The Free-Spirited HACHIJO-TAIKO


The origins of Hachijo-Taiko are uncertain. Legend has it that exiles to Hachijo, stripped of their weapons and banished to this faraway island, used their drumsticks to beat out their loning for home. The first printed reference to Hachijo-Taiko comes at the end of the Tenpo era (around 1840), among a collection of sketches entitled "women beating drums during the Bon-festival."

Hachijo-Taiko requires two drummers, with one responsible for the "upper," and the other the "lower,"beat. The "lower" drummer sets the rhythm at one end of the drum, and at the other end his partner is free to beat out whatever "melody" comes to mind. Drummers are consequently free to develop their own styles, and this is one of the hallmarks of Hachijo-Taiko.

Even today, the Hachijo-Taiko is always beaten for Bon-dances and other celebratory occasions. Breathing in time, the drummers exhibit their prowess while singing folk songs. Long ago these songs were called Tsugaru-bushi, while from the Meiji through the Taisho periods they were called Taiko-Jinku. Today they are called variously Taiko-bushi and Taiko-bayashi.

 

taiko tataita hitosama yoseteyona,
washi mo aitai kataga aruyona,
sora sonotewo kawasazu uchiyare kiriyare
 

The above verse, from one of the most commonly sung Taiko-bayashi, tells of longing for a special person. The verse below is from something written in the middle of summer, 1930, by Noguchi Ujo [ a famous post ] during a visit to Hachijo:

 
Mitune kuranosaka saka mannaka de yona
defune nagamete sode shiboru yona
sora imakoso taiko no oto da yo kitamada kitamada

 

 

This verse tells of the singer's sorrow at watching a departing ship [ this is written from an exile's point of view].