Taiko Center of the Pacific Fellowship

The application deadline for the Taiko Center of the Pacific is Wednesday, May 2.

The Fellowship is a one-year scholarship to study traditional and contemporary taiko in Honolulu, Hawaii. ?The 2018-2019 Fellowship begins summer 2018 (start date flexible). ?Applications are due May 2 each year.

List of past & present fellows

Fellowship Includes:

  • $250 one-time cash stipend. Opportunity to participate in any regular TCP class. Placement in the TCP Performing Ensemble Trainee Program with the opportunity to become a performing member of the Honolulu ensemble.

Other Benefits:

  • Opportunities to study hogaku hayashi, matsuri bayashi, lion dance, and fue through discounted private lessons with Kenny Endo.
  • Possible part-time taiko teaching assistant position in the summer.
  • Possible part-time employment as an administrative and/or teaching staff member.
  • A large and close-knit taiko community.
  • Opportunities to travel and perform on neighbor islands.
  • Access to quality higher education opportunities at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Kapiolani Community College, Chaminade University, and Hawaii Pacific University.
  • Great weather! Great food! Great beaches!


  • Fellowship recipients must be between 18-35 years old.
  • Minimum of 3 years taiko experience, or an equivalent?combination of experience in taiko and other performing?arts.
  • Applicants must submit, by mail or online: an application form, 10-15?minute audition videotape (DVD or YouTube), and an application essay. Finalists may be interviewed via telephone by members of TCP Performing Ensemble.
  • One-year commitment required with possibility for renewal. Approximately 10-15 hours/week in practice, teaching and administrative assistance.

Who should apply?

  • Members of youth taiko groups who are interested in pursuing their undergraduate degrees in Hawaii.
  • Members of collegiate taiko groups who are interested in pursuing graduate degrees in Hawaii.
  • Any other member of the taiko community interested in pursuing this unique opportunity.


For more information, visit the TCP Fellowship website at?https://taikoarts.com/fellowship/.

Taiko Center of the Pacific 2018 STI Information Now Available!

The Taiko Center of the Pacific’s?16th Annual Summer Taiko Intensives will take place?July 30 – August 3 in?Honolulu, Hawaii
Five days of taiko and Tsugaru shamisen with a stellar group of instructors from Japan and Hawaii.
Instructors include:
Hiromitsu Agatsuma – Tsugaru shamisen
Chieko Kojima – Hana Hachijo
Yosuke Oda – Odaiko, Katsugi taiko, chudaiko
Kenny Endo – taiko set (3 drums)
Sho’on Shibata – double beta uchi
–10% Discount available until May 2 for persons registering for 3 or more classes
For more information:


For the original members of Ondekoza, the first years on Sado will filled with learning activities of all kind. Not only were they making their own furniture and bachi and, when possible, growing their own food, they were also creating a concert program to be toured around the world. In order to create their program, they trained in a variety of performance styles both musical and visual. The Tohoku region of Japan was a major source of inspiration, as members learned Iwasaki Onikenbai (巖崎鬼剣舞, a sword dance) and ōtsugunai-kagura (大償神楽, Shinto theatrical dance) from Iwate Prefecture, and Tsugaru Te-odori (津軽手踴り, a hand dance) and a Tsugaru-jamisen (津軽三味線, a style of shamisen playing) from the Tsugaru peninsula in Aomori Prefecture.

Oni Kenbai 1, Kitakami, Iwate

Oni Kenbai 1, Kitakami, Iwate. By Yoshi Canopus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

However, the main emphasis during Ondekoza’s musical education was on festival and theatrical drumming traditions from across Japan. Some styles – such as Chichibu yatai-bayashi – were performed the music on stage in a manner fairly close to how they are presented in the original festivals. In other cases, members arranged the drumming styles they learned to such an extent that it resulted in a completely new form of performance. It was these arrangements in particular that would have a profound influence on not only the development of Ondekoza but indeed broader contemporary taiko performance.

Hi no taiko

One of the many performers brought in by Den Tagayasu to teach regional arts to Ondekoza members was Shitamura Keiichi, who in 1971 visited Sado from the town of Mikuni in Fukui Prefecture (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 107). Shitamura introduced the group to a drumming style called hi no taiko (火の太鼓), used during a ritual in which musicians travel through the rice fields to rid them of harmful insects. During a performance of Hi no taiko, one player playing a steady supporting rhythm as the other plays accented rhythmic patterns while integrating various choreographic movements (Bender 2012, 88).

