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

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

Click on the link to check it out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Instruments, New Possibilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The primary fue melody in “Irodori”

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

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

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

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

The “Irodori” Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kodo Cultural Foundation. 2011. Inochi Moyashite, Tatakeyo. -Kodo 30-Nen no Kiseki – いのちもやして、たたけよ。-鼓童30年の軌跡ー. Tokyo: Shuppan Bunka Sha Corporation.


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

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

[3] (accessed January 30, 2017)

[4] (accessed January 30, 2017)

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

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

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

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


For the original members of Ondekoza, the first years on Sado will filled with learning activities of all kind. Not only were they making their own furniture and bachi and, when possible, growing their own food, they were also creating a concert program to be toured around the world. In order to create their program, they trained in a variety of performance styles both musical and visual. The Tohoku region of Japan was a major source of inspiration, as members learned Iwasaki Onikenbai (岩崎鬼剣舞, a sword dance) and Ōtsugunai-kagura (大償神楽, Shinto theatrical dance) from Iwate Prefecture, and Tsugaru Te-odori (津軽手踊り, a hand dance) and a Tsugaru-jamisen (津軽三味線, a style of shamisen playing) from the Tsugaru peninsula in Aomori Prefecture.

Oni Kenbai 1, Kitakami, Iwate

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

However, the main emphasis during Ondekoza’s musical education was on festival and theatrical drumming traditions from across Japan. Some styles – such as Chichibu yatai-bayashi – were performed the music on stage in a manner fairly close to how they are presented in the original festivals. In other cases, members arranged the drumming styles they learned to such an extent that it resulted in a completely new form of performance. It was these arrangements in particular that would have a profound influence on not only the development of Ondekoza but indeed broader contemporary taiko performance.

Hi no taiko

One of the many performers brought in by Den Tagayasu to teach regional arts to Ondekoza members was Shitamura Keiichi, who in 1971 visited Sado from the town of Mikuni in Fukui Prefecture (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 107). Shitamura introduced the group to a drumming style called hi no taiko (火の太鼓), used during a ritual in which musicians travel through the rice fields to rid them of harmful insects. During a performance of Hi no taiko, one player playing a steady supporting rhythm as the other plays accented rhythmic patterns while integrating various choreographic movements (Bender 2012, 88).

Den asked Hayashi Eitetsu to arrange this style for stage performance, just as he had for Chichibu yatai-bayashi. However, Den also added to his request the integration of elements he had seen in a movie. As he travelled Japan in the 1950s and 1960s, observing folk life across the country, Den often thought back to a scene he witnessed in the 1943 film Muhōmatsu no Isshō (無法松の一生, “The Life of the Outrageous Matsu,” remade in 1958 by original director Inagaki Hiroshi with new actors), about a rickshaw driver at the end of the 19th century. In the scene, set during the Kokura Gion Festival in Kokura, modern day Fukuoka Prefecture, the title character Muhōmatsu – played by Bandō Tsumasaburō in the original, and Mifune Toshiro in the remake – decides to show the teacher of a boy that he had befriended “the real Kokura Gion Daiko.” Muhōmatsu hops on a float carrying a large nagadō-daiko that was being drawn though the streets and begins to play, making wild motions as he hits the drum and generally making merry.


In his study of the development of contemporary taiko performance, anthropologist Shawn Bender writes that Den saw this performance as an embodiment of “the ideal taiko player,” fitting neatly with his interest in folk performance and his “concern for the disappearing culture of the artisan” (Bender 2012, 87). He was greatly affected by the scene, so much so that when Ondekoza received a large ō-daiko as a gift from a supporter, he had a cart built for the drum and asked Hayashi to reproduce the scene on the ō-daiko.

When asking Hayashi Eitetsu to arrange hi no taiko for concert performance, Den had one stage direction:

He had the drummers position the drum so that its side, not its front, faced the audience, thus highlighting the movements of the drummers and their drum mallets and mimicking the camera angle in the 1958 version of the film. (Bender 2012, 88)

Odaiko Duet

As Hayashi began to develop the arrangement, however, he became hesitant. The concept of a large drum on a cart that was pulled around the town was an invention created for the movie, and the actor Bandō Tsumasaburō “only went through the motions of the drum… in reality, the hitting style in the movie wasn’t truly hitting the drum” (personal communication, December 2012). Furthermore, he felt that “if [he] were to make something that was to be heard on stage, where the matsuri-like atmosphere is not present, then actually the movements became a barrier.” (Hayashi 1992, 49).

