Chichibu Yatai Bayashi

by Benjamin Pachter

One major characteristic of contemporary taiko performance is the manner in which artists have integrated regional drumming styles into new arrangements and compositions, which in turn has exposed audiences around the world to some of the diverse ways in which drums are used in Japanese music. In works like “Suwa Ikazuchi,” Osuwa Daiko utilized rhythms from kagura-daiko – the drumming of Shinto rite – native to the central mountains of Japan. Meanwhile, Sukeroku Taiko introduced audiences to festival drumming both Shinto and Buddhist in origin, with their integration of bon daiko drumming rhythms and choreographed movements and the use of musical elements from Tokyo Shitamachi-area festival music like Edo-bayashi.

This process of arranging regional drumming begun by Osuwa Daiko in the 1950s and Sukeroku Taiko in the late 1960s was continued in the 1970s by the group Ondekoza, founded by Den Tagayasu in 1970 with the goal of revitalizing Japanese folk arts. The young men and women of Ondekoza gathered on the island of Sado to train their minds and bodies, living communally as they made their own furniture, grew much of their own food, and at the same time trained in taiko performance. Where Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko drew from local performance styles, however, Ondekoza looked across Japan for drumming types they could bring into their stage performances.

Through their touring and stage performances, Ondekoza introduced a number of festival drumming styles to audiences – including other taiko players – around the world. One such drumming style came from the town of Chichibu, located in a mountainous region in western Saitama Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo. The drumming – known as Chichibu yatai-bayashi – has unique visual and musical elements that made it ripe for inclusion in the Ondekoza repertoire, and these elements subsequently made it appealing to other performers. As the group toured, more and more audiences were introduced to this music that is at the center of a festival considered to be one of Japan’s top float festivals: the Chichibu Yo-matsuri.

The Chichibu Yo-matsuri

The Chichibu Yo-matsuri (秩父夜祭 “Chichibu Night Festival”) is held each year at the beginning of December. According to local myth, the festival was originally held to celebrate the once-a-year meeting of two lovers, described on the Chichibu Shrine’s website:

According to the tale, the Myōken that resides in the shrine is a female god, the god who resides in Bukou-san is a male god, both in love with each other. However, because Bukousan-sama’s true wife is unfortunately Osuwa-sama, who resides in a local town, the two of them are unable to meet in secret every night, and are just barely able to get Osuwa-sama’s pardon on the night of the yo-matsuri and can meet just once a year.

Indeed, the night of the 2nd is called “Osuwa watari”; there is festival that is part of a ritual in which the transfer of the shrine is announced at the Suwa Shrine that is halfway along the route; on the following night of the 3rd, when the 6 kasahako and yatai that guide the shrine transfer progression pass through a spot near this Suwa shrine, they protect the tradition of becoming silent, lowering the sounds of the majestic yatai-bayashi.[1]

As the tale suggests, the three-day ritual is believed to have continued for over three hundred years, with rom 1709 describing it as part of a larger series of Myōken rituals. However, what is of most interest to both taiko performers and general fans of Japanese festivals is the main event on December 3, described as “one of Japan’s three greatest hikiyama (float) festivals.” [2] On this day, described on the shrine website as “a side festival that accompanies the evening transfer of the mikoshi away from Chichibu Shrine,” the mikoshi is accompanied by six large floats called yatai (each representing a different part of the city).[3] After an initial procession in the morning and early afternoon, the primary procession occurs at night accompanied by a fireworks display.

The yatai featured in the Chichibu Yo-matsuri are quite large in size, between 5.5 and 7 meters in height – 18-23 feet – and weighing between 12-20 tons.[4] They rest atop large wooden wheels and require several dozen people to pull them through the streets using large ropes. Ornately carved out of wood, with flowers, animals, and other designs adoring the float, the floats are robust enough for multiple people to stand on the roof during the procession. Each float contains a small stage and an enclosed room, covered by a large ornate roof. Upon the stage, some community members dance while others dressed in elaborate coats wave fans and yell to encourage the people pulling the float as well as the crowds watching the procession.

Chichibu yatai

Figure 1 Chichibu city residents standing upon a yatai at the Chichibu Yo-matsuri

Chichibu, Japan. December 3, 2011

Photo by the author.


At night, both mikoshi and yatai are adorned with paper lanterns called chōchin, lit up from within by electric lights.


Figure 2. A mikoshi lit up with chōchin

Chichibu, Japan. December 3, 2014

Photo by Gaston San Cristobal.