Den asked Hayashi Eitetsu to arrange this style for stage performance, just as he had for Chichibu yatai-bayashi. However, Den also added to his request the integration of elements he had seen in a movie. As he travelled Japan in the 1950s and 1960s, observing folk life across the country, Den often thought back to a scene he witnessed in the 1943 film Muhōmatsu no Isshō (無法松の一生, “The Life of the Outrageous Matsu,” remade in 1958 by original director Inagaki Hiroshi with new actors), about a rickshaw driver at the end of the 19th century. In the scene, set during the Kokura Gion Festival in Kokura, modern day Fukuoka Prefecture, the title character Muhōmatsu – played by Bandō Tsumasaburō in the original, and Mifune Toshiro in the remake – decides to show the teacher of a boy that he had befriended “the real Kokura Gion Daiko.” Muhōmatsu hops on a float carrying a large nagadō-daiko that was being drawn though the streets and begins to play, making wild motions as he hits the drum and generally making merry.


In his study of the development of contemporary taiko performance, anthropologist Shawn Bender writes that Den saw this performance as an embodiment of “the ideal taiko player,” fitting neatly with his interest in folk performance and his “concern for the disappearing culture of the artisan” (Bender 2012, 87). He was greatly affected by the scene, so much so that when Ondekoza received a large ō-daiko as a gift from a supporter, he had a cart built for the drum and asked Hayashi to reproduce the scene on the ō-daiko.

When asking Hayashi Eitetsu to arrange hi no taiko for concert performance, Den had one stage direction:

He had the drummers position the drum so that its side, not its front, faced the audience, thus highlighting the movements of the drummers and their drum mallets and mimicking the camera angle in the 1958 version of the film. (Bender 2012, 88)

Odaiko Duet

As Hayashi began to develop the arrangement, however, he became hesitant. The concept of a large drum on a cart that was pulled around the town was an invention created for the movie, and the actor Bandō Tsumasaburō “only went through the motions of the drum… in reality, the hitting style in the movie wasn’t truly hitting the drum” (personal communication, December 2012). Furthermore, he felt that “if [he] were to make something that was to be heard on stage, where the matsuri-like atmosphere is not present, then actually the movements became a barrier.” (Hayashi 1992, 49).

Meanwhile, he also found himself troubled by the performance techniques of not only the original hi no taiko but also Bandō Tsumasaburō in The Rickshaw Man. In both cases, the drummer stands parallel to the drum and hits across the body. Hayashi felt he could not use all of his strength when hitting across his body, an important consideration given the size of the drum that Ondekoza had been given. He decided not to integrate the choreography of the drumming style into his arrangement. Instead, he experimented with his stance, eventually facing the drum head on and lowering his body so that his arms had to be raised slightly in order to hit the middle of the drumhead. The resulting performance stance presented a striking image that accentuated the physicality of the player while they hit the ō-daiko.

Japan Earthquake Commemoration Concert, United Nations, NY

This stance, combined with a stand that places the drum horizontally with the center of the drumhead at or above eye level, was a major innovation in the world to taiko performance: the introduction of a brand-new performance technique not found in any regional performance tradition or in classical music, but rather created by Hayashi especially for Ondekoza’s stage performances.

As he refined this new technique, Hayashi also set out to arrange the rhythms of hi no taiko into something appropriate for the stage. He arranged the two-drummer interplay into an extended improvisation utilizing both sides of the drum: as later described in a publication by Kodo, “the performer on the front side of the drum plays freely over the continuing base rhythm (ura-uchi) performed by the performer in the rear” (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 107). Because it featured the ō-daiko, the piece was given the simple name “O-daiko” (「大太鼓」).


Despite the name, “O-daiko” opens not with the ō-daiko but with a shakuhachi. A slow improvisation on the bamboo instrument opens the piece, continuing even after the ō-daiko players first hit the drum. The drummers strike the drum sparsely as the shakuhachi player continues to improvise, eventually fading out so that the ō-daiko can take center stage. Once the wind instrument has left, the drummers – for the first time – play a rhythm in time, joined by one more musician playing chapped (handheld cymbals):

O-daiko opening cycle

After this sequence, the players begin a slight oroshi (a pattern with single hits that begin slow and get progressive faster), started by one side of the ō-daiko and soon joined by the player on the other side and the chappa player. Once the oroshi rhythm reaches a steady speed, one ō-daiko begins improvising while the player on the other side and the chappa continue with an accompanying ostinato. After several minutes, the ō-daiko players switch roles, and the other side begins to improvise.

Once both ō-daiko players have improvised, the second soloist briefly stops while the accompanying ostinato on the drum and cymbals continues. When the improvisation begins again, this time returning to the first soloist, the ostinato is joined by an atarigane player. Again, this improvisation soon ends, leaving just the accompanying ostinato, which fades to a very quiet volume. The shakuhachi player rejoins the performance, now joined by a fue player. As these melodic instruments play, the ō-daiko soloist gradually enters, first in the background but becoming more and more prominent. When the fue player ends their own improvisation, the tempo gets faster and the ō-daiko solo returns to the forefront of the performance. Finally, the piece ends suddenly, with a single hit by both players on the ō-daiko.

