“Miyake” & Kodo’s Continued Arrangement of Regional Drumming Styles

In 1970, the groundbreaking wadaiko group Ondekoza was founded as a means to raised funds in order to “create an artist’s village where people can learn about Japan’s folk performance arts and industrial arts” (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 37). Performers learned music performance techniques and received dance and movement instruction from Japanese classical (hōgaku) musicians, but they also learned regional musical and dance styles from across Japan. Indeed, much of Ondekoza’s early repertoire was comprised of arrangements of the regional performance styles they learned in the early 1970s, including Chichibu Yatai-bayashi from the city of Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo (arranged into the piece “Yatai-bayashi”).

When the original performers of Ondekoza decided to split from founding director Den Tagayasu in 1981 and form Kodo, citing both monetary concerns and artistic differences, they continued the same activities of learning and adapting for the stage regional performance styles. One piece that quickly began a standard part of Kodo performances was based on festival drumming from the island of Miyake, part of a chain of islands southeast of the main island of Honshu. This drumming – the proper name of which is kiyari-daiko – is part of a procession during the Gozu Tennō Matsuri, a festival held every July in honor of the deity Gozu Tennō (a deity of the underworld in Buddhist mythology).[1] During the procession on Miyake Island, a tradition that has continued since 1820, a single nagadō-daiko is strapped to a long pole and carried by two bearers as another person plays the drum.[2]

The drums are placed on a low stand or on no stand at all, supported just by the ropes tied around the drum and the pole. In assorted instances, such as when the procession is approaching the shrine, the bearers will place the drum on the ground and begin to play, placing the instrument mere inches from the ground and forcing the players to squat low in order to play the drums (Figure 1).[3]


Figure 1. Screenshot from a video of the Gozu Tennō Matsuri posted on YouTube.

kiyari daiko Gozu tenno


Kiyari-daiko alternates between a set rhythmic pattern and solos. A drummer on one side of the drum – referred to as the “omote” (“front”) – repeats the set rhythm (Figure 2) as another player on the other side – the “ura” (“back”) – accompanies with a rhythmic ostinato. This rhythm is repeated several times, and then another drummer takes over. Following several cycles of the base rhythm, getting faster each time with players on each side of the drums switching between main and accompaniment, several drummers improvise, and then the end of the performance is signaled by a return to the original base rhythm.


 Figure 2. Primary Kiyari-daiko rhythm


As the drummer continue to play, the mikoshi makes its way through the streets of Miyake Island. Occasionally, the mikoshi bearers will sing a song called a kiyari. Originally a ritual work song, consisting of a solo voice followed by a chorus, kiyari can be found at many festivals across Japan.[4] Within the festival setting, the song can be used to announce the departure of the mikoshi, or to announce the palanquin’s entrance into the shrine grounds. The lyrics vary from place to place, depending on the group and the setting, a process that has continued in Kodo’s arrangement of kiyari-daiko.



In 1982, Kodo members invited Tsumura Akio from Miyake Island to teach the group the fundamentals of kiyari-daiko (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 108). However, Tsumura did not teach the group a broad version of the festival drumming, but rather the style native to his home region of Kamitsuki. As Tsumura noted in a 2011 interview for the Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten drum manufacturer website:

[The kiyari-daiko in the 5 districts of Miyake Island are] completely different. The way of hitting and the rhythms are all different. Even the way of setting down the drum is different. Even if they set the drum down in the same way as Kamitsuki, there are various things like using rhythms similar to Buchiawase daiko, or placing it on a high stand like in Hachijo Daiko, or taking up a position with the shishi [lion]. (Tsumura and Tsumura 2011)

Because of these regional variations, the kiyari-daiko that Kodo performs is more accurately called Miyake-jima Kamitsuki Mikoshi Daiko. The Tsumuras separate their style – and subsequently, the style performed by Kodo – from other styles in the following manner:

You will find the performers of Miyake Taiko [a school in Tokyo founded by the Tsumuras] quite unique in their postures when you see them playing. They kneel down to the level of the drum put on the ground and beat it from both sides moving their whole body.[5]

Kodo adopted this style, only placing the nagadō-daiko on a stand raising it slightly off the ground (Figure 3).