Meanwhile, he also found himself troubled by the performance techniques of not only the original hi no taiko but also Bandō Tsumasaburō in The Rickshaw Man. In both cases, the drummer stands parallel to the drum and hits across the body. Hayashi felt he could not use all of his strength when hitting across his body, an important consideration given the size of the drum that Ondekoza had been given. He decided not to integrate the choreography of the drumming style into his arrangement. Instead, he experimented with his stance, eventually facing the drum head on and lowering his body so that his arms had to be raised slightly in order to hit the middle of the drumhead. The resulting performance stance presented a striking image that accentuated the physicality of the player while they hit the ō-daiko.

Japan Earthquake Commemoration Concert, United Nations, NY

This stance, combined with a stand that places the drum horizontally with the center of the drumhead at or above eye level, was a major innovation in the world to taiko performance: the introduction of a brand-new performance technique not found in any regional performance tradition or in classical music, but rather created by Hayashi especially for Ondekoza’s stage performances.

As he refined this new technique, Hayashi also set out to arrange the rhythms of hi no taiko into something appropriate for the stage. He arranged the two-drummer interplay into an extended improvisation utilizing both sides of the drum: as later described in a publication by Kodo, “the performer on the front side of the drum plays freely over the continuing base rhythm (ura-uchi) performed by the performer in the rear” (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 107). Because it featured the ō-daiko, the piece was given the simple name “O-daiko” (「大太鼓」).


Despite the name, “O-daiko” opens not with the ō-daiko but with a shakuhachi. A slow improvisation on the bamboo instrument opens the piece, continuing even after the ō-daiko players first hit the drum. The drummers strike the drum sparsely as the shakuhachi player continues to improvise, eventually fading out so that the ō-daiko can take center stage. Once the wind instrument has left, the drummers – for the first time – play a rhythm in time, joined by one more musician playing chapped (handheld cymbals):

O-daiko opening cycle

After this sequence, the players begin a slight oroshi (a pattern with single hits that begin slow and get progressive faster), started by one side of the ō-daiko and soon joined by the player on the other side and the chappa player. Once the oroshi rhythm reaches a steady speed, one ō-daiko begins improvising while the player on the other side and the chappa continue with an accompanying ostinato. After several minutes, the ō-daiko players switch roles, and the other side begins to improvise.

Once both ō-daiko players have improvised, the second soloist briefly stops while the accompanying ostinato on the drum and cymbals continues. When the improvisation begins again, this time returning to the first soloist, the ostinato is joined by an atarigane player. Again, this improvisation soon ends, leaving just the accompanying ostinato, which fades to a very quiet volume. The shakuhachi player rejoins the performance, now joined by a fue player. As these melodic instruments play, the ō-daiko soloist gradually enters, first in the background but becoming more and more prominent. When the fue player ends their own improvisation, the tempo gets faster and the ō-daiko solo returns to the forefront of the performance. Finally, the piece ends suddenly, with a single hit by both players on the ō-daiko.

When performing “O-daiko,” Ondekoza members at first wore the festival garb-inspired happi and hachimaki that served as the group’s uniform. However, this changed in the spring of 1975, when the group played a series of concerts at the Espace Pierre Cardin in Paris, owned by fashion designer Pierre Cardin. After one performance, Cardin made the suggestion of having the “O-daiko” soloist perform in a type of fundoshi (loincloth) typically associated with sumo wrestling. According to Bender, this idea stemmed from an appearance by Ondekoza at the Hadaka Matsuri in Okayama city in western Japan, famous for the presence of “thousands of men dressed only in fundoshi… as they jockey for sacred sticks hurled into the crowd by priests” (Bender 2012, 91). The group performed in the loincloths in an effort to maintain the spirit of the festival, and an image from this performance was used in publicity for the Paris concerts. The audience response in Paris to this change was largely positive, and the custom of performing “O-daiko” in a fundoshi began.[1]


The Evolution of “O-daiko”

While the above description applies to “O-daiko” as it was performed in the 1970 by members of Ondekoza, with Hayashi Eitetsu as the primary soloist, the work has not remained the same in the four decades that have followed. To a degree, this is due to changes in the primary soloist on the piece. Soon after the members of Ondekoza broke away from Den Tagayasu in 1981 and formed Kodo, and Hayashi decided to embark on a solo career. Since that time, a number of soloists have taken on the mantle of primary “O-daiko” soloist.[2] Fujimoto Yoshikazu was the first within Kodo, performing “O-daiko” almost exclusively until he stopped touring internationally in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st Century. This mantle was then taken up by Nakagome Kenta, Mitome Tomohiro, Ishizuka Mitsuru, and other soloists.