When performing “O-daiko,” Ondekoza members at first wore the festival garb-inspired happi and hachimaki that served as the group’s uniform. However, this changed in the spring of 1975, when the group played a series of concerts at the Espace Pierre Cardin in Paris, owned by fashion designer Pierre Cardin. After one performance, Cardin made the suggestion of having the “O-daiko” soloist perform in a type of fundoshi (loincloth) typically associated with sumo wrestling. According to Bender, this idea stemmed from an appearance by Ondekoza at the Hadaka Matsuri in Okayama city in western Japan, famous for the presence of “thousands of men dressed only in fundoshi… as they jockey for sacred sticks hurled into the crowd by priests” (Bender 2012, 91). The group performed in the loincloths in an effort to maintain the spirit of the festival, and an image from this performance was used in publicity for the Paris concerts. The audience response in Paris to this change was largely positive, and the custom of performing “O-daiko” in a fundoshi began.[1]


The Evolution of “O-daiko”

While the above description applies to “O-daiko” as it was performed in the 1970 by members of Ondekoza, with Hayashi Eitetsu as the primary soloist, the work has not remained the same in the four decades that have followed. To a degree, this is due to changes in the primary soloist on the piece. Soon after the members of Ondekoza broke away from Den Tagayasu in 1981 and formed Kodo, and Hayashi decided to embark on a solo career. Since that time, a number of soloists have taken on the mantle of primary “O-daiko” soloist.[2] Fujimoto Yoshikazu was the first within Kodo, performing “O-daiko” almost exclusively until he stopped touring internationally in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st Century. This mantle was then taken up by Nakagome Kenta, Mitome Tomohiro, Ishizuka Mitsuru, and other soloists.

As different soloists have been featured in “O-daiko,” the nature of “O-daiko” itself has changed. In the early days of Kodo, the piece was performed largely as it was by Ondekoza in the 1970s. However, this began to change in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as “O-daiko” became to occupy more and more of the spotlight and took up more time on the program. During Kodo’s One Earth Tour at the beginning of the 21st Century, concerts featured 3 three different ō-daiko soloists, resulting in 20-30 minutes of the concert dedicated to “O-daiko.” Meanwhile, the presence of wind instruments and handheld percussion instruments has been reduced – in some tours the fue, chappa, and atarigane are completely absent, leaving accompaniment duties solely to the person on the reverse side of the ō-daiko, while in other cases they are only used during select solos.

In recent years, Kodo has even experimented with eliminating “O-daiko” from the repertoire entirely, albeit by replacing it with similar pieces. One replacement has been “Tomoe,” which features three large hiradō-daiko set in a triangular pattern. These drums, similar in size to the ō-daiko used by Kodo on tours, require just as much strength and endurance to play as the ō-daiko, and the piece features similar rhythms as those used in “O-daiko” – with less improvisation – providing a nice alternative to the extended solos on ō-daiko.

The Impact of “O-daiko”

It is hard to understate the effect of “O-daiko” on the development of contemporary taiko performance. Before the emergence of this piece, the ō-daiko was used largely as just one drum amongst many in an ensemble, as was the case in Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko repertoire. Meanwhile, it was rare to see an nagadō-daiko drum much larger in size than what many groups call a chū-daiko (with a head between 16 and 24 inches in diameter), and certainly not the size of the one featured in Ondekoza performances.

After “O-daiko” became popular, however, a number of other Japanese groups purchased a larger-sized ō-daiko that could be played using Hayashi’s new technique, as well as composed works that featured extended improvisations on the ō-daiko in the same manner as “O-daiko.” For example, the Tokyo-based group Oedo Sukeroku Taiko – founded by original Sukeroku Taiko Kobayashi Seido in the early 1980s – began to combine the cross-body hitting style common in hōgaku-hayashi with the drum-facing hitting style developed by Hayashi Eitetsu, and composed its own ō-daiko feature piece called “Edo no Kaze” (“Edo Wind,” seen beginning at 07:33 in the video below).

Another Sukeroku Taiko-influenced taiko group, the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, premiered their own ō-daiko feature piece, “Tsunami,” in 1986:

Meanwhile, other groups have taken the basic performance styles practices developed by Hayashi Eitetsu and used them in a large group – that is, they have incorporated multiple ō-daiko into a composition. Hayashi Eitetsu has composed several pieces in this style since becoming a soloist in 1982, including “Seven Stars”:

Similarly, soloist Kenny Endo – who helped developed “Edo no Kaze” as a member of Oedo Sukeroku Taiko – wrote his work “Rites of Thundering” in 2000:

Beyond placing the spotlight on ō-daiko performance, the development of “O-daiko” and Hayashi’s new ō-daiko performance techniques was important to the development of contemporary taiko performance in that it helped foster the rise of taiko soloists. When Hayashi Eitetsu left Kodo in 1982 to pursue a career as a soloist, he had to develop a new performance style that was not reliant on any other players. He accomplished this both through the exploration of the taiko set – a concept first begun by Oguchi Daihachi with Osuwa Daiko – and through a greater emphasis on ō-daiko performance.