Chichibu yatai-bayashi

Behind the stage on the yatai is a small room where the festival music is performed, separated from the stage by a set of sliding doors. Although the music can always be heard, only stopping when the procession is finished, the performers are never seen. They sit inside the dark room, alternating between periods of playing and periods of rest; enough people are packed into the room so that the music continues uninterrupted for perhaps hours on end, and the members change constantly.

The instrumentation of the ensemble in the small room is the same as in many other festival ensembles across Japan: shime-daiko, nagadō-daiko, atarigane, and fue. However, it is the manner in which the nagadō-daiko that causes the music to stand apart: a nagadō-daiko – relatively large by festival music standards – is placed upon a stand that positions it horizontally and at a slight angle. The drummer sits facing the drum, legs placed through one end of the stand so that the feet rest underneath the body of the drum. In this way, the drum can be hit within the cramped space of the yatai room.

yatai stand

Figure 3. A Chichibu Yatai-bayashi nagadō-daiko stand

Chichibu Yo-matsuri, Chichibu, Japan. December 3, 2011

Photo by the author.

Of course, the visual elements of this performance generally go unseen by festival attendees, although since the middle of the 20th Century, as local hozonkai – preservation groups – now give presentations at dedicated booths spread out across the city, giving festival attendees the opportunity to not only hear the music but also see how it is performed.

The music played during the processions of the Chichibu Yo-matsuri – known as Chichibu yatai-bayashi (“Yatai” being the local name for the float, and “bayashi” meaning ensemble or musical accompaniment) – consists of several sections played underneath a quasi-improvised flute melody: a brief introduction, an extended solo on the nagadō-daiko consisting of a series of patterns called the ō-nami (大波 “big wave”) and ko-nami (小波 “small wave”), a solo on the shime-daiko called the tamaire (玉いれ“ball toss”), and a brief ending called the bukkiri (ブッキリ “sudden cut”). The order of performance – that is, when each section is played – is dependent on the mikoshi procession. Different sections correspond to different activities, meaning that the musicians are reliant on a spotter sitting in the small room to tell them when to change sections. Otherwise, a section will continue on, with players changing in and out as necessary.

A repeated ostinato by the shime-daiko and atarigane provides the rhythmic foundation for Chichibu yatai-bayashi. This continuous stream of hits has a slight lilt to it, owing to a very slight pause that occurs after every four notes:

Ondekoza Yatai-bayashi ji

Figure 4. The rhythmic ostinato for Chichibu Yatai-bayashi

As provided in a hand-written transcription by Hayashi Eitetsu (personal communication, December 2012)

Unfortunately, the transcription above does not fully convey the subtitles of the pause every four beats – it does not translate exactly to the rhythmic relationship laid out in this transcription, and may vary each repeat depending on the performance. Furthermore, it does not fit within the equal subdivisions of a beat that serves as the basis for Western rhythmic notation. Still, it provides some reference point as we proceed with this discussion. The ostinato is can be thought of in groups of four, with a slight pause occurring after the fourth note. This hitched rhythm is one of the trademarks of Chichibu yatai-bayashi (and would later cause problems for Ondekoza members when they attempted to adapt the music for stage performance).

As the procession begins, the shime-daiko and atarigane player start the ostinato while a quick introductory rhythm is played on the nagadō-daiko: [5]

Figure 5.png

Figure 5. Introduction of Chichibu Yatai-bayashi

After this opening, the nagadō-daiko player begins ō-nami, a quasi-improvised passage that mirrors the shime-daiko part (see the above transcription). After the ostinato is repeated for some time – varying depending on the situation and the player – the drummer moves into the ko-nami. The ko-nami utilizes several different rhythmic patterns; the order in which they are played is left up to the performer, but the rhythms themselves are generally taken from the music played at the beginning of the procession. The following transcription contains one such ko-nami series as heard at the Chichibu Yo-matsuri, with the initial appearance of several reoccurring rhythms featured in brackets:

Figure 6.png

Figure 6. An example of a “ko-nami” series from Chichibu Yatai-bayashi

When the first nagadō-daiko player decides they are finished, another takes over on the same drum. This new performer immediately begins anew the interwoven ō-nami/ko-nami series, continuing the cycle as the float is dragged through the streets, the strong sounds of the drums inspiring the many people pulling the float to continue on.