As different soloists have been featured in “O-daiko,” the nature of “O-daiko” itself has changed. In the early days of Kodo, the piece was performed largely as it was by Ondekoza in the 1970s. However, this began to change in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as “O-daiko” became to occupy more and more of the spotlight and took up more time on the program. During Kodo’s One Earth Tour at the beginning of the 21st Century, concerts featured 3 three different ō-daiko soloists, resulting in 20-30 minutes of the concert dedicated to “O-daiko.” Meanwhile, the presence of wind instruments and handheld percussion instruments has been reduced – in some tours the fue, chappa, and atarigane are completely absent, leaving accompaniment duties solely to the person on the reverse side of the ō-daiko, while in other cases they are only used during select solos.

In recent years, Kodo has even experimented with eliminating “O-daiko” from the repertoire entirely, albeit by replacing it with similar pieces. One replacement has been “Tomoe,” which features three large hiradō-daiko set in a triangular pattern. These drums, similar in size to the ō-daiko used by Kodo on tours, require just as much strength and endurance to play as the ō-daiko, and the piece features similar rhythms as those used in “O-daiko” – with less improvisation – providing a nice alternative to the extended solos on ō-daiko.

The Impact of “O-daiko”

It is hard to understate the effect of “O-daiko” on the development of contemporary taiko performance. Before the emergence of this piece, the ō-daiko was used largely as just one drum amongst many in an ensemble, as was the case in Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko repertoire. Meanwhile, it was rare to see an nagadō-daiko drum much larger in size than what many groups call a chū-daiko (with a head between 16 and 24 inches in diameter), and certainly not the size of the one featured in Ondekoza performances.

After “O-daiko” became popular, however, a number of other Japanese groups purchased a larger-sized ō-daiko that could be played using Hayashi’s new technique, as well as composed works that featured extended improvisations on the ō-daiko in the same manner as “O-daiko.” For example, the Tokyo-based group Oedo Sukeroku Taiko – founded by original Sukeroku Taiko Kobayashi Seido in the early 1980s – began to combine the cross-body hitting style common in hōgaku-hayashi with the drum-facing hitting style developed by Hayashi Eitetsu, and composed its own ō-daiko feature piece called “Edo no Kaze” (“Edo Wind,” seen beginning at 07:33 in the video below).

Another Sukeroku Taiko-influenced taiko group, the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, premiered their own ō-daiko feature piece, “Tsunami,” in 1986:

Meanwhile, other groups have taken the basic performance styles practices developed by Hayashi Eitetsu and used them in a large group – that is, they have incorporated multiple ō-daiko into a composition. Hayashi Eitetsu has composed several pieces in this style since becoming a soloist in 1982, including “Seven Stars”:

Similarly, soloist Kenny Endo – who helped developed “Edo no Kaze” as a member of Oedo Sukeroku Taiko – wrote his work “Rites of Thundering” in 2000:

Beyond placing the spotlight on ō-daiko performance, the development of “O-daiko” and Hayashi’s new ō-daiko performance techniques was important to the development of contemporary taiko performance in that it helped foster the rise of taiko soloists. When Hayashi Eitetsu left Kodo in 1982 to pursue a career as a soloist, he had to develop a new performance style that was not reliant on any other players. He accomplished this both through the exploration of the taiko set – a concept first begun by Oguchi Daihachi with Osuwa Daiko – and through a greater emphasis on ō-daiko performance.

Hayashi decided “to never turn down a job and accept any work that came [his] way” (Hayashi 2011). This included a lot of what he calls “artsy events,” with a variety of companies, stores, and venues sponsoring musical performances and projects. Both Hayashi and his performance sponsors were interested as much creating an attention-grabbing performance in an unexpected environment as in creating an innovative musical experience; as he later described it, performances were often more about “the catabolic effect of having a taiko appear in a place you wouldn’t normally expect it” than about musical innovation (Hayashi 2011). Nevertheless, the activities helped to make Hayashi known as a solo artist. Early performances included “accompaniment for singers” and “opening ceremonies for commercial buildings and at parties” (Hayashi 2011).

Meanwhile, deprived of an accompanist to provide an underlying rhythmic foundation, Hayashi experimented with different ways of maintaining the rhythm while playing his solo. One method that he devised was what Isaku Kageyama calls an “eighth note groove,” combinations of eighth notes “accented in groupings of 3 and 4, and triplet figures” (Kageyama 2012). Through a mixture of accent placement, rhythmic variation, and dynamic contrast, Hayashi was able to develop a way to keep his ō-daiko solos musically interesting while still providing a rhythmic foundation.

