). The San Francisco Taiko Dojo began when Tanaka and some friends decided to play a taiko for the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival, looking to create a sound they felt was missing. When he envisioned the types of sounds that could be heard at a festival, one of his memories was “a group playing various taiko drums” that was most likely Oguchi Daihachi’s group (2005). As a child he had not been allowed to join the group, for in the early days of Osuwa Daiko Oguchi limited it only to family members and a few immediate friends, but when he returned to Japan in 1969 to study taiko performance, Oguchi decided to teach him, due in part to Tanaka’s fervor for the art form (Oguchi 1987, 241, Aigner 2002).

Tanaka brought back to San Francisco Osuwa Daiko pieces like “Suwa Ikazuchi” and “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi.’ However, as time progressed he began arranging “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” into something unique to the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. He changed the rhythmic feel from a straight, duple beat to a triple feel, what Yamamoto Makoto calls an “Ohayashi backbeat style.”[6] More importantly, he added musical content from other “Osuwa Daiko” piece like “Isami Goma” and “Onbashira,” extended the composition by adding musical content from these pieces into the middle of a performance before returning to the original melody of “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” at the very ended. This is not the only addition, however, for the San Francisco Taiko Dojo often opens a performance of “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” with a norito similar to that used in “Suwa Ikazuchi.” In this way, Tanaka Seiichi’s arrangement of the piece maintains the spirit of and connections to Osuwa Daiko while at the same time creating something that unique to the American group.

The legacy of “Hiryū San-dan Gaeshi” can also be seen in “The Hiryu Project” (, a venture started by students of Oguchi in which they invite taiko groups around the world to perform the piece on June 27th, the day of Oguchi’s passing. In this way, groups can honor Oguchi’s legacy by performing the composition with which he was most pleased.

Works Cited

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

Aigner, Hal. 2002. “Full Circle: Seiichi Tanaka.” World Beat Report: Journeying through the World Community of the Greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Endo, Kenny. 1999. “Yodan Uchi: A Contemporary Composition for Taiko.”MA Thesis, University of Hawaii.

Mogi, Hitoshi. 2009. “Osuwa Daiko (part 2) 御諏訪太鼓 ②.” Taikorojii たいころじい [Taikology] 34:64-69.

Oguchi, Daihachi. 1987. Tenko – Oguchi Daihachi no Nihon Taiko-ron 天鼓ー小口大八の日本太鼓論. Nagano, Japan: Ginga Shobo.

Oguchi, Daihachi. 1995. “Oguchi Daihachi ni Kiku Wadaiko Ongaku no Reimeiki 小口大八に聞く 和太鼓音楽の黎明期.” Taikorojii たいころじい [Taikology] 11:6-15.

Otsuka, Chie. 1998. “Beikoku ni Okeru Wadaiko no Hatten 米国における和太鼓の発展.” Taikorojii たいころじい [Taikology] 16:45-52.


[1] (accessed May 4, 2015)

[2] (Accessed April 30, 2015)

[3] The announcement of composition title seems to be a common practice for Osuwa Daiko. If the title is not said outright before a performance, it is included with the chanting that is included in a piece.

[4], accessed April 30, 2015

[5] In his 1987 book “Tenko,” Oguchi lists 197 groups in Japan and abroad that he helped found or had held workshops for, as well as eight in the United States (Oguchi 1987, 307-314).

[6] (accessed April 30, 2015)

Suwa Ikazuchi

The history of contemporary taiko music – indeed, of all contemporary taiko performance – began with an accidental discovery in the early 1950s in the town of Okaya, Nagano Prefecture. Oguchi Kiyohito, the owner of a local miso business, found in one of his miso warehouses a journal written during the Meiji era by his ancestor Oguchi Tōtaro. It referenced the daily activities of andtopics of interest to the people of the period, as well as mentioned an attempt by Totaro and his friends to revive a type of kagura-daiko native to the region yet having not been played for several years.

