As percussion instruments are generally the most primitive instrument in any society, the taiko existed and was used in the ancient Japan over 2000 years ago. According to some archeological and anthropological researches, ancient people in the Jyomon era already used drums as a communication tool or an instrument for religious rituals. However, the percussion they used is guessed to be quite different from the one used today.

By the fact that taiko we use today resembles those in China and Korea, the ancienttaiko was probably introduced to Japan from the Asian Continent as far as India. The continental music came to Japan around 5th - 6th century along with the waves of Chinese and Korean cultural influence based on Buddhism. When the Taiho Ritsuryo, the oldest constitution of Japan, was enacted in 702, a department of the imperial court music was established in the Imperial Palace. The department has been inherited directly till now, honored as the Important Intangible Cultural Asset. Various kinds of taikos such as San-no-tsuzumi, Furi-tsuzumi, Dadaiko, Tsuri-daiko, Ninai-daiko, Kakko, Kaiko, and ikko are used in the court music. The style is said to be one of the roots of taiko music we know today.

After the samurai class gained power since the Kamakura era started in 1192, a new cultural movement of ethnic Japanese started to appear. Many original art forms were born under the feudal Japan, unleashed from the Chinese and Korean cultural influence. For example, a Noh play was created in the Muromachi era (1336-1573). A famous Kabuki play emerged and quickly became popular in the Edo era (1603-1867) as well as Nagauta. Taiko had an important role in those art forms as an accompaniment, and were gradually diversified to various sizes and shapes. Moreover, the development of other instruments such as Shamisen, Koto and Shakuhachi also influenced the shaping of those art forms now categories as traditional. The methods of taiko playing have been inherited through generations under the iemoto system (the system of the teaching of a traditional Japanese art by a master), although western music has become predominant in modern Japan.

Meanwhile, taikos have always been used in religious ceremonies or local festivals as well. It is very common to find taikos at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. This shows that taiko has associated with a religion very closely. The ancient people might feel the power of deity in the rumbling sound of taiko and taiko had a role as a sanctifying instrument. Usually, men who were authorized by the priest played taiko at special occasions. Otherwise at the religious ceremonies, common people have enjoyed dancing along with taiko at local festivals. Such local festivals still remain and it is fun to watch their unique taiko performances.

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