For example, in a section from a 2010 improvisation entitled “Hi no Taiko, Tsuki no Taiko” (“Taiko of the Sun, Taiko of the Moon”) Hayashi uses different combinations of left and right drumstick hits, and rhythmic patterns that include variations of accented and unaccented notes. The left hand and right hand hits are placed on different parts of the drumhead, resulting in different sounds that add to the rhythmic variety of the improvisation:

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

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

Hayashi compares the sonic spectrum created during his ō-daiko solos to painting:

…one idea that came to me was to use traditional Japanese sumi ink paintings as an image. Just as we sense color and space and distance within the gradations of monochromatic grays and black of the sumi ink painting, I thought that perhaps a similar image could be used for the supposed monotone of drum music. I tried a number of things like modifications in the drumsticks (bachi) and changing the surface areas I hit on the drum skin. (Hayashi 2011)

By hitting towards the edge of the drum, a much thinner, higher-sounding tone is created than what occurs when the center of the drum is hit. Similarly, a thinner drumstick produces a different sound than a thicker one. Hayashi also has experimented with using non-wooden sticks, including small bamboo rods wrapped together in a manner similar to a broom. Utilizing a wide range of sounds and performance techniques, he developed an ō-daiko solo that was more sonically varied that what he had performed with Ondekoza.[3]

The development of “O-daiko,” then, affected not only the course of Ondekoza and Kodo’s musical development, but the development of contemporary taiko performance as a whole. It paved the way for a new style of playing that was less reliant on festival music performance practices, while also highlighting the individual and offering an extended space for unique improvisation. Since the 1970s, the ō-daiko solo has become a rite of passage of a sorts for taiko players, a gateway into a new mode of performance that uniquely belongs to the world of contemporary taiko.


Bender, Shawn. 2010. “Drumming from Screen to Stage: Ondekoza’s Odaiko and the Reimaging of Japanese Taiko.”  The Journal of Asian Studies 69 (03):843-867.

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

Hayashi, Eitetsu. 1992. Ashita no Taiko Uchi e 明日の太鼓打ちへ. Tokyo: Shobunsha.

Hayashi, Eitetsu. 2011. Artist Interview: Innovating drum music, the spirit of Eitetsu Hayashi. The Japan Foundation Performing Arts Network Japan.

Kageyama, Isaku. 2012. “How To Kinda Sound Like Eitetsu Hayashi – Stylistic Exploration ‘Eitetsu Hayashi 8th Note Groove’.”

Kodo Cultural Foundation. 2011. Inochi Moyashite, Tatakeyo. -Kodo 30-Nen no Kiseki – いのちもやして、たたけよ。-鼓童30年の軌跡ー. Tokyo: Shuppan Bunka Sha Corporation.

Yoon, Paul J. 2009. “Asian Masculinities and Parodic Possibility in Odaiko Solos and Filmic Representations.”  Asian Music 40 (1):100-130.


[1] The relationship between the adoption of the use of the loincloth during “O-daiko” and the rise of its popularity suggests that the fame of the piece may be somewhat due to the physical nature of its performance. Such an idea has been explored by scholars like Shawn Bender and Paul Yoon, who argue that the work’s popularity is as much due to its evocation of masculinity as to its musical content (see Bender 2010, Yoon 2009).
[2] This is the case both in Kodo and in the new version of Ondekoza that Den founded in the 1980s.

[3] He also adjusted the build of the ō-daiko stand so that the various types of drumsticks could be placed underneath the drum so they could be immediately available, as seen in the video clip. This additional shelf is absent from the stand used by Ondekoza/Kodo.

New Taiko Music History Article: Monochrome

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Published by Moeck Verlag und Musikinstrumentenwek (Ishii 1989)

Published by Moeck Verlag und Musikinstrumentenwek (Ishii 1989)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Legacy of “Monochrome”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

Kodo Cultural Foundation. 2011. Inochi Moyashite, Tatakeyo. -Kodo 30-Nen no Kiseki – いのちもやして、たたけよ。-鼓童30年の軌跡ー. Tokyo: Shuppan Bunka Sha Corporation.


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

[2] (accessed November 28, 2015)

New Taiko Music History Article: Yatai-bayashi

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

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

New Music History Article: Symmetrical Soundscapes

We’re happy to announce the release of the next in the Music History article series. Today, we look at Kenny Endo’s “Symmetrical Soundscapes”! This piece not only was part of a movement towards solo taiko performance in the 1980s, but is a reflection of the diverse musical experiences brought into one by Kenny Endo, who this year is celebrating his 40th Anniversary of playing taiko!