Kagura-daiko (神楽太鼓 “kagura drumming”) is the drumming that is part of the accompanying music for kagura, a type of Shinto theatrical dance (Petersen 2006).[1] The music that accompanies these dances – kagura-bayashi (神楽囃子 “kagura ensemble”) – varies depending on the region, just as there is not a single dance performed across Japan; instrumentation is typically the same regardless of location, however: “transverse bamboo flute, drum of medium size, and often a big barrel drum” (Kishibe 1982, 82). In this ensemble, flute provides the melody, while the drums serve as accompaniment. The transverse bamboo flute mentioned by Kishibe is a type of transverse flute called a fue (笛), while the medium-sized drum most commonly used is a type of tsukeshime-daiko (締め太鼓 “fastened, tightened drum”) – a short cylindrical-shaped drum with the heads tightened by ropes – called a daibyōshi-daiko (大拍子太鼓 “large rhythm drum”), positioned perpendicular to the performer also and played with long, narrow sticks. Additionally, what Kishibe calls a “big barrel drum” is typically a small byō-uchi-daiko (鋲打ち太鼓 “tack-hit drum”) with a diameter of 10 to 12 inches.

Instruments from L to R: daibyōshi-daiko, fue, byō-uchi-daiko.  Sanno Matsuri, Hie Shrine, Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan. June 15, 2012.  Photo by Benjamin Pachter

Instruments from L to R: daibyōshi-daiko, fue, byō-uchi-daiko.
Sanno Matsuri, Hie Shrine, Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan. June 15, 2012. Photo by Benjamin Pachter

Accompanying Oguchi Tōtaro’s journal was a small musical score, believed to the “the kagura-daiko that had been handed down in this region until the time of the Bakumatsu” (Oguchi 1987, 18). Oguchi Kiyohito approached his cousin Daihachi – a jazz drummer and leader of a local band – and asked if he could interpret the fragment, with the goal of presenting the music at a local festival. However, Daihachi had no experience playing festival music and did not know how to read the score; as he later described it, it was as if “a Western-style cook took in an order for sushi” (Oguchi 1987, 19-20). And yet, he found the idea of a revival to be interesting, and thus agreed to take on the project.

A fragment of the discovered kagura-daiko fragment. Unfortunately, this small segment is believed to be the only remaining element of the discovered score. At the very least, it is the only section that has ever been published, and is the only part in the records of the Nippon Taiko Foundation. Osuwa Daiko Gakuen, Nihon No Taiko 日本の太鼓 [Japanese Taiko] (Okaya, Japan: Daihachi Oguchi & Osuwa Daiko Gakuen, 1994), 50.

A fragment of the discovered kagura-daiko fragment. Unfortunately, this small segment is believed to be the only remaining element of the discovered score. At the very least, it is the only section that has ever been published, and is the only part in the records of the Nippon Taiko Foundation. Taken from the out-of-print book “Nihon no Taiko” (Osuwa Daiko Gakuen, Nihon No Taiko 日本の太鼓 [Japanese Taiko] (Okaya, Japan: Daihachi Oguchi & Osuwa Daiko Gakuen, 1994), 50.)

Daihachi visited local shrines and consulted with priests, “learning how to read the music score from the heads of the shrines and learning the basics of how to play kagura-daiko” (Oguchi 1987, 21). Meanwhile, he was fortuitous to discover that a former student of Oguchi Totaro, Narusawa Sagazaharu, was still living in Okaya. Bringing together the knowledge he gained through lessons with Narusawa as well as local priests, he eventually learned not only how the score was to be read, but also how it was to be performed.

The music was to be played by two drummers, signified by markings written to the right of each column of notation. It consisted of two rhythmic phrases alternating between the two drummers, followed by two unison lines (Osuwa Daiko Gakuen 1994, 50). The different types of circles found within the notation signified different ways to hit the drum:

donA large open circle represents a single loud note, called “don” within the kuchi-shōga syllabary.[2]

tonMiddle-sized open circles stand for a slightly softer hit, called “ton.”

koThe smallest open circles are soft hits, “to” if played by the right hand and “ko” if by the left.[3]

kaSmall filled-in circles meant that the drummer is to hit the rim of the drum (called fuchi-uchi; “hitting the rim”).