The music changes when the float has to be turned either 90 degrees to go down a side street or 180 degrees in preparation for a later procession that will move in the opposite direction. At this time, the shime-daiko players begin the tamaire, another quasi-improvised section during which the atarigane continuing the rhythmic ostinato as the fue continues to play and the nagadō-daiko player rests. Much like the ko-nami, certain rhythms are repeated, but their order is left to the soloist and they are often varied slightly (one such example can be seen below):

Figure 7.png

Figure 7. An excerpt of a tamaire series from Chichibu Yatai-bayashi[6]

Once the float has been turned, a signal is given to the musicians by the bearers, and the music once again returns to the ō-nami/ko-nami cycle – the nagadō-daiko player begins hitting the drum once again, and the shime-daiko returns to the lilting ostinato. This cycle continues until the end of the procession, when the musicians finish with a short series of set rhythms known as the bukkiri:

Figure 8

Figure 8. Chichibu Yatai-bayashi bukkiri

From Chichibu Yatai-Bayashi to “Yatai-bayashi”

When Ondekoza members were beginning activities in the early 1970s, they both travelled across Japan and invited performers to Sado to teach them the fundamentals of festival and theatrical music. Chichibu Yatai-bayashi was first brought to Ondekoza’s home and training center on Sado in 1972 by Takano Ukichi, leader of a Chichibu Yatai-bayashi hozonkai that had won a national festival music contest in 1952.[7] Tanaka Ukichi and his son Harumasa spent one week teaching Ondekoza members the basic performance practices of the Chichibu style; however, this workshop was not that successful, as the members had not yet gained the proper amount of technical skill needed to play the music (Bender 2012, 74). Nevertheless, Ondekoza founder Den Tagayasu wanted the performance style to be included in the group’s repertoire, and so members moved forward. Hayashi Eitetsu, being the only member of the group with previous musical experience, transcribed everything that the Takanos had taught so that it could be referenced in the future (Hayashi 1992, 60). Several members then traveled to Chichibu in December 1972 to observe the Chichibu Yo-Matsuri, making audio recordings of the music.

Drawing from these various resources, the group continued to practice the fundamental techniques needed for a successful performance of Chichibu yatai-bayashi. At the same time, however, group members also considered how the festival music could be presented on stage (for that was the main goal for Ondekoza – stage performance). Chichibu Yatai-bayashi would not necessarily work in its original form, as it is performed continuously with section breaks determined only by the motion of the float. Thus, Hayashi and the other members arranged the festival music to fit a concert setting. His first action was to adjust the basic rhythmic feel of the piece (a rather large change in and of itself). As mentioned earlier, the shime-daiko ostinato as played in Chichibu has a slight lilt to it, with a brief pause every four notes. However, Ondekoza members found themselves unable to replicate this feel, as Hayashi described in in a 2012 letter:

Since there are slight differences in this bouncing element amongst the various parts of Chichibu (called something like “namari” in the local Chichibu dialect), I who was from outside the region was unable to perform it, and I made it so it was performed as a fast, steady rhythm without the feeling of that beat. That was all I could do at the time. (Personal communication, December 2012)

Hayashi’s letter goes on to suggest that if he had more time, there might have been a chance that Ondekoza could have become able to mimic the lilt as it is played in Chichibu. However, given that Ondekoza’s first performance was in January 1973 and the style was learned in 1972, time considerations may have caused him to straighten out the rhythm. Thus, in order to present Chichibu Yatai-bayashi on stage, Hayashi decided to straighten out the beat – that is, change it to a steady subdivision of a beat:

Figure 9.png

Figure 9. The rhythmic ostinato in Ondekoza’s arrangement “Yatai-bayashi”

As provided in a hand-written transcription by Hayashi Eitetsu (personal communication, December 2012)[8]

Next, Hayashi arranged the original flexible musical content and sequence determined by spatial and motion considerations along the procession route into a set composition. His actions were guided by several suggestions made by Den, including a request that the Ondekoza arrangement of the festival music utilize three nagadō-daiko. There was no musical reason behind this change; rather, Den was thinking in terms of stage presentation, the first of many theatrical considerations that would occur as Ondekoza arranged regional festival musics. This process echoes both what Oguchi Daihachi did when creating repertoire for Osuwa Daiko and the orchestration elements used by Sukeroku Taiko members when they arranged Tokyo festival music: the theatrical nature of the performance took precedence over adherence to the performance practices of the original.

