Taiko (Japanese drum)

Taiko are a broad range of Japanese drums or percussion instruments. It is becoming popular among foreign countries.  This article covers components of taiko, history of taiko, and basic way of drumming.


1.Components of taiko


(1) skin

A drum-skin is usually made of the skin of an ox or a horse. 

(2) trunk

A drum-trunk is made of wood such as zelkova(Keyaki in Japanese)and pine. Zelkova is hard and tough. It is heavy and produces sound with the depth. Pine is lightweight and soft and produces deep sound. It is not suitable to be beaten the drum-trunk.

(3) ear

With ears: It is possible to change the drum-skin. Its appearance is strict. 

Without ears: It is not possible to change the drum-skin. Its appearance is smart.

(4) tack

Tacks are used to fix a drum-trunk and skin. 

An average sized drum has from 100 to 140 tacks.

(5) kan

A part of the handle. It is usually ornamented.

(6) drumsticks

Most of drumsticks are made of Japanese cypress wood ( hinoki in Japanese)which is rather soft and produces warm sounds. Some drumsticks are made of oak wood. Oak is hard material, and tough and durable. They can produce sound with their own weight, so they are suitable not only for beginners but also for professionals.


2. History of taiko


It is said that taiko existed already 3000 years ago. In those days, they were used as a way of communication. For example, drumming represented time of the day. At dawn, the taiko was beaten once. At noon, twice. At sunset, 3 times. When a storm came, taiko were used to alarm people.

Taiko have been mainly used at shrines and temples, because sounds of taiko were thought to be voice of gods. 


In the 15th and 16th century, Japan was split into dozens of independent states constantly at war. Samurai warriors used taiko to take the leadership of the home ground. The beat of taiko synchronizes the beat of human heart. The taiko were used as an important tool to encourage oneself and ally and to bring courage, hope, and victory.


In the 17th and 18th century, Japan became peaceful, taiko were used in various entertainments. In Kabuki, which is one of traditional theatrical arts of Japan, beating patterns were systematized with scenes as sound effects.

For example, some drumming patterns are used to express rain, snow, and thunder. The sound also represented the thing that transcends a human being, such as a ninja and a ghost. 


Taiko have been used as various forms in each era.


3. Basic way of drumming


 (1) Standing position

①The step is slightly rather wider than the width of the taiko.

②Your right foot should be placed at one step behind of your left foot.

③Adjust your position where you stretch out your arms, and drumsticks come to the center of the drum-skin.

④Beat to bend the drumsticks softly and relax.


(2) A spot to be hit

It is basic to hit the spot of 4 centimeters from the edge softly and to beat to bend the drumsticks. Strong beating may cause a muscular pain and corns at your hands.




At Narita Shinshoji temple, a Taiko festival is held in the middle of April every year.

More than 800 players beat taiko at the same time. It is very spectacular.