Very little is provided in the fragment in regards to note length; the only indication is a curved line connecting two loud notes at the beginning of each segment. According to later materials provided by Osuwa Daiko, this line means that the two notes are to be played in succession; it can then be inferred that they are faster than the other notes (as indicated in the transcription below) (Osuwa Daiko Gakuen 1994, 50). Beyond this information, Oguchi Daihachi also determined via lessons with Narusawa Sagazaharu that the music was to be played with one hand (the right hand), and that it was to be played rather slowly.

Transcription of the kagura-daiko fragment, using Western rhythmic notation

Transcription of the kagura-daiko fragment, using Western rhythmic notation

Oguchi Daihachi started teaching the music to others, with the intention of giving a performance at the Ofune Matsuri at the Suwa Grand Shrine, where in the Meiji era his ancestor Totaro had planned to give his own revival of the kagura-daiko music. However, as he and his friends practiced, playing on drums scrounged together from various shops in the area, he found himself dissatisfied. It was supposed to be played by just two people, yet Oguchi thought: “all of us playing together is definitely more enjoyable” (Oguchi 1987, 25). Meanwhile, the music was slower and not as rhythmically complex as the jazz music he was listening to and performing with his group.

In a moment of resolve, Oguchi decided to arrange the kagura-daiko fragment into something new. He began by speeding up the tempo of the work, later writing about the process: “Certainly, our rhythms are fast in comparison to the past. However, it isn’t necessarily a good thing to match up with the past no matter what” (Oguchi 1987, 28). Next, he realized that the drums they had gathered could generally be divided into three groups: high-, middle-, and low-pitched taiko. The high-pitched drums – small tsukeshime-daiko (generally called shime-daiko in this context) – could provide a fundamental rhythm that everyone would follow. Larger drums – byō-uchi-daiko known as nagadō-daiko (literally, “long-bodied drum”), the middle part of the ensemble – could play a rhythmic ‘melody.’ Finally, the largest drums in the group – ō-daiko (“big drum”), a larger byō-uchi-daiko than a nagadō-daiko – could provide a low sound to push everything forward. By utilizing this orchestration method, fashioned “when thinking completely about a band,” Oguchi created a new compositional and instrumentation style that would serve as a model for future taiko groups (Oguchi 1995, 13).

With this instrumentation in place, Oguchi then began to arrange the music, adding ostinatos, interlocking patterns, and other elements. The result was “Suwa Ikazuchi” (諏訪雷 “Suwa Thunder), a work fashioned by “incorporating methods from Western music onto a base of tradition” (Oguchi 1987, 30). According to Oguchi’s book Tenko and period newspapers quote by Mogi Hitoshi in an article written for the journal Taikology, it was premiered in 1957 at a performance at a banquet held by the Okaya Textile Store Association, a performance that also served as the debut of what was at that time called the Suwa Daiko Hozonkai (Mogi 2009, 66).

There is not a single instrumentation used in every performance of “Suwa Ikazuchi”; rather, it varies on the number of drums and performers that are available. That being said, a typical arrangement features pairs of medium-sized nagadō-daiko (set up on the two sides of a stage), a large nagadō-daiko (長胴太鼓 “long-bodied drum”) called an ō-daiko (大太鼓 “large drum”), and another of Oguchi’s innovations, the taiko set.

Just as Oguchi applied Western-influenced orchestration concepts to the arrangement of the drums, bringing together multiple taiko into a single ensemble, he also integrated the idea into the grouping of several drums so that one person could play them. It would not be used in every piece, but it was certainly the centerpiece of “Suwa Ikazuchi.” From behind his taiko set, Oguchi would drive the performance, signaling changes in tempo and transitions between passages while also occasionally improvising.


Oguchi Daihachi behind his taiko set at the Kitakami/Michinoku Arts Festival, Kitakami, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, August 8, 1991 Screenshot from a video shared on YouTube.

Oguchi Daihachi behind his taiko set at the Kitakami/Michinoku Arts Festival, Kitakami, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, August 8, 1991
Screenshot from a video shared on YouTube.

Similarly, the musical content of “Suwa Ikazuchi” has changed over the years; the following discussion is based on a video uploaded to YouTube by user Jenny Lim, yet falls into a pattern often followed in performances of the piece.