In order to acquiesce to this request for the use of three drums, while still attempting to maintain the general order of the music as it is performed in Chichibu, Hayashi arranged the work so that each nagadō-daiko player played the ō-nami/ko-nami cycle in sequence; once one player was done, the next would begin (much like one drummer takes over for another during the procession). The performance of ō-nami/ko-nami cycle in this arrangement follows the general practices of the festivals: the length is left to each drummer, as are the specific rhythms, but the general compositional flow is similar to that performed in Chichibu.

After all three nagadō-daiko players are finished, the piece continues into the tamaire shime-daiko feature, arranged for two players. Unlike the original tamaire – which is completely improvised – Hayashi chose to have a set rhythmic pattern performed (albeit one that uses many of the rhythms found in a tamaire as performed in Chichibu), observing that “since the adlib element varied depending on who played it, there was not a set way of learning it, and there were differences every time even if the same person was performing, it was extremely hard for people who had not listened since childhood to learn it in a short period of time” (Hayashi 1992, 59). A predetermined pattern, then, was easier for those members just learning taiko performance practices, while also avoiding some of the difficulties that arose when comparing different performers’ playing styles.

Following the shime-daiko tamaire series, the nagadō-daiko players re-enter, playing as one in a final, composed ō-nami/ko-nami sequence before the piece finishes with the bukkiri ending (same as performed in Chichibu,).[9]

With this framework in place, the group set out to master the piece, making slight changes as each individual’s input was considered. At the same time, Den continued to make recommendations in terms of staging and presentation, creating a product for the concert stage. Whereas in the Chichibu Yo-matsuri the drums are all placed in a room, in accordance to Den’s stage direction the three nagadō-daiko were placed in a row in the front of the stage. As such, the focus was placed on the nagadō-daiko, its unique stand, and how it was played some alternations were made to the playing technique – larger motions, a slightly different sitting position – that enhanced the physical nature of the playing, a demonstration of the fruits of the members’ intense training born from Den’s tenet that “the taiko could not be sounded impressively without a powerful body” (Bender 2012, 65). The shime-daiko players, atarigane player, and fue player were positioned in the rear – clearly, the focus was on the nagadō-daiko. Meanwhile, due to the order of the concert program, the nagadō-daiko players would often wear fundoshi, or loincloths (an occurrence tied to the development of another piece, “O-daiko,” as the two pieces were often played in sequence). These staging considerations helped to bring the music out of a festival setting, where presentation is not that important, and into a theatrical setting where the audience’s perspective must be taken into account.

The result of this effort was “Yatai-bayashi,” an arrangement of Chichibu Yatai-bayashi – which might be played for hours at a time – into a compressed piece lasting approximately ten minutes. It was first performed at a private gathering on Sado in January 1973, with the arrangement’s first public performance taking place at the Shibuya Public Hall in Tokyo in September 1973 (personal communication with Hayashi Eitetsu, December 2012). The creation of Ondekoza’s “Yatai-bayashi” was a crucial development in the evolution of contemporary taiko music. It was the first time that the festival music was presented on stage largely as it is performed in its native region, integrating more than just performance technique or the occasional rhythm. Osuwa Daiko and Sukeroku Taiko both utilized elements taken from local festival music traditions, but would often hearken to them thematically rather than presenting the original rhythms.[10] With “Yatai-bayashi,” however, the musical content of the original festival music – the ō-nami, ko-nami, tamaire, and bukkiri rhythms – is present and easily recognizable, following the map laid out by performers on floats at the Chichibu Yo-matsuri.

At the same time, however, those changes that Hayashi did make for Ondekoza’s “Yatai-bayashi” are worth focusing upon in their own right. Hayashi’s decision to alter the underlying beat of the piece reflects the troubles that Ondekoza members encountered when attempting to learn various regional festival musics; in essence, the members were attempting to master in a short time performance practices that were acquired over a lifetime from the people native to the different regions. Inevitably, changes were made in order to fit the varying skill levels and experiences; at the same time, given that orally transmitted music that is learned over the course of many years had to be learned in a short period of time, time considerations also took precedence, as Hayashi and the others determined what they could master in the time they had.

Furthermore, many of the changes took place for theatrical considerations rather than musical ones. Audiences were being introduced to regional festival music, but not in its original incarnation; rather, they saw Ondekoza’s version of the style. This would be a pattern continued throughout the 1970s as Ondekoza members explored more musics and dances from across Japan, and into the 1980s when the original members of Ondekoza split from Den Tagayasu and reformed as Kodo. Kodo members would go on to arrange other musical styles for the concert stage, including the Shishi-odori dance from the city of Esashio in Iwate Prefecture, and the kiyari-daiko festival drumming from the island of Miyake (Kodo Cultural Foundation 2011, 108-110).