Hayashi decided “to never turn down a job and accept any work that came [his] way” (Hayashi 2011). This included a lot of what he calls “artsy events,” with a variety of companies, stores, and venues sponsoring musical performances and projects. Both Hayashi and his performance sponsors were interested as much creating an attention-grabbing performance in an unexpected environment as in creating an innovative musical experience; as he later described it, performances were often more about “the catabolic effect of having a taiko appear in a place you wouldn’t normally expect it” than about musical innovation (Hayashi 2011). Nevertheless, the activities helped to make Hayashi known as a solo artist. Early performances included “accompaniment for singers” and “opening ceremonies for commercial buildings and at parties” (Hayashi 2011).

Meanwhile, deprived of an accompanist to provide an underlying rhythmic foundation, Hayashi experimented with different ways of maintaining the rhythm while playing his solo. One method that he devised was what Isaku Kageyama calls an “eighth note groove,” combinations of eighth notes “accented in groupings of 3 and 4, and triplet figures” (Kageyama 2012). Through a mixture of accent placement, rhythmic variation, and dynamic contrast, Hayashi was able to develop a way to keep his ō-daiko solos musically interesting while still providing a rhythmic foundation.

For example, in a section from a 2010 improvisation entitled “Hi no Taiko, Tsuki no Taiko” (“Taiko of the Sun, Taiko of the Moon”) Hayashi uses different combinations of left and right drumstick hits, and rhythmic patterns that include variations of accented and unaccented notes. The left hand and right hand hits are placed on different parts of the drumhead, resulting in different sounds that add to the rhythmic variety of the improvisation:

An excerpt from Hayashi Eitetsu’s ō-daiko improvisation "Hi no Taiko, Tsuki no Taiko." The right hand hits at the end of the drumhead, while accented left hand notes are played in the center.

An excerpt from Hayashi Eitetsu’s ō-daiko improvisation “Hi no Taiko, Tsuki no Taiko.” The right hand hits at the end of the drumhead, while accented left hand notes are played in the center.

Hayashi compares the sonic spectrum created during his ō-daiko solos to painting:

…one idea that came to me was to use traditional Japanese sumi ink paintings as an image. Just as we sense color and space and distance within the gradations of monochromatic grays and black of the sumi ink painting, I thought that perhaps a similar image could be used for the supposed monotone of drum music. I tried a number of things like modifications in the drumsticks (bachi) and changing the surface areas I hit on the drum skin. (Hayashi 2011)

By hitting towards the edge of the drum, a much thinner, higher-sounding tone is created than what occurs when the center of the drum is hit. Similarly, a thinner drumstick produces a different sound than a thicker one. Hayashi also has experimented with using non-wooden sticks, including small bamboo rods wrapped together in a manner similar to a broom. Utilizing a wide range of sounds and performance techniques, he developed an ō-daiko solo that was more sonically varied that what he had performed with Ondekoza.[3]

The development of “O-daiko,” then, affected not only the course of Ondekoza and Kodo’s musical development, but the development of contemporary taiko performance as a whole. It paved the way for a new style of playing that was less reliant on festival music performance practices, while also highlighting the individual and offering an extended space for unique improvisation. Since the 1970s, the ō-daiko solo has become a rite of passage of a sorts for taiko players, a gateway into a new mode of performance that uniquely belongs to the world of contemporary taiko.


Bender, Shawn. 2010. “Drumming from Screen to Stage: Ondekoza’s Odaiko and the Reimaging of Japanese Taiko.”? The Journal of Asian Studies 69 (03):843-867.

Bender, Shawn. 2012. Taiko Boom: Japanese Drumming in Place and Motion. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hayashi, Eitetsu. 1992. Ashita no Taiko Uchi e 明日の太鼓打ちへ. Tokyo: Shobunsha.

Hayashi, Eitetsu. 2011. Artist Interview: Innovating drum music, the spirit of Eitetsu Hayashi. The Japan Foundation Performing Arts Network Japan.

Kageyama, Isaku. 2012. “How To Kinda Sound Like Eitetsu Hayashi – Stylistic Exploration ‘Eitetsu Hayashi 8th Note Groove’.” http://isakukageyama.jugem.jp/?eid=400.

Kodo Cultural Foundation. 2011. Inochi Moyashite, Tatakeyo. -Kodo 30-Nen no Kiseki – いのちもやして、たたけよ。-鼓童30年の軌跡ー. Tokyo: Shuppan Bunka Sha Corporation.

Yoon, Paul J. 2009. “Asian Masculinities and Parodic Possibility in Odaiko Solos and Filmic Representations.”? Asian Music 40 (1):100-130.