Symmetrical Soundscapes

Sukeroku Taiko made major contributions to the world of contemporary taiko performance in the 1960s and 1970s, bringing together festival and theatrical music in compositions written to be played in a wide variety of spaces, from cabarets to store openings. However, in the same manner of its predecessor, Shin On Daiko, in the early 1970s Sukeroku Taiko ran into financial trouble. Meanwhile, the original members were beginning to pursue other interests, performing less and less with the group. Ishizuka Yutaka – who started the path towards Sukeroku Taiko when he answered a newspaper ad in December 1966 – had entered into the Mochizuki school of hōgaku performance, eventually receiving the stage name (natori) Mochizuki Saburo in 1972. Likewise, Onozato Ganei became a student of Tosha Yuho, a hōgaku performer that he had met on a concert tour, and in 1977 received the natori Tosha Kiyonari (Mogi 2010). Additionally, Kobayashi Seido was focusing on his family’s business.

Eventually, an overextension of the group’s capabilities led to the subsequent reforming in 1974 under the overview of Imaizumi Yutaka, a former bon daiko champion who had joined the group shortly after its founding in the late 1960s (Mogi 2010, 40). The group was renamed the Sukeroku Taiko Hozonkai, and this re-centering allowed the group to continue operation. In 1977, it performed at the first “Nihon no Taiko” concert at the National Theater, performing “Oroshi Daiko,” “Shiraume Daiko,” “Matsuri Daiko,” and “Yodan Uchi”; the performers were Kobayashi Seido, Onozato Motoe, Ishikura Yoshihisa, Imaizumi Yutaka, Ishikura Kazukou, and Ebitani Yuichiro (Mogi 2010, 40).

However, there arose creative differences between Kobayashi Seido, who was in the spotlight as the chief performer of the Sukeroku Taiko Hozonkai, and Imaizumi Yutaka, who was in charge of group management. In 1982, these differences reached a breaking point: Imaizumi reorganized the Sukeroku Taiko Hozonkai as Sukeroku Daiko, and Kobayashi founded his own group, Oedo Sukeroku Taiko. Among the performers that accompanied Kobayashi over to Oedo Sukeroku Taiko was an American who had just begun playing with the group the previous year: Kenny Endo.

Kenny Endo

Kenny Endo had begun playing taiko in 1975 with Kinnara Taiko in Los Angeles, one of the first taiko groups in the United States. He soon moved to San Francisco, starting a career as a jazz drummer but also studying taiko with Tanaka Seiichi at the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. Tanaka had studied with both Oguchi Daihachi and Mochizuki Saburo in the late 1960s, and passed the performance traditions of Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko to his students. Eventually, driven by a desire to “go to Japan and really seek out where the roots are, and what kind of music it came from,” Endo decided to travel to Japan (personal interview, June 29, 2010). His first stop was Nagano Prefecture, where through the recommendation of Tanaka he had the opportunity to study with Oguchi Daihachi. Then, in 1981, he moved to Tokyo, and – again, based on Tanaka’s recommendation – began studying with members of Sukeroku Taiko.

Kenny Endo performing with Sukeroku Taiko in 1982. Photo by Chizuko Endo.

Kenny Endo performing with Sukeroku Taiko in 1982. Photo by Chizuko Endo.

When Kobayashi Seido broke away and founded Oedo Sukeroku Taiko, Endo followed, performing with the group for 5 years until 1987. However, he did not limit his studies to contemporary taiko performance, but also pursued the study of other musical forms in which taiko are used. He studied hōgaku within the Mochizuki school, first with Mochizuki Saburo and later Mochizuki Tazaemon (who in 1988 became the fourth head of the Mochizuki school and succeeded into the name Mochizuki Bokusei) (Endo 2011). In 1987, he became the first non-Japanese to receive a natori (professional stage name) in hōgaku-hayashi, thereafter known within the hōgaku world as Mochizuki Tajiro.[1] At the same time, he also joined the Wakayama Shachū performance troupe and studied folk performance art of the Tokyo Shitamachi area, studying performances arts like Oedo sato-kagura (Shinto theatrical music and dance from the Shitamachi area) and Edo kotobuki-jishi (a regional form of lion dance).

Kenny Endo performing Edo-bayashi at the Karasunori Matsuri in 1988. Photo by Chizuko Endo.

Kenny Endo performing Edo-bayashi at the Karasunori Matsuri in 1988. Photo by Chizuko Endo.