Figure 3. Kodo members performing “Miyake”

Kodo Miyake

Screenshot from a 2004 DVD. (Kodo 2004)


Kodo’s arrangement, which they called “Miyake,” varies little from the original kiyari-daiko; repetitions of the primary rhythm seen in Figure 2 alternate with periods of improvisation. “Miyake” uses a set number of solos in the place of the spatially-determined organization of the original kiyari-daiko. The numbers of drummers on the stage varies; in some concerts there may be six drummers playing three drums, while other performances may feature as many as five drums. However, six performers seems to be the standard number; in Kodo’s own description of the piece for the group’s 30th anniversary retrospective book Inochi Moyashite, Tatakeyo. -Kodo 30-Nen no Kiseki – (“Light Your Fire and Play – Kodo’s 30 Year Journey”), they explain it in the following manner:

In Kodo’s performances, it has been arranged into the performance style when 3 miya-daiko are placed on both sides and played by 6 performers. The two performers who play the solo part and placed center downstage, while the 4 performers placed stage left and stage right upstage play the accompanying rhythm with a short decided sticking. (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 108)

Performances of “Miyake” typically open with the group singing a kiyari. However, just as is the case with the singing of the kiyari during the festival, there is not a single version of the song. In a discussion of the lyrics in the Facebook Taiko Community forum, former Ondekoza member Tiffany Tamaribuchi offered that “the kiyari is changed depending on the singer and the context of the occasion when the piece is performed.”[6] Meanwhile, former Kodo member Kaoru Watanabe noted that sometimes the group sings kiyari, while in other instances they sing a fisherman’s song called “Okiage.”

Among the many different lyrics sung by the group, Watanabe offered one set that is often performed (written below along with an English translation):

Ie-e-e-e-e-e (no translation – merely a series of syllables that open the song)
Kore kara dekakemasu From now, we depart
Kore kara uchikomimasu From now, we play
Wakasa ni-do nai You’re only young once

“Kore kara dekakemasu” refers to the mikoshi departing from the shrine grounds, while “Kore kara uchikomimasu” refers to the beginning of the drumming during the progression. Other versions of the lyrics include references to passing the mikoshi between bearers, to Ise Shrine, and several other variations; Watanabe notes that sometimes “people make up their own as well, throwing in phrases appropriate to the occasion (ie happy birthday).”[7]

Through Kodo’s performance of “Miyake,” kiyari-daiko – and more specifically, the Tsumura-taught Miyake-jima Kamitsuki Mikoshi Daiko – has become known around the world. Kodo’s arrangement is now performed by many different groups, some of whom have no knowledge of the pieces origins. Meanwhile, Tsumura Akio and his sons have opened a series of classes in the Tokyo area, where they teach their version of Miyake-jima Kamitsuki Mikoshi Daiko.[8] The Tsumura’s educational activities have subsequently resulted in the creation of Boston Miyake Taiko, the first Miyake Taiko group in the United States officially recognized by Tsumura Akio under the auspices of the Miyake Geino Doshikai (The Miyake Arts Association).[9] Both performance and knowledge of Miyake’s kiyari-daiko continues to spread, ensuring that this performance will continue for generations.


This article was written on: September 19th, 2013

Original language of this article: English


[1] http://www.tsushima-kankou.com/festival/tenno_festival.html (accessed January 28, 2013)

[2] http://www.miyaketaiko.com/en/overview/index.html (accessed September 23, 2013)

[3] A number of pictures from the Gozu Tennō Matsuri can be seen on the website of a kiyari-daiko hozonkai (preservation society). http://www.kiyaridaiko.com/photo.html (accessed January 28, 2013)

http://www.kiyaridaiko.com/_src/sc345/DSC01912.JPG shows processors carrying a nagadō-daiko, while http://www.kiyaridaiko.com/_src/sc337/DSC01892.JPG shows the drum being played during one stop.

[4] http://taikoz.com/TaikOz/miyakeexcerpt.aspx (accessed September 19, 2013)

[5] http://www.miyaketaiko.com/en/overview/ (accessed September 19, 2013)

[6] https://www.facebook.com/groups/taikocommunity/permalink/299446413493260/ (accessed September 19, 2013)

[7] Ibid

[8] http://www.miyaketaiko.com (accessed September 19, 2013)

[9] https://www.facebook.com/BostonMiyakeTaiko (accessed September 19, 2013)


Kodo. 2004. One Earth Tour Special: Sony Music Japan International, Inc. CD/DVD.

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.

Tsumura, Akio, and Kazuhiro Tsumura. 2011. Aatisuto intabyuu, vol. 02: Tsumura Aiko, Tsumura Kazuhiro アーティストインタビュー Vol. 02: 津村明男, 津村和宏. Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten.

Author: Benjamin Pachter

Nationality: United States


Benjamin graduated in 2013 from the University of Pittsburgh with a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology, and received his Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology from Pitt in 2009. While at Pitt, his primary research topics included wadaiko and Disney theme parks. He has presented on these topics at numerous regional and national conferences, and in 2009 a article based on his master’s thesis concerning the performance of wadaiko at Walt Disney World was published in the journal Asian Musicology. Beyond his scholastic activities, Benjaming is a founding member of Pittsburgh Taiko, a wadaiko group based in Pittsburgh, PA. As a member of Pittsburgh Taiko, he has given lecture/demonstrations, performances, and workshops at various schools and institutions in the Pittsburgh area.

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