[1] The relationship between the adoption of the use of the loincloth during “O-daiko” and the rise of its popularity suggests that the fame of the piece may be somewhat due to the physical nature of its performance. Such an idea has been explored by scholars like Shawn Bender and Paul Yoon, who argue that the work’s popularity is as much due to its evocation of masculinity as to its musical content (see Bender 2010, Yoon 2009).
[2] This is the case both in Kodo and in the new version of Ondekoza that Den founded in the 1980s.

[3] He also adjusted the build of the ō-daiko stand so that the various types of drumsticks could be placed underneath the drum so they could be immediately available, as seen in the video clip. This additional shelf is absent from the stand used by Ondekoza/Kodo.

New Music History Article: Symmetrical Soundscapes

We’re happy to announce the release of the next in the Music History article series. Today, we look at Kenny Endo’s “Symmetrical Soundscapes”! This piece not only was part of a movement towards solo taiko performance in the 1980s, but is a reflection of the diverse musical experiences brought into one by Kenny Endo, who this year is celebrating his 40th Anniversary of playing taiko!

Symmetrical Soundscapes

Sukeroku Taiko made major contributions to the world of contemporary taiko performance in the 1960s and 1970s, bringing together festival and theatrical music in compositions written to be played in a wide variety of spaces, from cabarets to store openings. However, in the same manner of its predecessor, Shin On Daiko, in the early 1970s Sukeroku Taiko ran into financial trouble. Meanwhile, the original members were beginning to pursue other interests, performing less and less with the group. Ishizuka Yutaka – who started the path towards Sukeroku Taiko when he answered a newspaper ad in December 1966 – had entered into the Mochizuki school of hōgaku performance, eventually receiving the stage name (natori) Mochizuki Saburo in 1972. Likewise, Onozato Ganei became a student of Tosha Yuho, a hōgaku performer that he had met on a concert tour, and in 1977 received the natori Tosha Kiyonari (Mogi 2010). Additionally, Kobayashi Seido was focusing on his family’s business.

Eventually, an overextension of the group’s capabilities led to the subsequent reforming in 1974 under the overview of Imaizumi Yutaka, a former bon daiko champion who had joined the group shortly after its founding in the late 1960s (Mogi 2010, 40). The group was renamed the Sukeroku Taiko Hozonkai, and this re-centering allowed the group to continue operation. In 1977, it performed at the first “Nihon no Taiko” concert at the National Theater, performing “Oroshi Daiko,” “Shiraume Daiko,” “Matsuri Daiko,” and “Yodan Uchi”; the performers were Kobayashi Seido, Onozato Motoe, Ishikura Yoshihisa, Imaizumi Yutaka, Ishikura Kazukou, and Ebitani Yuichiro (Mogi 2010, 40).

However, there arose creative differences between Kobayashi Seido, who was in the spotlight as the chief performer of the Sukeroku Taiko Hozonkai, and Imaizumi Yutaka, who was in charge of group management. In 1982, these differences reached a breaking point: Imaizumi reorganized the Sukeroku Taiko Hozonkai as Sukeroku Daiko, and Kobayashi founded his own group, Oedo Sukeroku Taiko. Among the performers that accompanied Kobayashi over to Oedo Sukeroku Taiko was an American who had just begun playing with the group the previous year: Kenny Endo.

Kenny Endo

Kenny Endo had begun playing taiko in 1975 with Kinnara Taiko in Los Angeles, one of the first taiko groups in the United States. He soon moved to San Francisco, starting a career as a jazz drummer but also studying taiko with Tanaka Seiichi at the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. Tanaka had studied with both Oguchi Daihachi and Mochizuki Saburo in the late 1960s, and passed the performance traditions of Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko to his students. Eventually, driven by a desire to “go to Japan and really seek out where the roots are, and what kind of music it came from,” Endo decided to travel to Japan (personal interview, June 29, 2010). His first stop was Nagano Prefecture, where through the recommendation of Tanaka he had the opportunity to study with Oguchi Daihachi. Then, in 1981, he moved to Tokyo, and – again, based on Tanaka’s recommendation – began studying with members of Sukeroku Taiko.

Kenny Endo performing with Sukeroku Taiko in 1982. Photo by Chizuko Endo.

Kenny Endo performing with Sukeroku Taiko in 1982. Photo by Chizuko Endo.

When Kobayashi Seido broke away and founded Oedo Sukeroku Taiko, Endo followed, performing with the group for 5 years until 1987. However, he did not limit his studies to contemporary taiko performance, but also pursued the study of other musical forms in which taiko are used. He studied hōgaku within the Mochizuki school, first with Mochizuki Saburo and later Mochizuki Tazaemon (who in 1988 became the fourth head of the Mochizuki school and succeeded into the name Mochizuki Bokusei) (Endo 2011). In 1987, he became the first non-Japanese to receive a natori (professional stage name) in hōgaku-hayashi, thereafter known within the hōgaku world as Mochizuki Tajiro.[1] At the same time, he also joined the Wakayama Shachū performance troupe and studied folk performance art of the Tokyo Shitamachi area, studying performances arts like Oedo sato-kagura (Shinto theatrical music and dance from the Shitamachi area) and Edo kotobuki-jishi (a regional form of lion dance).