In the summer of 1986, Endo toured the west coast of North America along with a small number of Japanese performers, including Hayashi Eitetsu, a founding member of the group Ondekoza who had moved to Tokyo in 1982. Drawing upon his diverse performance experience and the musics he was studying in Japan, Endo performed a unique set. He presented several selections from hōgaku-hayashi, performing on the ko-tsuzumi alongside Hosoya Masashi on ō-tsuzumi. He also performed an arrangement of Sukeroku Taiko’s “Shiraume Daiko” and “Matsuri Daiko” for ō-daiko, ko-tsuzumi, and fue, accompanied at times by a lion dance.

Audiences not only saw a wide range of Japanese taiko performance in these concerts, however, for they were witness to the emergence of a new type of taiko performance. Hayashi and Endo both performed individual solo sets before coming together for a joint second half. During their sets, each presented their own compositions in addition to previously existing works. At a concert in Oakland on May 11, 1986, Endo presented “Ancient Beginnings,” a nearly-twenty minute duet for taiko set and saxophone featuring former San Francisco Taiko Dojo member Russel Baba on saxophone, written in 1984 when Endo participated as guest performer for the Kotosono Dance Ensemble’s tour of Egypt.

“Ancient Beginnings” was the first of many pieces Endo wrote in the 1980s for taiko and melodic instruments; in 1986, for example, he wrote “Spirit Sounds” for ō-daiko, shinobue and jushichigen (a koto with 17 strings). Through these and other songs, Endo was able to collaborate with a variety of artists in a multitude of settings. In one 1987 concert at the Hoshoji Temple, he performed alongside musicians playing electric and upright bass, shakuhachi, and saxophone; meanwhile, a 1988 concert at Stella Studio featured collaborations with fue and shamisen players. Such solo activities were an extension of other performance opportunities he had, such as performing with big bands in Tokyo like the Music Magic Orchestra.

Kenny Endo performing with the Music Magic Orchestra in 1988. Photo by Chizuko Endo.

Kenny Endo performing with the Music Magic Orchestra in 1988. Photo by Chizuko Endo.

However, Endo did not simply explore ways of integrating taiko and melodic instruments, but also composed pieces for taiko alone. Within these works, Endo could express his emerging performance identity as a soloist, bringing together the many different forms of music that he was studying. He was not only a jazz drummer and a member of a taiko ensemble, but also a student and performer of hōgaku and Edo-bayashi. In 1985, he used these diverse experiences as inspiration when composing the work “Symmetrical Soundscapes.” Not only did this piece reveal what taiko could accomplish outside of a large ensemble, setting the stage for the solo endeavors that would come to dominate Endo’s performance activities, but it also demonstrated how Endo himself was evolving as a musician.

“Symmetrical Soundscapes”

“Symmetrical Soundscapes” was originally composed as a duet “for two taiko players performing mirror imagery through sounds” (Endo 1994). As the vague nature of this description suggests, the instrumentation for the piece is a bit fluid. An early performance on August 28, 1988 at the Stella Studio in Tokyo, for example, took place with each player using just a single shime-daiko. However, since early on Endo has expanded the work in numerous ways. Even in a duet form, performers often use more drums. In a performance on August 22, 2015, for example, members of TAIKOPROJECT added two okedō-daiko and a nagadō-daiko to the mix:

Meanwhile, in other performances drummers make use of a large rack of uchiwa-daiko:

Endo has also arranged “Symmetrical Soundscapes” for by more players; this arrangement most commonly takes the form of a quartet, but occasionally it will be expanded even further. In one video uploaded by Endo to his YouTube channel, taken from his 2010 35th Anniversary concert in Los Angeles, Endo performs the piece alongside three members of the group On Ensemble and soloist Kaoru Watanabe in a rare five-person version:

Regardless of the instrumentation and number of players involved, the music of “Symmetrical Soundscapes” is usually the same. It has two sections, both incorporating a combination of composed rhythmic sequences and improvisations, featuring rhythms that both draw inspiration from and outright quote the musics that Endo was engrossing himself in the 1980s.

Most performances open with the players hitting an uchiwa-daiko held in their hands, moving around the stage as they play to take advantage of the freedom of movement permitted by a handheld uchiwa-daiko. They begin with a series of hits akin to a do-don oroshi: a roll-like in which each player hits twice (the “do-don” in the name), getting faster with each hit. After the peak oroshi (roll) speed is reached, following a moment of silence, the drummers start playing a series of interlocking rhythms. This segment introduces two major signatures of “Symmetrical Soundscapes: interlocking rhythms, and the borrowing of rhythms from other musical genres.