The performance begins with a series of hits on the ō-daiko, starting slow and getting faster, akin to a ball bouncing on the floor (sometimes called a yama-oroshi in Japanese – literally “coming down the mountain,” as it sounds as if something is gaining speed as it rolls down a mountain – or a roll in Western percussion terms).[4] As a melody is performed on the fue and the ō-daiko provides an underlying rhythm, a chant is performed akin to Shinto prayer chanting called norito; this norito is often performed with arms held up in the air, giving a performance an air of religious ritual. The contents of the chant suggest that it was taken to some extent from rituals from the Suwa Grand Shrine, with references to the gods of rain and thunder looking down upon the performance, but it also announces the name of the group performing and the title of the piece itself.[5]

Eventually, as the chant approaches its conclusion, one performer hits a gong, and the fue player switches to a horagai (a conch shell trumpet sometimes used in Shinto ritual). Finally, once the chant is finished, the drummers begin a series of rolls. The rolls develop freely, with each performer entering and speeding up as they see fit, creating a cacophony of sounds as the many different-sized drums overlap each other. Eventually, Oguchi (or whoever is behind the taiko set) begins to play on the shime-daiko a repeated long-short-long rhythmic pattern in a triple feel that serves as the foundation rhythm for the piece:


The main body of “Suwa Ikazuchi” is a series of variations on this long-short-long pattern. In most performances, the main body of the piece opens with the drummers switching between this pattern and marking the beat by clicking their bachi together, but there are also recorded performances of a group alternating between hitting the drumhead and hitting the rim with a slight elongation of one segment of the phrase:

Variant 1

This rhythmic pattern could be said to be the descendant of the discovered rhythmic fragment from Oguchi Kiyohito’s miso warehouse. The grouping of three notes on the drumhead and three on the rim is similar what was found in that score, if the original fragment was transposed into triple time. However, there are some differences between the two. There is a dynamic contrast in the original kagura drumming that is not found in “Suwa Ikazuchi,” as in Oguchi’s composition everything is loud. At the same time, the rhythmic organization varies to some degree. It is unclear whether the triple feel was the invention of Oguchi or the manner in which it was originally performed, but it does lends an air of swing to the music (fitting given Oguchi’s musical background and the swing band inspiration from which he drew when creating “Suwa Ikazuchi”). In essence, “Suwa Ikazuchi” retains echoes of the original kagura drumming rhythms, rearranged to fit a different musical palate.

The musical elements of “Suwa Ikazuchi” are enhanced by a series of choreographic movements. For example, as the first rhythmic variant is played on the taiko set, the nagadō-daiko players alternate playing and waving their hands in the air. One side of the stage plays while the other does the choreography, and then they switch roles. Later, during another variation, Oguchi emphasizes rhythmic breaks in the pattern by pointing his left hand up and right hand down in a manner so that the arms seem to form a single diagonal line. These rhythmic breaks are echoed by the nagadō-daiko players, who also circle around the drums as they play; further, they alternate their parts, so that one side of the stage play while the other moves. In the first main variant, it results in the rhythms seem above (long-short-long, with two beats of rest in between), while in the second variant of “Suwa Ikazuchi” they create a new composite rhythmic pattern:[6]

Variant 2 composite

Even as this a new rhythm, the alternating nature of such variations – in which performers switch between playing the rhythm and performing a choreography while playing off of each other so that the rhythm is always performed – could be seen as being spiritually connected to the manner in which the kagura drumming alternated between two players.

After several variations of the rhythm, the drummers start rolling again, and the cycle begins anew: rolls, fundamental rhythm, variations. Each cycle is faster than the previous one, until after several cycles the piece ends. Much like the manner in which it begins can vary depends on the performance, the ending may vary as well. Some performances finish with a single hit at the end of the phrase, followed by a pose in which all drummers point their bachi into the air. Other performances, meanwhile, end with a serious of rolls on the heads and rims of the drums before a final unison hit.

“Suwa Ikazuchi” takes the basic musical ideas of the kagura-daiko fragment – rhythms that alternate between hitting the drumhead and the rim, rhythmic groups of three, alternating parts between two different players – and expands upon them. The use of gong and conch shell adds sonic elements that would be familiar to those accustomed to traditional festival music, even as the taiko ensemble is a new development. At the same time, Oguchi integrated a rhythmic feel more common to Western swing music in an effort to appeal to developing musical tastes based on Western music rather than traditional Japanese performance arts. Further, the inclusion of choreographic elements added new visual interest to the performance, an element that was unnecessary when the music was simply accompaniment for a dance but was brought by Oguchi as part of a greater whole.