Kenny Endo performing Edo-bayashi at the Karasunori Matsuri in 1988. Photo by Chizuko Endo.

Kenny Endo performing Edo-bayashi at the Karasunori Matsuri in 1988. Photo by Chizuko Endo.

In the summer of 1986, Endo toured the west coast of North America along with a small number of Japanese performers, including Hayashi Eitetsu, a founding member of the group Ondekoza who had moved to Tokyo in 1982. Drawing upon his diverse performance experience and the musics he was studying in Japan, Endo performed a unique set. He presented several selections from hōgaku-hayashi, performing on the ko-tsuzumi alongside Hosoya Masashi on ō-tsuzumi. He also performed an arrangement of Sukeroku Taiko’s “Shiraume Daiko” and “Matsuri Daiko” for ō-daiko, ko-tsuzumi, and fue, accompanied at times by a lion dance.

Audiences not only saw a wide range of Japanese taiko performance in these concerts, however, for they were witness to the emergence of a new type of taiko performance. Hayashi and Endo both performed individual solo sets before coming together for a joint second half. During their sets, each presented their own compositions in addition to previously existing works. At a concert in Oakland on May 11, 1986, Endo presented “Ancient Beginnings,” a nearly-twenty minute duet for taiko set and saxophone featuring former San Francisco Taiko Dojo member Russel Baba on saxophone, written in 1984 when Endo participated as guest performer for the Kotosono Dance Ensemble’s tour of Egypt.

“Ancient Beginnings” was the first of many pieces Endo wrote in the 1980s for taiko and melodic instruments; in 1986, for example, he wrote “Spirit Sounds” for ō-daiko, shinobue and jushichigen (a koto with 17 strings). Through these and other songs, Endo was able to collaborate with a variety of artists in a multitude of settings. In one 1987 concert at the Hoshoji Temple, he performed alongside musicians playing electric and upright bass, shakuhachi, and saxophone; meanwhile, a 1988 concert at Stella Studio featured collaborations with fue and shamisen players. Such solo activities were an extension of other performance opportunities he had, such as performing with big bands in Tokyo like the Music Magic Orchestra.

Kenny Endo performing with the Music Magic Orchestra in 1988. Photo by Chizuko Endo.

Kenny Endo performing with the Music Magic Orchestra in 1988. Photo by Chizuko Endo.

However, Endo did not simply explore ways of integrating taiko and melodic instruments, but also composed pieces for taiko alone. Within these works, Endo could express his emerging performance identity as a soloist, bringing together the many different forms of music that he was studying. He was not only a jazz drummer and a member of a taiko ensemble, but also a student and performer of hōgaku and Edo-bayashi. In 1985, he used these diverse experiences as inspiration when composing the work “Symmetrical Soundscapes.” Not only did this piece reveal what taiko could accomplish outside of a large ensemble, setting the stage for the solo endeavors that would come to dominate Endo’s performance activities, but it also demonstrated how Endo himself was evolving as a musician.

“Symmetrical Soundscapes”

“Symmetrical Soundscapes” was originally composed as a duet “for two taiko players performing mirror imagery through sounds” (Endo 1994). As the vague nature of this description suggests, the instrumentation for the piece is a bit fluid. An early performance on August 28, 1988 at the Stella Studio in Tokyo, for example, took place with each player using just a single shime-daiko. However, since early on Endo has expanded the work in numerous ways. Even in a duet form, performers often use more drums. In a performance on August 22, 2015, for example, members of TAIKOPROJECT added two okedō-daiko and a nagadō-daiko to the mix:

Meanwhile, in other performances drummers make use of a large rack of uchiwa-daiko:

Endo has also arranged “Symmetrical Soundscapes” for by more players; this arrangement most commonly takes the form of a quartet, but occasionally it will be expanded even further. In one video uploaded by Endo to his YouTube channel, taken from his 2010 35th Anniversary concert in Los Angeles, Endo performs the piece alongside three members of the group On Ensemble and soloist Kaoru Watanabe in a rare five-person version:

Regardless of the instrumentation and number of players involved, the music of “Symmetrical Soundscapes” is usually the same. It has two sections, both incorporating a combination of composed rhythmic sequences and improvisations, featuring rhythms that both draw inspiration from and outright quote the musics that Endo was engrossing himself in the 1980s.

Most performances open with the players hitting an uchiwa-daiko held in their hands, moving around the stage as they play to take advantage of the freedom of movement permitted by a handheld uchiwa-daiko. They begin with a series of hits akin to a do-don oroshi: a roll-like in which each player hits twice (the “do-don” in the name), getting faster with each hit. After the peak oroshi (roll) speed is reached, following a moment of silence, the drummers start playing a series of interlocking rhythms. This segment introduces two major signatures of “Symmetrical Soundscapes: interlocking rhythms, and the borrowing of rhythms from other musical genres.