In the end, Ondekoza – and later Kodo – helped spread knowledge of Chichibu yatai-bayashi around the world. Curiously, however, the music is not performed as much as some of the other regional drumming styles that have made their way into contemporary taiko performance. While some groups do play “Yatai-bayashi,” it has not propagated to the degree that other works and styles composed/arranged during the same time in Ondekoza’s history have, such as the ō-daiko hitting style developed by Hayashi Eitetsu around the same time. Indeed, there are very few usages of the Chichibu yatai-bayashi stand outside of “Yatai-bayashi.” Wadaiko Ensemble TOKARA is one such group that uses the stand, influenced by leader Art Lee’s time playing “Yatai-bayashi” when he was a member of the second incarnation of Ondekoza:

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles-based group TAIKOPROJECT devised a creative use for Chichibu yatai-bayashi stands, placing them on carts for the piece “Omiyage.” Not only did they roll the drums around, but they also stood behind the drum in a manner similar to the Sukeroku Taiko-derived naname-dai:

This allowed the group to use larger-sized nagadō-daiko that is possible on a naname-dai. At the same time, it positioned the drums a little lower down and required larger bachi, which in turn TAIKOPROJECT used to devise interested choreography.

Perhaps the most prominent usage of the Chichibu yatai-bayashi stands, however, is in Ishii Maki’s piece “Monochrome, for Japanese D rums and Gongs, op. 28.” Written for Ondekoza, the end of the piece quotes outright from “Yatai-bayashi,” with three nagadō-daiko players performing individual variations on the ō-nami/ko-nami sequence while shime-daiko players progress from aleatoric patterns into the “Yatai-bayashi” accompanying ostinato. It brought Chichibu yatai-bayashi from mikoshi progressions to the concert stage in a work influenced as much by Western art music composers as by festival music, a true expression of Ondekoza’s mission to bring taiko performance to audiences around the world via the concert stage.

Works Cited


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.

Higashi, Munenori. 1989a. “Taiko Ongakufuroku, Dai Ikkai: Chichibu Yatai-bayashi 太鼓楽譜録、第一回:秩父屋台囃子 ” Taikorojii たいころじい [Taikology] 2:50-51.

Higashi, Munenori. 1989b. “Taiko Ongakufuroku, Dai Nikkai: Chichibu Yatai-bayashi, Sono II 太鼓楽譜録、第二回:秩父屋台囃子、そのII ” Taikorojii たいころじい [Taikology] 3:46-47.

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.

[1] (accessed September 15, 2015)

[2] (accessed August 20, 2012)

[3] Festival floats have different names depending on region; thus, a float might be called a dashi in the Shitamachi area of Tokyo but a yatai in Chichibu.

[4] Measurements initially based on the author’s estimates of floats at the festival in December 2011, with exact numbers given in a guidebook found on the official festival website. (accessed August 20, 2012)

[5] Transcriptions in this article are based on observations made at the Chichibu Yo-matsuri on December 3, 2011, supplemented by two articles published in Taikology meant as an introduction to the performance practices of the music. (Higashi 1989a, b)

In both the original Chichibu Yatai-bayashi and Ondekoza’s arrangement, the flute part is not as important as the drumming; as such, transcriptions in this article will focus on the taiko parts.

[6] In this transcription, slur markings indicate the appearance of the four note lilting pattern native to Chichibu Yatai-bayashi. Lines above/below noteheads, meanwhile, indicate that the note is played louder than others.

I have chosen not to use the same rhythms for the ostinato lilt as in past transcriptions, for at the Chichibu Yo-matsuri they do not always match up, owing to individual musicians’ performance choices. Thus, I have chosen to keep a straight beat throughout the transcription and use the slur markings.

[7] (accessed September 15, 2015)


[9] A variant of this arrangement, often played by Kodo in the present era, features a short transition following the first unison ō-nami/ko-nami, in which the stage lights drop and the shime-daiko continue, before the nagadō-daiko players reenter once more.

[10] “Midare Uchi” could be said to be an exception to this statement, but as noted in Chapter 4 it is a variation on bon daiko rather than a presentation of the festival drumming as played during bon odori.

This article was written on: October 2nd, 2015

Original language of this article: English

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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