It was the beginning of a new style of performance eventually as kumidaiko (組太鼓, “group drumming”). Simply put, this involves a group performance by many people playing many drums. This was unusual not only due to the placement of drums at the forefront of a performance (something rarely seen in festival, theatrical, or ceremonial music), but also for the sheer numbers of drums that were used, for there are typically only three or four drums at most found in a festival or theatrical ensemble. Beyond introducing this new instrumentation style, Oguchi also developed within “Suwa Ikazuchi” a compositional style he would use in many other pieces: a cyclical style in which several lines or phrases are repeated several times, each repeat faster than the last.

This new drumming style was warmly accepted by audiences, first at its banquet debut and then at a dedicatory performance at the Suwa Grand Shrine for the shrine’s Ofune Matsuri, where it was reported that “the thousands of local residents and spectators forgot about the drawing out of the ship [that was the main event of the festival] and listened with rapt attention to the group” (Mogi 2009, 67). The group – which would soon change its name to Osuwa Daiko, drawing upon its connection to the Suwa Grand Shrine – quickly increased its fame as it performed at other local events, but it was in 1959 when it gained repute on a larger level. That year, the group performed in the NHK National Song and Dance Festival at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Sendagaya, Tokyo. This performance was broadcast across the nation, causing interest in the group to grow. Osuwa Daiko would be invited to perform at many other venues, culminating in an appearance in the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, in the “‘traditional performance arts’ section of the opening ceremonies” (Bender 2012, 209). With these appearances, the new style of performance fostered by Oguchi Daihachi and Osuwa Daiko gained not only national but worldwide attention.

“Suwa Ikazuchi” Video Playlist

For more videos, check out our curated YouTube playlist featuring performances of “Suwa Ikazuchi” by Osuwa Daiko!

Works Cited

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

Kishibe, Shigeo. 1982. The Traditional Music of Japan. 2nd ed. Tokyo: The Japan Foundation.

Mogi, Hitoshi. 2009. “Osuwa Daiko (part 2) 御諏訪太鼓 ②.” Taikorojii たいころじい [Taikology] 34:64-69.

Oguchi, Daihachi. 1987. Tenko – Oguchi Daihachi no Nihon Taiko-ron 天鼓ー小口大八の日本太鼓論. Nagano, Japan: Ginga Shobo.

Oguchi, Daihachi. 1995. “Oguchi Daihachi ni Kiku Wadaiko Ongaku no Reimeiki 小口大八に聞く 和太鼓音楽の黎明期.” Taikorojii たいころじい [Taikology] 11:6-15.

Osuwa Daiko Gakuen. 1994. Nihon no Taiko 日本の太鼓. Okaya, Japan: Daihachi Oguchi & Osuwa Daiko Gakuen.

Petersen, David. 2006. An Invitation to Kagura: Hidden Gem of the Traditional Japanese Performing Arts. Morrisville, NC: Lulu Press.


[1] Many scholars further divide kagura into two types: mi-kagura, performed in the Imperial court, and sato-kagura, performed outside the court.

[2] Kuchi-shōga is a syllabary in which specific words represent specific sounds. There is a syllabary for each drum in Japan. Variations between regions do exist, but there are also many commonalities. The kuchi-shōga to be used in this dissertation is of the sort most commonly used in Japan and the United States, unless otherwise noted.

[3] “Ton” and “to” are kuchi-shōga syllables that appear to be exclusive to Osuwa Daiko. I have included them because they are used in Nihon no Taiko to describe the music in the discovered fragment.

[4] Other performances have featured a crash of a gong before the roll begins.

[5] Given these references to rain, it could be said that the crash of the gong and rolls at the beginning of the piece are meant to evoke images of lightning and thunder. And, of course, there is the name of the piece itself: “Suwa Thunder.”

[6] In this transcription, different stem directions indicate parts played by different performers (also indicated by the A & B part markings).