The phrase borrows from hōgaku; to be more specific, it is a quotation of a rhythm from nagauta, a song form featured in kabuki. In hōgaku, this rhythm is divided between the ko-tsuzumi and the ō-tsuzumi, but in “Symmetrical Soundscapes” it is simply divided between the different players. The two-person version of this rhythm can be seen in the transcription below, where the top line represents the first drummer (A) playing the equivalent ko-tsuzumi part, and the bottom line the second player (B) the ō-tsuzumi part (02:47 in the sextet YouTube video linked above):

part 1 opening

When there are more than two performers, the phrase is divided amongst pairs. In some performances, these rhythms are played straight in time while in others there is great flexibility to the beat. In either instance, the combination of high and low sounds and difference between long and short notes allows the rhythm to stand out.

In including these rhythms, Endo is drawing upon both his experiences in Oedo Sukeroku Taiko and his studies of hōgaku-hayashi; however, his direct quotation of nagauta rhythms goes beyond the typical usage in Sukeroku-style pieces. In “Oroshi Daiko,” Sukeroku Taiko members took thematic inspiration from “Ichi-ban Daiko” from kabuki, but they never outright quoted from that piece. Through a direct quotation of nagauta rhythms, then, Endo, t took what Sukeroku Taiko members had begun to the next level.

Following a series of variations of the nagauta rhythms, the performers begin a section described by Endo as “solos intertwined with images of mountains and valleys” (Endo 1994). First, they play a sixteenth-note ostinato rising from soft to loud and back down to soft:

mountain ostinato

They then begin to improvise, one player accompanying the solo with the ostinato while following the same dynamic contour (04:50 in the YouTube video). The soloist cues the end of their improvisation by returning to the ostinato, playing the first two sixteenth notes of each beat. After another repeat of the ostinato, again divided between the players, the next drummer begins their improvisation. Once everyone has finished their improvisation and again performed a series of the ostinato, they briefly pause before moving into the second part of the piece.

While the first part of “Symmetrical Soundscapes” is built upon interlocking parts largely derived from hōgaku, the second takes its inspiration from not only hōgaku but also festival music; however, in this instance it is a wider range of festival music than what can be seen in Sukeroku Taiko works. While Endo does include Edo-bayashi elements in the piece, he also brings in festival music from across Central and South America, a nod back to his drum set roots. A series of fast rhythms played in unison opens the second section, providing a completely different sound than what had come before (06:26 in the YouTube video):[2]

part 2 opening

The first two measures are played primarily on the shime-daiko with quiet, nearly unheard notes filling in the space between the primary notes (the primary notes being those notated in the transcription above), a practice that draws from Edo-bayashi technique. Meanwhile, the third and fourth measures feature a rhythm that, when divided between high and low-pitched drums, suggests the sound of Brazilian samba; to be more specific, it represents the interplay between the high caixa de guerra and the low surdo in the bacteria percussion section of a samba ensemble. Emphasizing the Brazilian feel even further, some performances also include two eighth notes on a low drum on beat four.

After a repeat of these phrases, followed by a series of measures filled with offbeat rhythms, a pattern taken from Edo-bayashi signals the beginning into another series of improvisations:

Edo-bayashi transition rhythm

Unlike the relatively free improvisation of the first half of “Symmetrical Soundscapes,” the second half features strictly timed solos: the players each play one four-bar solo, followed by two cycles of two-bar solos, and then four series of one-bar solos. Another quotation then marks the movement out of the improvisation: this time quoting an Afro-Cuban son clave. First comes a unison 3-2 son clave, followed by followed by three measures of player A playing a 2-3 son clave while player B continues the 3-2 (07:53 in the YouTube video):[3]

son clave

This immediately transitions into another series of rhythms derived from hōgaku-hayashi; more specifically, the rhythms are from “Chakutō,” “a short taiko piece accompanied by a Japanese vertical flute traditionally played to open the curtain.”[4]

In the version found in “Symmetrical Soundscapes,” a rhythm called the shagiri is presented first, followed by another phrase known as the age (07:58 in the YouTube clip). A series of largely off-the-beat rhythms follow, again divided between the players, before the piece ends with a strong unison hit:

Chakuto quote to end

The Unique Nature of “Symmetrical Soundscapes”

“Symmetrical Soundscapes” stands apart from much of the contemporary taiko music that had been composed up until that time. It was in its first incarnation a duet, a rarity in a world characterized by works for large ensembles. This began to change in the 1980s, however, as performers such as Kenny Endo and Hayashi Eitetsu started exploring performance options for taiko soloists. As they did so, they need to write new works to support their artistic endeavors. Yet, duets were rare even at that time, as soloists tended to write either for themselves or for larger ensembles.

