“Taiko,” in Japanese, simply means “big drum.” Some claim that, because a drum’s sound is as fundamental to us as our own heartbeat, that the first musical instruments were percussive. If so, the precursors of taiko drums could date as far back as 3000 years into Japan’s prehistory. In ancient Japan, the beat of the taiko accompanied petitions to God. Today, the ceremony lives on and the sound of drumming bridges the divide between the human and the divine.
The thunder of taiko is pure. It cleanses both the senses and the surroundings of those who pray. As with most drumming traditions with origins in primitive societies, taiko celebrated almost all aspects of life from birth to death. Taiko drums roused the troops, intimidated the enemy on battlefields, and were paraded through village streets as an invitation to seasonal festivities. The drums were also played at rice planting ceremonies where their thunderous tones scared away insects and awakened the rain spirits.
HIBIKI means resonance. Many audience members report feeling inexplicably moved by the incredible sound of the taiko drums. This complex resonance is due in part to the master craftsmanship that goes into the making of these exquisite instruments, and in part to the connection of the drummer to the drum. Many taiko drums are hundreds of years old and the best drums are made entirely from one single tree trunk. It is believed the spirit of the tree from which the wood came, as well as the spirit imparted by the performers, produces the mesmerizing sounds of the taiko.
Resonance beautifully describes the relationship between the artist and his instrument, as well as that between the players in the ensemble and the member of the audience. This spiritual aspect of taiko crosses many cultural boundaries and is a hallmark of this unique art form.
Everyone benefits from the practice of taiko. In some Buddhist traditions, the rumbling sound of the taiko represented the voice of Buddha, and in Shinto shrines it accompanied prayers to heaven. It is not unusual for audience members to feel a deeper connection with themselves and their community after experiencing a taiko demonstration. In this way, it is the ultimate intention of taiko to encourage and instill peace on earth.