In Japanese, taiko literally means "drum," though the term has also come to refer to the art of Japanese drumming, also known as kumi-daiko. Taiko has been a part of the Japanese culture for centuries. Centuries ago, taiko was used predominately in the military arena. As it evolved, Japanese Buddhist and Shinto religions gradually began to take it on as a sacred instrument. Historically, it has existed in a multitude of other environments, including agrarian, theater, and the imperial court. The art of kumi-daiko, performance as an ensemble, originated post-war in Showa 26 (1951). It was created by Daihachi Oguchi, a jazz drummer who serendipitously stumbled across an old piece of taiko music. Wondering why taiko were never played together, he broke with tradition by forming a taiko drum ensemble.More recently, taiko has enjoyed not only a resurgence of interest in Japan, where there are over 4,000 taiko ensembles, but also transplantation and evolution in North America.
North American Taiko
In this country, taiko has become a rich and varied form of drumming, as idiomatically North American as jazz or American Indian drumming. The first North American Taiko group, the San Francisco Taiko dojo, was created in 1968 by Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka. San Francisco Taiko Dojo's style was a fusion of Oedo Sukeroku, Osuwa Daiko and Gojinjyo-daiko styles. One year later, Kinnara Taiko of the Senshin Buddhist temple in Los Angeles was founded based on Japanese American Buddhist taiko. San Jose Taiko followed in 1973, with a focus on making taiko a Japanese American art form.
North American taiko may also be attributed with developing the art of drumbuilding using wine barrels rather than carving them out of a single log. Because wine barrel-drums are cheaper and easier to build, taiko has become accessible to many more groups outside of Japan and aided the widespread growth of taiko throughout the world.
The first collegiate taiko group in North America was UCLA Kyodo Taiko, founded in 1990 by Mark Honda. Since then, collegiate taiko has been one of the fastest growing taiko phenomena in North America! College groups are forming all across America, including UC-Irvine Jodaiko, UC-Riverside Senryu Taiko, UC-San Diego Asayake Taiko, UC Davis Bakuhatsu Taiko Dan, and St. Louis Osuwa Taiko. Each year, many collegiate groups come together for the annual Intercollegiate Taiko Invitational, which gives them an opportunity to be exposed to different groups and meet fellow taiko players.
Stanford Taiko is a collegiate performing ensemble devoted to bringing the awareness of taiko to the greater community. Composed of fifteen to twenty Stanford students, it is an entirely student run group under the guidance of the Department of Music and faculty advisors Steve Sano and Linda Uyechi.
Stanford Taiko has an entirely original repertoire composed by its members. As in the case of most taiko groups, the styles of performing and composing are constantly evolving... mostly due to the addition of new instruments and/or members. While many old traditions may get lost in the shuffle, this allows the group to grow in a dynamic and exciting way. Every member of Stanford Taiko contributes something of their own to the group, whether it be dance experience, musical background, or just great ideas! In fact, many members of Stanford Taiko have gone on to pursue taiko professionally or started their own groups.
Also, in a collaborative project with San Jose Taiko and the Stanford Music Department, each July Stanford Taiko supports the Summer Taiko at Stanford day camp for children 9-16 years of age. In keeping with the forward-looking philosophy of this ever-changing collegiate organization, Stanford Taiko helped develop and continues to support the Luis Lujan Memorial Scholarship, a fund to encourage taiko learning and research.
Stanford Taiko remains true to the goals of its original charter to (i) present taiko to the Stanford community, and (ii) to educate the community about taiko. In addition to performances, the group holds regular workshops for community members, supports the Music Department seminar Perspectives on North American Taiko, has their annual Spring Concert, and participates annually in the Intercollegiate Taiko Invitational. Stanford Taiko has toured in Japan, Maui, and Thailand. In 2005, Stanford Taiko was the first collegiate group to perform in Taiko Jam at the North American Taiko Conference!