Beyond its origins as a duet, “Symmetrical Soundscapes” is also unique for the diverse musical inspirations that Endo brought into the piece. The presence of hōgaku-hayashi and Edo-bayashi rhythms demonstrates Endo’s experiences in the world of the Sukeroku style, continuing the influx of these styles into contemporary taiko performance started by the members of Sukeroku Taiko in the late 1960s, but Endo himself was studying these art forms, thus adding a more direct link to the source. At the same time, Endo hearkened back to his experiences as a drum set player with his inclusion of Brazilian and Afro-Cuban rhythms. While was not the first time that non-Japanese rhythms had been integrated into a contemporary taiko piece, it was perhaps the first time that they were so obviously stated; the combination of rhythms and high and low-pitched taiko in the beginning of the section, for example, clearly evokes a Brazilian samba.

It could be said that “Symmetrical Soundscapes” is a reflection of Endo himself, combining the varied musical experiences that he has accumulated into what has been called “a new and refreshing sound combining his Eastern and Western backgrounds” (Kageyama 1986). This mixture of influences would become a defining characteristic of his concerts and his compositions. In concert, Endo often features both contemporary taiko works and repertoire from hōgaku. Over the course of a performance, Endo may play ō-daiko, taiko set, and tsuzumi, revealing the depth of musical skills and experiences that he has accumulated in his 40 years of performance. At the same time, Endo continued to compose songs that brought to the forefront his various influences, both in small- and large-scale situations. ”The Calling,” composed in 1995, is an ensemble work written for ō-daiko, shime-daiko, ō-tsuzumi, shinobue, and nohkan; inspired by the music of hōgaku, it features – amongst other signature elements drawn from the music of Japanese theater – extended use of kakegoe. Endo took the integration of hōgaku elements one step further in “Moonwind,” an understated ō-daiko solo (as compared to the typical loud, forceful ō-daiko solo) in which he utilizes not only rhythms taken from kabuki music but also different drums of drumsticks used during kabuki performances.

Endo wrote “The Calling” and “Moonwind” after he left Japan in 1990, when after 10 years in Japan he moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. There, not only has he continued to explore new hybrid compositional and performance styles, but he has also championed the inclusion of traditional drumming styles in a contemporary taiko teaching environment. In 1994, Endo and his wife Chizuko founded the Taiko Center of the Pacific, where they teach not only the Sukeroku style of taiko performance but also older performance traditions like Edo-bayashi. At the same time, he also founded the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble as an additional performance outlet beyond his solo activities. Performances by the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble are as much as reflection of Endo’s diverse musical experiences as his composition. A concert may feature an Edo kotobuki-jishi (a lion dance native to the Shitamachi area of Tokyo), “classic” Sukeroku Taiko pieces like the “Oroshi Daiko”/”Shiraume Daiko”/”Matsuri Daiko” suite and “Yodan Uchi,” and modern pieces composed by Endo like “Symmetrical Soundscapes.”

From one perspective, Endo’s activities are a continuation of those endeavors begun by the founding members of Sukeroku Taiko in the 1960s, meshing festival and theatrical music in a performance style presented in a multitude of settings. At the same time, through the inclusion of his drum set experiences he represents another branch of exploration on the contemporary taiko performance tree, a cross-cultural demonstration of how taiko can be used in a more diverse musical performance situation. Thirty years after its composition, ‘Symmetrical Soundscapes” remains unique in the contemporary taiko performance realm, a testament to the wide breadth of musical influences incorporated by Kenny Endo.

Works Cited

Endo, Kenny. 1994. Eternal Energy: Kendo Taiko. CD.

Endo, Kenny. 2011. Aatisuto intabyuu, Vol. 07: Kenii Endō アーティストインタビュー Vol. 07: ケニー遠藤. Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten.

Kageyama, Yuri. 1986. “Following the drumbeat: Percussionist pursues his ancestral heritage.” The Japan Times Weekly, June 21.

Mogi, Hitoshi. 2010. “Oedo Sukeroku Taiko 大江戸助六太鼓.” Taikorojii たいころじい [Taikology] 36:34-41.


[1] http://www.kennyendo.com/about (accessed October 22, 2015)

[2] Following the model in the original handwritten score for “Symmetrical Soundscapes,” the transcription in this excerpt indicates the different sounds that are to be played in this section – high, medium, and low. This is different from the earlier transcriptions for this piece, which indicate differences between player assignments but not pitch. This beginning of the second half of the piece is the only part in which pitch distinctions are important to the understanding of the piece, and are always followed by musicians in performance.

The original score has this section divided by player and not by pitch (both playing the middle notes, player A the high, and player B the low). However, it appears that this practice has not been followed since the late 1980s; rather, all musicians now play the rhythm, dividing it between high and low pitches.

[3] The terms 3-2 and 2-3 refer to the grouping of the notes: a group of 3 then 2, or a group of 2 then 3.

[4] https://www.jpf.go.jp/e/project/culture/archive/information/1202/02-01-2.html (accessed October 22, 2015)