The phrase borrows from hōgaku; to be more specific, it is a quotation of a rhythm from nagauta, a song form featured in kabuki. In hōgaku, this rhythm is divided between the ko-tsuzumi and the ō-tsuzumi, but in “Symmetrical Soundscapes” it is simply divided between the different players. The two-person version of this rhythm can be seen in the transcription below, where the top line represents the first drummer (A) playing the equivalent ko-tsuzumi part, and the bottom line the second player (B) the ō-tsuzumi part (02:47 in the sextet YouTube video linked above):

part 1 opening

When there are more than two performers, the phrase is divided amongst pairs. In some performances, these rhythms are played straight in time while in others there is great flexibility to the beat. In either instance, the combination of high and low sounds and difference between long and short notes allows the rhythm to stand out.

In including these rhythms, Endo is drawing upon both his experiences in Oedo Sukeroku Taiko and his studies of hōgaku-hayashi; however, his direct quotation of nagauta rhythms goes beyond the typical usage in Sukeroku-style pieces. In “Oroshi Daiko,” Sukeroku Taiko members took thematic inspiration from “Ichi-ban Daiko” from kabuki, but they never outright quoted from that piece. Through a direct quotation of nagauta rhythms, then, Endo, t took what Sukeroku Taiko members had begun to the next level.

Following a series of variations of the nagauta rhythms, the performers begin a section described by Endo as “solos intertwined with images of mountains and valleys” (Endo 1994). First, they play a sixteenth-note ostinato rising from soft to loud and back down to soft:

mountain ostinato

They then begin to improvise, one player accompanying the solo with the ostinato while following the same dynamic contour (04:50 in the YouTube video). The soloist cues the end of their improvisation by returning to the ostinato, playing the first two sixteenth notes of each beat. After another repeat of the ostinato, again divided between the players, the next drummer begins their improvisation. Once everyone has finished their improvisation and again performed a series of the ostinato, they briefly pause before moving into the second part of the piece.

While the first part of “Symmetrical Soundscapes” is built upon interlocking parts largely derived from hōgaku, the second takes its inspiration from not only hōgaku but also festival music; however, in this instance it is a wider range of festival music than what can be seen in Sukeroku Taiko works. While Endo does include Edo-bayashi elements in the piece, he also brings in festival music from across Central and South America, a nod back to his drum set roots. A series of fast rhythms played in unison opens the second section, providing a completely different sound than what had come before (06:26 in the YouTube video):[2]

part 2 opening

The first two measures are played primarily on the shime-daiko with quiet, nearly unheard notes filling in the space between the primary notes (the primary notes being those notated in the transcription above), a practice that draws from Edo-bayashi technique. Meanwhile, the third and fourth measures feature a rhythm that, when divided between high and low-pitched drums, suggests the sound of Brazilian samba; to be more specific, it represents the interplay between the high caixa de guerra and the low surdo in the bacteria percussion section of a samba ensemble. Emphasizing the Brazilian feel even further, some performances also include two eighth notes on a low drum on beat four.

After a repeat of these phrases, followed by a series of measures filled with offbeat rhythms, a pattern taken from Edo-bayashi signals the beginning into another series of improvisations:

Edo-bayashi transition rhythm

Unlike the relatively free improvisation of the first half of “Symmetrical Soundscapes,” the second half features strictly timed solos: the players each play one four-bar solo, followed by two cycles of two-bar solos, and then four series of one-bar solos. Another quotation then marks the movement out of the improvisation: this time quoting an Afro-Cuban son clave. First comes a unison 3-2 son clave, followed by followed by three measures of player A playing a 2-3 son clave while player B continues the 3-2 (07:53 in the YouTube video):[3]

son clave

This immediately transitions into another series of rhythms derived from hōgaku-hayashi; more specifically, the rhythms are from “Chakutō,” “a short taiko piece accompanied by a Japanese vertical flute traditionally played to open the curtain.”[4]

In the version found in “Symmetrical Soundscapes,” a rhythm called the shagiri is presented first, followed by another phrase known as the age (07:58 in the YouTube clip). A series of largely off-the-beat rhythms follow, again divided between the players, before the piece ends with a strong unison hit:

Chakuto quote to end

The Unique Nature of “Symmetrical Soundscapes”

“Symmetrical Soundscapes” stands apart from much of the contemporary taiko music that had been composed up until that time. It was in its first incarnation a duet, a rarity in a world characterized by works for large ensembles. This began to change in the 1980s, however, as performers such as Kenny Endo and Hayashi Eitetsu started exploring performance options for taiko soloists. As they did so, they need to write new works to support their artistic endeavors. Yet, duets were rare even at that time, as soloists tended to write either for themselves or for larger ensembles.

