Japanese taiko drums, while having antecedents in Chinese and Korean drums, have developed into a wide range of percussion instruments that are used in both Japanese folk and classical musical traditions.
Taiko, in general, are stick percussion instruments. With the exception of the kotsuzumi and ootsuzumi, all taiko are struck with drumsticks. They have heads on both sides of drum body, and a sealed resonating cavity. Taiko are also characterized by a high amount of tension on the drums heads, with a correspondingly high pitch relative to body size. This high tension likely developed in response to Japan's wet and humid summers when most festivals take place. Many taiko are not tunable, and a drum with high head tension would counteract the slacking effects of humidity.
Taiko are categorized into two types of construction. Byou-uchi daiko (鋲撃ち太鼓) taiko have heads nailed to the body. Tsukushime-daiko (付締め太鼓) have heads sewn onto iron rings, which are then laced to each other around the drum body.
Byou-uchi daiko are typically hollowed out of a single piece of wood. The preferred wood is keyaki (欅) due to its density and beautiful grain, but a number of other woods are used, grouped under the generic term meari (目有). Byou-uchi daiko cannot be tuned, and their sizes are limited by the diameter of the tree they are made from.
The typical byou-uchi daiko is the nagado-daiko (長胴太鼓, long-body taiko). It is roughly shaped like a wine barrel, and is available in a variety of sizes, from 1.0 shaku (12" in head diameter), to 3.0 shaku in 1 sun increments. Nagado-daiko over 3.0 shaku are also available, but they are referred to as odaiko (大太鼓 big, fat drum). Smaller byou-uchi daiko such as the sumo-daiko and hayashi-daiko also exist.
Tsukeshime-daiko (付締め太鼓) are available in a wide variety of styles, and are tunable. This style of taiko is typically tensioned before each performance. The tensioning system is usually rope, but bolt systems and turnbuckles have been used as well. Tsukeshime-daiko can either have stitched heads placed on bodies carved from single piece of wood, such as the shime-daiko and tsuzumi, or stitched heads placed on a stave-construction body such as the okedo-daiko.
The shime-daiko is roughly snare-drum sized, is available in five weights. The lightest is used in classical music such as noh and kabuki. The heavier weights are used by kumi-daiko groups.
The okedo-daiko (桶胴太鼓, barrel-body taiko, often shortened to "okedo" or "oke") has a long, stave construction, cylindrical body. It is available in the same size ranges as the nagado-daiko, and a taiko of okedo style is currently Japan's largest taiko. Depending on size, they can be set on a stand and played like other taiko, but they also strapped to the body so the drummer can move and play at the same time.
Other Japanese taiko include the uchiwa-daiko (内輪太鼓、fan taiko), hira-daiko (平太鼓, flat taiko), o-daiko (大太鼓, big taiko), and a host of percussion instruments used in Japan's traditional noh, gagaku, and kabuki ensembles.
The Aomori region is famous for the Nebuta festival where huge okedo are played by many people while carted through the streets. The Okedo has its own betta stand which was invented by Hayashi Eitetsu.
Again, like the nagado-daiko, the okedo has a rim sound, called "ka." When playing the rim of an okedo, however, it is important to only hit the outermost metal ring and not the actual rim of the drum body. The thin, light wood of the okedo is particularly susceptible to denting and will quickly deteriorate if hit.
Uses of the taiko in warfare
In feudal Japan, taiko were often used to motivate troops, to help set a marching pace, and to call out orders or announcements. Approaching or entering a battle, the taiko yaku (drummer) was responsible for setting the marching pace, usually with six paces per beat of the drum (beat-2-3-4-5-6, beat-2-3-4-5-6).
According to one of the historical chronicles (the Gunji Yoshu), nine sets of five beats would summon an ally to battle, while nine sets of three beats, sped up three or four times is the call to advance and pursue an enemy
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