The arcane world of Japan’s taiko drummers

Drum roll

THERE is a felicitous double meaning to Kodo, the name of the celebrated Japanese drumming ensemble. Its written characters mean “drum child”. But an infinitesimally different stressing of the second syllable will give you the character which means “heartbeat”. The company regards this accidental ambiguity as a symbolic blessing, and drumming does indeed go way back. It is one of humanity’s most elemental forms of musical communication, at once both mystical and—because it can span great distances—highly practical.

The taiko (“fat drum”) tradition was imported from Tang-dynasty China. It took root in the Japanese court, and in temples and shrines, in forms which have scarcely changed over 1,000 years. Over the course of the 20th century, however, it lost its appeal at home, though it was popular with the Japanese diaspora on the west coast of America. In the 1960s, as Japan threw itself into modernisation, drumming came…Continue reading

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