Beyond its origins as a duet, “Symmetrical Soundscapes” is also unique for the diverse musical inspirations that Endo brought into the piece. The presence of hōgaku-hayashi and Edo-bayashi rhythms demonstrates Endo’s experiences in the world of the Sukeroku style, continuing the influx of these styles into contemporary taiko performance started by the members of Sukeroku Taiko in the late 1960s, but Endo himself was studying these art forms, thus adding a more direct link to the source. At the same time, Endo hearkened back to his experiences as a drum set player with his inclusion of Brazilian and Afro-Cuban rhythms. While was not the first time that non-Japanese rhythms had been integrated into a contemporary taiko piece, it was perhaps the first time that they were so obviously stated; the combination of rhythms and high and low-pitched taiko in the beginning of the section, for example, clearly evokes a Brazilian samba.

It could be said that “Symmetrical Soundscapes” is a reflection of Endo himself, combining the varied musical experiences that he has accumulated into what has been called “a new and refreshing sound combining his Eastern and Western backgrounds” (Kageyama 1986). This mixture of influences would become a defining characteristic of his concerts and his compositions. In concert, Endo often features both contemporary taiko works and repertoire from hōgaku. Over the course of a performance, Endo may play ō-daiko, taiko set, and tsuzumi, revealing the depth of musical skills and experiences that he has accumulated in his 40 years of performance. At the same time, Endo continued to compose songs that brought to the forefront his various influences, both in small- and large-scale situations. ”The Calling,” composed in 1995, is an ensemble work written for ō-daiko, shime-daiko, ō-tsuzumi, shinobue, and nohkan; inspired by the music of hōgaku, it features – amongst other signature elements drawn from the music of Japanese theater – extended use of kakegoe. Endo took the integration of hōgaku elements one step further in “Moonwind,” an understated ō-daiko solo (as compared to the typical loud, forceful ō-daiko solo) in which he utilizes not only rhythms taken from kabuki music but also different drums of drumsticks used during kabuki performances.

Endo wrote “The Calling” and “Moonwind” after he left Japan in 1990, when after 10 years in Japan he moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. There, not only has he continued to explore new hybrid compositional and performance styles, but he has also championed the inclusion of traditional drumming styles in a contemporary taiko teaching environment. In 1994, Endo and his wife Chizuko founded the Taiko Center of the Pacific, where they teach not only the Sukeroku style of taiko performance but also older performance traditions like Edo-bayashi. At the same time, he also founded the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble as an additional performance outlet beyond his solo activities. Performances by the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble are as much as reflection of Endo’s diverse musical experiences as his composition. A concert may feature an Edo kotobuki-jishi (a lion dance native to the Shitamachi area of Tokyo), “classic” Sukeroku Taiko pieces like the “Oroshi Daiko”/”Shiraume Daiko”/”Matsuri Daiko” suite and “Yodan Uchi,” and modern pieces composed by Endo like “Symmetrical Soundscapes.”

From one perspective, Endo’s activities are a continuation of those endeavors begun by the founding members of Sukeroku Taiko in the 1960s, meshing festival and theatrical music in a performance style presented in a multitude of settings. At the same time, through the inclusion of his drum set experiences he represents another branch of exploration on the contemporary taiko performance tree, a cross-cultural demonstration of how taiko can be used in a more diverse musical performance situation. Thirty years after its composition, ‘Symmetrical Soundscapes” remains unique in the contemporary taiko performance realm, a testament to the wide breadth of musical influences incorporated by Kenny Endo.

Works Cited

Endo, Kenny. 1994. Eternal Energy: Kendo Taiko. CD.

Endo, Kenny. 2011. Aatisuto intabyuu, Vol. 07: Kenii Endō アーティストインタビュー Vol. 07: ケニー遠藤. Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten.

Kageyama, Yuri. 1986. “Following the drumbeat: Percussionist pursues his ancestral heritage.” The Japan Times Weekly, June 21.

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


[1] (accessed October 22, 2015)

[2] Following the model in the original handwritten score for “Symmetrical Soundscapes,” the transcription in this excerpt indicates the different sounds that are to be played in this section – high, medium, and low. This is different from the earlier transcriptions for this piece, which indicate differences between player assignments but not pitch. This beginning of the second half of the piece is the only part in which pitch distinctions are important to the understanding of the piece, and are always followed by musicians in performance.

The original score has this section divided by player and not by pitch (both playing the middle notes, player A the high, and player B the low). However, it appears that this practice has not been followed since the late 1980s; rather, all musicians now play the rhythm, dividing it between high and low pitches.

[3] The terms 3-2 and 2-3 refer to the grouping of the notes: a group of 3 then 2, or a group of 2 then 3.

[4] (accessed October 22, 2015)