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This article is served with kind permission of the author. Taken from the plenarary session "An Overview of Taiko in Japan," at the 1997 Taiko Conference. Comments in [brackets] are Taiko Resource editorial comment.


What The Haniwa Have to Say About Taiko's Roots: The History of Taiko

Megumi Ochi
Curator, Taiko Kan

Of all mankind's instruments that produce sound, the drum has been used by many races over a wide area from the most ancient of times. On a relief dug up from the remains of a Sumerian castle in Mesopotamia dating back to 2,500 to 3,000 B.C., there is depicted a person drumming on a huge drum some two meters in diameter.

In Japan, there is a Haniwa figure, "Man beating the Taiko," dug up in Sawa County, Gunma Prefecture, which is considered the oldest taiko resource material [in Japan]. The Haniwa, which has been dated back to the sixth or seventh century, holds a tube, covered on both ends by skin and hung from his shoulders at hip length. He is beating the device with a drumstick in his right hand. Judging from this figure, the drum appears to be a hip hand drum.

The hip hand drum can be seen in present days in the northeastern area of China in their folk dance, "Hip Drum Dance." Perhaps the Haniwa's drum came from China, too.

The Haniwa, while beating the drum with a drumstick in his right hand, is also seems to be beating the other side of the drum with his bare hand. Using both a drumstick and bare hands is the style of the cane drum on the Korean Peninsula. The skin is pulled tight by cords rather than by wedges.

Where did the Japanese taiko come from? There is a possibility that it did not come from abroad but developed naturally in the land. However, in this narrative, we will look at the taiko in relation to Asia, especially the Far East.

Japanese taiko can be considered to have arrived from the Asian continent over two routes.

One route is that which follows the trail of Buddhism (especially esoteric Buddhism); however, most of these taiko are only seen in the sutras and are no longer existing, but we can conjecture this from Buddhist murals and other sources.

For instance, in the picture of Bugaku in the mural found in Tonko, there is a drummer shown supporting a furitsutsumi with his left hand and holding the hand drum on his left lap, beating it with his right hand.

On the other hand, it is thought that the present-day taiko came from China or the Korean Peninsula with the Gigaku (masked plays).

Let us look for traces of several such routes.

In the literature of the later Heian era, a performance of Gigaku is depicted in "Shinzei Kogakuzu" (Picture of Shinzei Ancient Music), with surizutsumi and, which look as though they came from China, but many of them are no longer existing.

A type of surizutsumi, is said to come from China in the Nara period, along with Bugaku.

Dengaku Taiko is not beaten. It is thought to belong to the surizutsumi family. The basic form of the Japanese surizutsumi is found in the Tourouko from China's Tang Dynasty. It resembles shime-daiko. Taking its history even further back, it is a hand drum which arose in India and was brought to China via the western route in the third to sixth century.

The Sanja-matsuri (Three Shrine Festival), flower of the Edo period, is held every year in May at the Asakusa Shrine. Surizutsumi, makes its appearance in the Dengakumai dance, "Binzasara Jinji." The sun crest which is drawn on the skins of this taiko has a close resemblance to the Dozutsumi (copper hand drum) of China and Thailand.

It is thought that the hanging taiko hung in a frame probably came to Japan at the time of esoteric Buddhism and was later handed on to Sarugaku, taiko and Dengaku-taiko.

Byou-uchi-daiko (riveted taiko [I believe she means nailed headed taiko]) derives, it is thought, from the taiko of Gagaku.

By the way, Japanese [word] "taiko" in the olden days was written with the kanji characters of dai (big) and tai (fat or broad). The latter is more common today.

The author is the curator of the Taiko Kan (taiko drum museum) in Tokyo.

Copyright 1997 by Megumi Ochi. Used by permission.


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Copyright Rolling Thunder 1996-2000 except where noted.

Megumi Ochi. Used by permission.


Go back to the Taiko Resource History Page

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Copyright Rolling Thunder 1996-2000 except where noted. FrF@ Thailand.FF``F@ht that the Fing taiko hung in a frame probably came to Japan at the time of esoteric Buddhism and was later handed on to Sarugaku, taiko and Dengaku-taiko.

Byou-uchi-daiko (riveted taiko [I believe she means nailed headed taiko]) derives, it is thought, from the taiko of Gagaku.

By the way, Japanese [word] "taiko" in the olden days was written with the kanji characters of dai (big) and tai (fat or broad). The latter is more common today.

The author is the curator of the Taiko Kan (taiko drum museum) in Tokyo.

Copyright 1997 by

Copyright 1997 by